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The Dress Lodger

A book by Sheri Holman

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The contagion of poverty and despair

  • Mar 13, 2009
  • by
Sheri Holman skillfully uses her considerable talent to expose the ugly face of grinding poverty. A cholera epidemic is spreading rapidly in 18th Century England, the first of many such plagues. Preying primarily on the poor, the authorities are unable to isolate the cause. A central and most poignant character is Gustine, a potter's apprentice by day and a "Dress Lodger" by night.

A Dress Lodger is a young woman hired by a slum landlord, chosen from his boarding house patrons, to wear a dress purchased by him second-hand. Her job is to make nightly rounds selling her favors as a woman of quality, albeit a prostitute. The concept in itself is dehumanizing, but for Gustine, this costume allows her to pretend to be untouched by the men who roughly use her body.

Unwedded, Gustine works two jobs, day and night, in order to provide for her baby, born with his tiny heart almost exposed on his chest. Everything she does is for the care of this helpless infant; he is all she loves in the world. An aged woman assigned by the landlord to watch over the dress, doggedly follows Gustine's every evening, walking the streets like her shadow.

During one evening's excursion, Gustine happens upon a doctor, Henry Chiver, searching for corpses for his anatomy students to dissect, in effect a grave robber. But Gustine believes that Chiver is pure of heart, perhaps the very man to save her baby; when Doctor Chiver demands full possession of Gustine's child, something she is unwilling to concede.

Holman wields her plotlines masterfully toward inevitable resolution, the shocking choices made by the desperate characters, victims of poverty and their own human nature. This is never a pretty story, rather quite a difficult read, but the author challenges the reader for courage enough to face reality as fearlessly as she presents her truth. Luan Gaines.

The Dress Lodger

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review by . June 28, 2010
   This book brought out a lot of emotions for me. It is not a leisurely read.  The book is set in 19th century Sunderland, England during the first cholera pandemic. Gustine is a teenager of 15 who has been forced into two worlds that even adults have no place. During the day she works 12 hours in a clay factory and at night as a lady of the night.      Her job at night is dictated by her landlord/pimp. He lives his life completely as a Machiavellian. Using Gustine …
Quick Tip by . June 30, 2010
review by . July 12, 2000
If you wanted to be a surgeon in the early part of the 19th century, how would you receive training in anatomy? That's the crux of this very well-written, historical novel. The author paints what appears to be an accurate poicture of time and place, and her characters are well-drawn, even the minor ones. This is a somewhat sorrowful story, but a chilling cautionary tale that reveals how advances in medical science came about in times when class warfare and suspicion were the rule, rather than the …
About the reviewer
Luan Gaines ()
Ranked #108
An artist/writer, I have traveled the world, walked on the moon and learned the complicated language of humanity, the enormity of the universe... all through the written word. My first passport was a … more
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About this book



ISBN-10: 0871137534
ISBN-13: 978-0871137531
Author: Sheri Holman
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Pr; 1st edition (January 2000)

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