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

by Sheri Holman

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1,424365,301 (3.58)53
Member:lkernagh
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
Rating:****1/2
Tags:Historical Fiction, England, Cholera, Medicine, Autopsy, Politics, Read in 2009

Work details

The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman (1998)

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Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
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 |
This was a pretty intense book for what I originally thought was going to be a typical historical fiction romance type book. Set in the early 1800's in a poor section of England, it deals with the cholera epidemic, the struggles of the surgeons of the time to procure cadavers to work on & teach from to better understand the workings of the human body, & a strange form of prostitution called dress lodging, where a landlord "rents" a fancy dress for the girl he sends out to walk the streets so she can attract a higher paying class of clients, & takes her room & board out of her earnings, letting her keep enough to survive on & enough to barely cover the needs of her medical miracle baby, who is born with a nearly free floating heart, covered by just the layer of skin on the chest. It's a fascinating look at the times, although some with weaker stomachs may be turned off by the descriptions. ( )
  Lisa.Johnson.James | Apr 11, 2014 |
Quite the subject matter!

The characters' development throughout Ms. Holman's work was quite intense, especially Doctor Chiver's and the Eye's.

I particularly appreciated the narrators' perspective, although it wasn't clear who that truly was until the last quarter of the novel. ( )
  librarystudies | Dec 8, 2013 |
An interesting novel that has clearly been very well researched. Somehow, the detail of the research lost the story occasionally and it didn't quite carry me in the way that the Mammoth Cheese did.
Still, it was worth reading for the information about cholera in Sunderland and the lives of people there in the 1830s was well portrayed and graphic. ( )
  Tifi | Jul 9, 2013 |
Gustine is a dress lodger (lower class prostitute in an upper class dress) in Sunderland, England in the 1830s. One night she meets Dr. Henry Chiver, a surgeon in disgrace who has promised his small group of students that he will find a human body for them to dissect and study. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of superstition about medicine and doctors and finding a body isn’t so easy. Gustine and Henry enter into an agreement to help each other get what they so desperately want.

I tend to be a character-driven reader, and I found that I didn’t really like any of the characters in this book. There were probably one or two that I could have liked, Gustine being one, but that didn’t really seem to be what the author was going for.

I think Holman was trying to paint a picture of what life would have been like for the lower classes in that time frame in England, and she truly succeeded with that. She put me inside the story, and I read her well-written, picture-perfect descriptions of the working conditions, living conditions, ignorance, fear, hostility, brutality, and just general misery that described the lives of the working poor of this town and shuddered in revulsion and felt a little lot more grateful for what I have, where I live and when I live.

She also succeeded in turning my expectations for the novel and where my sympathies would lie upside-down. I have a bachelor’s degree in biology and work in a hospital: I should have been rooting for Dr. Chiver and the triumph of science all the way through. But slowly, insidiously, I found myself being led in another direction without really even realizing it. Let’s just say that I have a greater appreciation for what earlier scientists were up against, and the cost their discoveries exacted, both from some of them personally and from society. Related to that, I’ll say that I loved her choice of narrator.

I didn’t love this, but I do feel like I learned something from it. The descriptions of life for the lower classes in England in Victorian times alone made this a worthwhile read. I just don’t really think it’s a book to fall in love with, but it is a novel to make you look at your life with new eyes. ( )
1 vote JG_IntrovertedReader | Apr 3, 2013 |
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Epigraph
"Grave: A place where the dead are laid to await the coming of the medical student." -Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:02:10 -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)

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