Irvine Valley CollegeOnline Literature Study of the School of Humanities and Languages

Literature 110 - Popular Literature

Spring 2013 - Ticket #62740 / Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink, MFA, Instructor


Unit 4:  Enduring Crimes

The Lodger, Marie Belloc Lowndes

In this unit we will be expanding the genre to look at the umbrella category, Crime Fiction.  We will be reading Marie Belloc Lowndes' *The Lodger.*  

Cover for Lowndes' The Lodger

Although it might seem somewhat out of order, we read a subsection of the Crime Genre first, with the Gumshoe Detective genre novel, *The Big Sleep*.  The main reason for this is because the pared-down and easily-visible structure of most detective stories makes it feasible to see the essentials of the genre plot and to spot the main tenets of genre fiction.  Crime Fiction, as we saw earlier, includes not only all the varieties of detective stories but also consists of "Psychological Thrillers" - "International Thrillers" - "Techno-Thrillers" - you can see a list of thrillers and descriptions on the Reader's Digest Best Thrillers of all Time page.

Crime Fiction is described in detail on the "" page as follows:

Crime fiction is the genre of fiction that deals with crimes, their detection, criminals, and their motives. Most - though not all - crime novels crime novels share a common structure. First there is the crime, usually a murder; then there is the investigation; and finally the outcome or judgement, often in the shape of the criminal's arrest or death.

Crime is usually distinguished from mainstream fiction and other genres such as science fiction or historical fiction, but boundaries can be, and indeed are, blurred. The genre's flexibility is perhaps one reason for its wide and enduring appeal and means different things to different people at different times. Unlike some literary fiction, the crime novel retains many of the time-honoured techniques of fiction character, theme, narrative, tension, etc

There is now such a huge variety within the genre, it also has several sub-genres, including detective fiction (including the classic whodunnit), legal thriller, courtroom drama, hard-boiled fiction, Police Procedurals, Private Eye, Suspense, Thrillers and any other sub-genre in which a committed crime is the leading motivator of the plot. Indeed There are novels where the hero is the criminal not the detective.

All one can with any certainty is that the label "crime fiction" is a resilient convenience for those who use it, not an exact term.

‘THE LODGER,’ The 1926 movie was Alfred Hitchcock’s first full-length film and suspense thriller. An innocent man is mistakenly accused of being the murderous “Avenger.” 

Note especially that the definition is a "convenience for those who use it" and not a hard-and-fast boundary!  The definition of Crime Fiction on the Wikipedia page is much the same - but I would like you to read this entry all the way through!  

Crime fiction is the genre of fiction that deals with crimes, their detection, criminals and their motives. It is usually distinguished from mainstream fiction and other genres such as science fiction or historical fiction, but boundaries can be, and indeed are, blurred. It has several sub-genres, including detective fiction (including the whodunnit), legal thriller, courtroom drama and hard-boiled fiction.

Please read the rest of this entry!  Very good background about a range of Crime Fiction!

Movie Poster for Stephen King's *The Shining*

Identifying the genre elements of many kinds of Crime fiction can be tricky.  First, there is the issue of the narrator.  In detective fiction, the "voice of discovery" pretty much has to be the Detective/Operative him/herself.  In Crime Fiction, almost anyone who has some access to the crime can step in to tell the tale - or in other cases the narrator is an "omniscient" author-narrator who adopts a specific Point of View toward the story.  

Depending on how much the narrator knows, and when she knows it, the revelation of the finishing details of the crime can be circuitous or more direct (but almost never as direct as the detective narrator!).  Another feature of many Crime novels is that we don't necessarily get dozens of "cardboard" suspects - lots of times the suspect is hidden or indistinct (as in the case of *The Lodger*).

The Psychological Thriller (our best category for *The Lodger*) is among the favorite sub-genres of the Crime Novel these days.  Many of these thrillers have been made into very scary movies.  Stephen King, Thomas Harris (The Silence of the Lambs -1988), Dennis Lehane (Shutter Island - 2003) are contemporary writers with a wide following.  

Anthony Perkins in *Psycho.*  One of the most disturbing things about Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 thriller Psycho is that the crazed killer looks like someone who could be your next-door neighbor.

Lowndes' *The Lodger* comes from an earlier era, but it contains all of the important elements of suspense and creepiness that we have come to expect in a good psychological thriller story.  Her book, published in 1913 is one of the landmark books in the genre - establishing some of the most durable of story traditions.  It is instructive that Lowndes' book gets some of its energy from the enduring fascination with Jack the Ripper - but it is not the terror of the Ripper that stands at the center of the plot, but rather the fear and insecurity of our landlords, Robert and Ellen Bunting!  It is their security we worry about!


From Wikipedia:  Marie Adelaide Lowndes née Belloc (1868 - 1947).

  Her most famous novel is The Lodger, published in 1913. Based on the Jack the Ripper murders, it is about a London family who suspects that their upstairs lodger is a mysterious killer known as "The Avenger." The novel was the basis for four movie adaptions. It was made into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock in 1927, by Maurice Elvey in 1932, John Brahm in 1944, and as Man in the Attic in 1953.

Take a look at the list of her works!

Egad! Jack the Ripper's Victims

As we can see - Marie Belloc Lowndes' "The Lodger" keeps getting recycled.  Among others, there are versions by Alfred Hitchcock (1926, his first movie), a 1932 version directed by Maurice Elvey, a version directed by John Brahm in 1944, and, great for us, a new version that was released in January, 2009.  It is interesting to note that the "real identity" of The Lodger changes to some extent in each of the adaptations.  Our focus will be on Lowndes' original novel, but it's instructive to take a look at the way the plot gets altered because it helps us to see the implications of this popular idea!

Because this novel is narrated in "omniscient" voice (that is, it is the voice of the author - not someone in the story) - but that "omniscient" voice is limited, we should start first with the issue of Intimacy of Style and Tone!


Laird Cregar in “The Lodger” (1944), in which he plays a mysterious tenant who could be Jack the Ripper.


Intimacy of Style and Tone

The opening scene in any kind of genre book is critical in signaling the style and tone.  In Chandler's work, that happens with a few deft strokes - Marlowe himself appears and begins talking, something calls on him to respond (or, in the case of *The Big Sleep* he is already responding!), and off we go.  Setting up the opening for a Psychological Thriller is slightly more complicated, but it also follows a genre tradition.  The establishing shot (to use a movie term) in this genre is dedicated to showing the reader that this place, this time, is as normal and innocent as one you might experience any time.  

One of the beauties of studying *The Lodger* is that we can see this much more clearly in a time and place that are not our own!  Without being unduly judgmental, I can say that class and class clues are very important in British novels.  A sense of normalcy is telegraphed by seeing that classes are in their right niche and the surroundings are proper for the people.  So it is with Robert and Ellen Bunting.  

They are in their little lodging-house with their sturdy furniture (bought at proper auction), everything is clean and cozy and in order.  Tea time is very soon.  Things are pretty much just as they should be - except they are a bit short of money (and that is not really a surprise for their class status).  Thus, even though the narrative voice is omniscient, right away we enter into the very private domesticity of the Buntings, get familiar with each lace doily, and feel the intimacy of their sitting-room.  And, indeed, most of the book takes place in just the few rooms of the house - not only intimacy but verging on claustrophobia, eh?  Essentially, while the omniscient author could conceivably "know everything" - we don't find out anything that the Buntings don't know until they know it; our sense of a limited and intimate point of view is carefully controlled by Lowndes!


Continue to Section "Readable Characters"(4b)


A common lodging house on the street where Jack the Ripper was supposed to have lived.

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while "detective" fiction keeps its discovery process right in the Point of View of the Detective, Crime Fiction, an umbrella category for all fiction that involves crime,  often tells the story from a different point of view with perhaps an unusual kind of narrator (innocent bystander, curious reporter, would-be-victim).  Some of our detective writers (such as P.D. James) also write other kinds of Crime Fiction.  But the genre has a wide variety of approaches.

Marie Belloc Lowndes, of course, is one writer we will become familiar with as we follow her treatment of Jack the Ripper - her fiction could be included in a sub-category of "psychological thriller," as well.

but you also might like to sample:

Edgar Allen Poe:  Poe's classic tales of live incarceration and mystery are full of criminal (and psychological) detail!

A list of the 100 best mystery writers will give you an idea of the roll call of these writers!  From The Mystery Writers of America.  



Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink:  write to me with questions!

Marjorie Coverley Luesebrink, MFA, your Instructor, is a Professor of English in the School of Humanities and Languages, Irvine Valley College, Irvine, California.

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