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The Dress Lodger (Ballantine Reader's…

The Dress Lodger (Ballantine Reader's Circle) (original 1998; edition 2001)

by Sheri Holman

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1,573384,644 (3.56)57
Title:The Dress Lodger (Ballantine Reader's Circle)
Authors:Sheri Holman
Info:Ballantine Books (2001), Edition: 1st Ballentine Books ed, Paperback, 320 pages
Collections:Read but unowned
Tags:Historical Fiction, England, Cholera, Medicine, Autopsy, Politics, Read in 2009

Work details

The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman (1998)

  1. 40
    The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber (girlunderglass)
  2. 10
    Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier (grem458)
  3. 10
    My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira (whymaggiemay)
    whymaggiemay: Both these books reminded me of how lucky I was to be born in the latter part of the 20th Century when medicine had been so greatly improved.
  4. 10
    Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks (grem458, grem458)
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    The Book of Fires by Jane Borodale (hoddybook)

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» See also 57 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
Beautifully written tale about plague, prostitution, squalid poverty, grave-robbing, and madness in 19th century England. ( )
  christinedux | Jun 7, 2017 |
Set in cholera-stricken England in about 1830, the book deals with the needs of medical students to procure bodies for dissection, the lack of choices available to the poor and underclass, and moral dilemma.

The story follows Gustine, a 15-year-old "dress lodger" prostitute and her relationship to Dr Henry Chiver, a surgeon and anatomy professor. They strike an unlikely bargain born of frustration and desperation. Their hopes are ultimately shattered.

The writing isn't perfect, but the author shows promise. The writing style is somewhat strange and different. The story is compelling in a macabre way. One person I recommended it to really liked it. Another avid reader couldn't get past the first few pages. ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 9, 2016 |
What a great story - the first novel I've read in the historical fiction genre as far as I know. I hope to get another of this author's books today when I take it back to the library. The relationship between the dress lodger and her shadow is fascinating even to the very end - I loved the ending. The character development was really good. ( )
  KathyGilbert | Jan 29, 2016 |
(Possible spoilers) Seems to be well researched and the narrative voice is interesting but not consistent. Characterization seemed to aim for Dickensian but felt flat and ultimately not believable. I hate to begrudge a sympathetic character a happy ending but that happens when the other main viewpoint character who was interestingly grey and complex is surprisingly vilified in the last part of the novel. There seems to be a moralistic tone toward the end that was confusing and disappointing given the promising start. Crimson Petal and the White was much more satisfying. ( )
  Smittle | Aug 29, 2015 |
Truly and dreadfully awful, I only finished this for bookclub. The story was uninteresting, the characters even more so and the writing style was pretensious and irritating. Weird mystical stuff mixed in with odd voice-over style narration and odd episodes of incredibly crude sex. Ick.
  amyem58 | Jul 16, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 38 (next | show all)
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"Grave: A place where the dead are laid to await the coming of the medical student." -Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
For my mother, my best friend.
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The boys down on the low Quay know a hundred ways to see bad fish.
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Book description
Fifteen-year-old Gustine is a "dress lodger," a young prostitute who rents a beautiful blue dress from her landlord to attract a higher class of clientele. To make sure she earns her fees and to keep her from running off with his fantasical gown, her pimp has set a malevelent old woman, known only as "the Eye," to follow her through the back alleys of Sunderland. By day a potter's assistant, by night a courtesan of the streets, Gustine works to support her fragile only child, born with a remarkable anatomical defect. Surgeon Henry Chiver is a prisoner of his own past. Implicated in the Burke and Hare killings in Edinburgh, in which beggars were murdered so the corpses could be sold to medical schools, he has come to Sunderland to start a new life. He has a loveing fiancee, an influential uncle, and an anantomy school that is chronically short of teaching cadavers. Doctor and dress lodger come together in the filthy, overgronw East End of Sunderland. Here, during the worst epidemic since the bubonic plague, Gustine secures bodies for the doctor's schoool until Henry's greed and his growing obsession with her child challenge her loyalty to him. With cholera bearing down on the city, Gustine must turn to her mortal enemy, the Eye, in her battel for the life and afterlife of her only child. (0-87113-753-4)
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345436911, Paperback)

The Dress Lodger is engrossing historical fiction. As in the best of its genre, Sheri Holman's atmospheric, miasmic tale set in cholera-stricken Sunderland, England, circa 1831 is based on fact. Its epigraph from Ambrose Bierce's Devil's Dictionary--"Grave: A place where the dead are laid to await the coming of the medical student"--casts the novel's thematic lodestone, steering the reader into a deathly plot pursued through streets emanating the sounds, insufferable smells, humor, adversities, and disease of an early-19th-century industrial city.

Fifteen-year-old Gustine--the dress lodger--is a potter's assistant by day, prostitute by night. Her overbearing pimp and landlord has her permanently shadowed by an indefatigable, mysterious old woman "called Eyeball or Evil Eye or Gray Sister by boys who have read their Homer, but mostly called just plain Eye." Otherwise how could he guard his investment in the startling blue dress in which Gustine rents herself? Her trade, he explains, "works on this basic principle: a cheap whore is given a fancy dress as a higher class of prostitute, the higher the station of the clientèlle; the higher the station, the higher the price." Gustine's garment beckons Henry Chiver, an ambitious young surgeon who has fled Edinburgh, having been implicated in the convictions of infamous pioneer anatomists Burke and Hare for murder and grave robbing. For this doctor, desperate to reestablish his tarnished reputation through medical discovery, the heart is the favorite organ, "the singular fascination of his life." But to further his researches, and quell the increasing demands of his paying students--who are restless for induction into the arts of the scalpel--Henry requires dead bodies for dissection, to the horror of his naïve, philanthropic fiancée. But the Anatomy Act, which allows doctors to obtain corpses legally, has yet to pass through Parliament, and a suspicious public is terrifying itself with stories of murderous "burkers."

Street-smart Gustine, a pragmatist trapped in unrelenting poverty, is all heart for her nameless little son who wears--literally--his heart on the outside. His rare case of ectopia cordis is just the sort of anatomical anomaly whose study would make a name for the doctor. Amid the gathering momentum of the cholera epidemic, Henry and Gustine strike up a fatal pact: life for her son in exchange for a fresh supply of dead bodies for Henry's dissection. With mordant Dickensian wit and Elizabeth Gaskell's deft touch for gutsy outcast women seizing control of their destiny, Sheri Holman carves out a rich, imaginative adventure as incisive and as gruesomely fascinating as a 19th-century operating theater. --Rachel Holmes

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:24:04 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

In a novel set in London during the Industrial Revolution, a prostitute borrows a blue dress to attract a higher class of client and is shadowed through the streets by an evil old woman hired by the dress' owner to keep an eye on her.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 2 descriptions

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