Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Dress Lodger” as Want to Read:
The Dress Lodger
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Dress Lodger

3.57  ·  Rating details ·  7,693 ratings  ·  776 reviews
In Sunderland, England, a city quarantined by the cholera epidemic of 1831, a defiant, fifteen-year old beauty in an elegant blue dress makes her way between shadow and lamp light. A potter's assistant by day and dress lodger by night, Gustine sells herself for necessity in a rented gown, scrimping to feed and protect her only love: her fragile baby boy.
She holds a glimme
Paperback, 291 pages
Published January 2nd 2001 by Ballantine Books (first published 1998)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.57  · 
Rating details
 ·  7,693 ratings  ·  776 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Dress Lodger
Sep 23, 2011 rated it did not like it
Once upon a time, (I don't remember what prompted me to do so...a review I read somewhere, a synopsis of the book, perhaps both of these or neither) I put The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman on my TBR wish list. And there it sat until I came across a nice, gently used copy at my local library's used book shop. I promptly brought it home and put it on the physical TBR pile(s) gracing my back bedroom. Then, this week I found myself at loose ends. I've finished all my formal book challenges for 2010. ...more
Diane Barnes
Feb 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
This was a February book club assignment, from one of our members who loves well-written historical fiction. As far as I'm concerned, she gave us a real winner this time. Pitting poor against rich in a quarantined town during the 1833 cholera epidemic, we learn that some diseases don't give a damn how high born or wealthy you are. Also at issue are the doctors and researchers who employ grave robbers (resurrectionists) to provide dead bodies for students to learn anatomy. Mix this all together w ...more
Oct 01, 2007 rated it liked it
I read the first half of this book in a tremendous rush, totally engrossed by the story and both horrified and fascinated by Holman's depiction of the cholera epidemic of 1831. I'm not sure exactly what happened in the second half of the book, but somehow the spell was broken. Holman (inconsistently) employs a fair amount of narrative trickery that didn't seem to add much to the book, and the lack of subtlety became frustrating after a while. I've recently read several books set in the drawing r ...more
A.B. Neilly
Sep 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: historic-fiction
This novel is sick, dark, hopeless. It is difficult to get into, because of the strange point of view that is not explained until later on. It tells the story of the uprise of Cholera morbus in a small city in England. It has a doctor who steals corpses to teach anatomy and a potter woman who have to walk at night with a blue dress to get customers as a whore, so she can feed her sick baby. It has poor people, all kind of poor people, and a student of life that could be a mockerong of the writer ...more
da AL
Feb 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Strife and a different sort of love in the time of cholera. Vividly illustrated via a compelling premise, characters, and ironic twists for thoughtful readers. The audiobook performer is superb.
David Abrams
Feb 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
Turn the pages of The Dress Lodger and you’re turning the dial on a time machine. Destination: England, 1831.

Sheri Holman’s novel is one of those rare pieces of historical fiction which thrust you so completely into another time, another place, that the modern world—with all its bright, sparkly conveniences—melts away. Welcome to the Industrial Revolution, dear reader. You’ll feel the mud, you’ll smell the rotting wharf life, you’ll taste the bitter cholera on your tongue. You’ll also want to sh
Jamie Collins
Feb 17, 2009 rated it it was amazing
The best part of this strange little book is the writing. I see that some readers are annoyed by the second-person present point of view and the "dear reader" business, but I was charmed by the quirky narration. The prose is rich and atmospheric; the story is a gripping melodrama, certainly over-the-top in places, but crammed with fascinating historical details which will make you glad not to have been born poor 200 years ago.

The setting is northern England in 1831, just as the "cholera morbus"
Anika Ferguson
Jun 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing
So far I love the unique voice this book is told in. VERY original narration! What fun!

I finished this book today. I loved it. It does remind me of Dickens and his dark view of society. The cholera epidemic makes for a bit of a downer! I wish I could study this book with a class. I know there are a ton of metaphors and great comparisons within the story that would be fun to delve deeper into with a group. If it weren't for the prostitution story line I would think it would be great for classroo
Apr 06, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A very strong 3.5+ stars, which I’m rounding up to 4 because I enjoyed it more than other recent books I’ve given 3 stars to (damnit GR, give us ½ stars or more of them to play with!).

The Dress Lodger takes place in 1831 in Sunderland, an industrializing seaport on the northeast coast of England, as cholera gains its first foothold in the kingdom. It’s a decidedly grim novel, uncompromising in showing the desperate and dehumanizing poverty of the city’s denizens, and the callow and callous indif
Sarah Mac
NOPE. I can’t abide this pretentious, meandering prose. It’s a terrifying example of postmodernism gone awry, a self-congratulatory onslaught of overwritten imagery + non-linear, plotless story—gratuitously insular & trying SO VERY HARD to shock by virtue of bleak, grotesque details surrounding murky, unpalatable talking heads.

In short, it’s flag-waving Literary Fiction(tm) at its best (or worst)…precisely the sort of thing I loathe. Exercising your brain with uber-Victorian bricks from Wilkie
Feb 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
I've recently embarked on a historical novel kick -- a satisfying read with the added bonus of learning a little chunk of history, what could be better? I came across Sheri Holman's novel on the "paperback favorites" table when I was browsing in a local bookstore. It looked intriguing, so I thought that I'd give it a try. The book is about a 19th century cholera epidemic in an English town, and features Gustine, a poor girl with a very ill child who works as a potter's assistant by day and a pro ...more
Dec 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: wishlist
Absolutely brilliant. So utterly and absolutely brilliant. Historical fiction like this is so very, very hard to come by. One of the best modern books I've really enjoyed in a long time. I read this in two sittings, the first one of eight hours where I could not put it down. One of those books that I set down after finishing and had to catch my breath and let everything sink in. One of those books where all the threads tie together at the end and you just marvel at her narrative skill. Nothing i ...more
Copperfield Review
Aug 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
For lovers of historical thrillers, The Dress Lodger is the novel for you. Bold, sassy, at times dark, sinister, and disturbing, it is the story of a young dress lodger–a prostitute who solicits eager men while wearing a rented fancy gown owned by her landlord, who is also her pimp. During the Cholera epidemic in 1831, young Gustine bravely endures the distresses that life has sent her way because she needs to support her sickly son. She befriends Dr. Henry Chiver, who has his own problems durin ...more
Sep 08, 2011 rated it it was ok
I thought it was just ok. I mean.... It was interesting to see how all of the characters interacted without anyone really knowing each other but other than that, boring. It did not have what I wanted from the book at all. I wanted late night hunting for corpses, running with the dirt still sticking to the coffins, excitement, chases, and just dead corpses. Instead I got Henry, a boring character that had no substance to him that was haunted by ghosts of his past, but nothing really good or inter ...more
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is very good, but don't read it when you're feeling down. I love historical fiction, especially set in 19th-century England. This book is beautifully detailed and tells it like it really was in Victorian England for the lower classes. Relentless poverty, filth and squalor, illness. It's all here and could be a quite a downer but for the exceptional writing and the exceptionally hopeful heroine. It's educational and such an eye opener, especially for the reader of historical fiction mostly a ...more
Mar 12, 2013 rated it liked it

There are many pleasant fictions of the law in constant operation, but there is not one so pleasant or practically humorous as that which supposes every man to be of equal value in its impartial eye, and the benefits of all laws to be equally attainable by all men, without the smallest reference to the furniture of their pockets.

—Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby

I can't decide if this is a. 3 or 4 star novel. The Dress Lodger was very effective in drawing the reader into the 19th century. But i
Celeste Noelani McLean
Nov 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One of those books languishing on my shelves for many years that I finally read and delighted in. My general rule is that if a book isn’t rated at least a 3.5 on GR, I won’t read it and this one was borderline. However, very glad I did. I was happy with the characterizations and flow of the book except for the occasional shifting presence of a narrator- not necessarily the same one- who describes the mood and future actions of the main characters. It wasn’t clear to me who the narrator was or th ...more
CJ Parker
Dec 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I really liked this book!
May 11, 2015 rated it did not like it
Shelves: brit-lit
Ms. Holman missed no cliché in this wretched historical novel of Victorian working-class misery and bourgeois exploitation. This reads as a YA novel, though I don't believe it was intended as such. ...more
Feb 22, 2013 rated it really liked it
I would probably also put this at 3.5 stars, but when forced to choose, I bumped it up instead of down. It was a really interesting book, if confusing in certain parts.
The Good: Gustine was a kick-ass heroine. She could have had a depressing, pitiable, weak position, but she didn't. She was a prostitute. She worked two jobs. She was dirt poor. Her baby was on the edge of death. And yet...and yet, she feels no shame, she needs no pity or charity, she unsqueamishly views death and pain and deals w
This summer I'm working through books handed to me throughout the year by those I love with their breathless assurances that this is "the best book EVER." My friends are many wonderful things but hardcore readers they are not. So when they hand me a book I'm relatively certain it is one of maybe two they've read in the past year. Books selected in the airport on the obligatory trip home to visit the family.

As a desperation read, The Dress Lodger fares better than most. Set in Sunderland, Englan
Feb 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novel, 2012
Wow, what a ride. A ride that did not go well for the riders.

Don't pick this one up if you need a Dickensian happy ending where money and a charitable spirit cures cholera.

But do pick this one up. Great read. Get over your whole Dickensian 'everything turns into magical happy pancakes' mindset.
Aug 17, 2010 rated it it was amazing
The best book I've read all year long. This was absolutely stunning writing, rich in detail and a beautiful story. ...more
Diane S ☔
Apr 30, 2012 rated it it was ok
Cannot finish this book. The writing is extremely dense, the book is grim and dark and I just cannot relate nor even like any of the characters.
Jun 19, 2021 added it

This is grimmer and more distasteful than I had the patience for relative to the degree of interest I found in plot or characters.
_The Dress Lodger_ takes place in Ninteenth-Century England. The story revolves around a fifteen-year old prostitute, Gustine, her baby, and old one-eyed woman, and a medical doctor, who is forced to grave rob in order to study anatomy.

Gustine has an unusual edge in her trade, her pimp and landlord owns a beautiful blue dress, that she wears on her nights in the streets in order to attract wealthier customers. All of their money, from her night job as a prostitute, and her day job as a potter's
Aug 28, 2008 rated it it was ok
I was drawn to this book by certain keywords in its description, such as "cholera" and "grave-robbing." Sadly, the potential of the material was never fully reached; it was just the backdrop fora poorly written piece of middle-school level tripe.

The narrative method is forced and overdone, too clearly a gimmick. "We walk down the street and see you, friend. Will you tell us about our main character? For in a story such as this, we must not trust ourselves, because blah blah blah." Yawn. Her reas
Nov 20, 2009 rated it liked it
A poised, accomplished, and frequently touching historical novel about a poor part-time prostitute and potters' drudge who crosses paths with a high-minded body-snatching doctor while she's trying to eke out a precarious living in the north of England during a cholera epidemic. Full of quasi-Dickensian lowlifes with strange physical deformities, and practically reeking with atmosphere. The author, who has read widely in Victorian literature, both fiction and nonfiction, has an authoritative gras ...more
Apr 08, 2014 rated it really liked it
Wish I could say Shari Holman is a relation, but I'm a Hollmann. She'd be a good one to have in the family. I can imagine the gory talk around the Christmas table!

I'll give this a 4.5. Great, detailed research on everything from how the workers bathed to watching a rat fight. Even the cover is perfect, the blue dress and sky highlit against black and white characters. (Blue is also how the cholera victims die.) Holman does a great job in describing why the people (in 1831 England, in a port cit
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »

Readers also enjoyed

  • When We Fell Apart
  • Voracious
  • Finding Mrs. Ford
  • When We Were Friends
  • An Affair of Spies
  • Scarlett Part 1 of 2
  • The Finalists
  • No One Knows You're Here
  • What Did You Do In The War, Sister?: Belgian Sisters in the Nazi Resistance
  • Varina
  • Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin
  • Best to Laugh
  • Murder in the Margins (Open Book Mysteries, #1)
  • Flight of the Sparrow
  • Life Support
  • Heir to the Glimmering World
  • The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (Melbourne Trilogy, #1)
  • The Dead and Those About to Die: D-Day: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach
See similar books…
Sheri Holman graduated from The College of William and Mary in 1988, mastering in Theatre. From there, she became an assistant to a literary agent. In that time, she began to write her first novel, A Stolen Tongue. It was published in 1996. She then went on to write "The Dress Lodger," which was published in 1999. Sheri Holman also wrote "Sondok, Princess of the Moon and Stars," which was publishe ...more

Related Articles

Family troubles got you down? Don’t worry, that’s what the holidays are designed for. Everybody has family drama this time of year. It’s...
64 likes · 19 comments
“Good and Evil are opposite points on a circle, Dr. Chiver. Greater good is just halfway back to Bad.” 28 likes
“No woman kills herself for love, and rarely for shame. It is the cruelty of hope that does a woman in; for no matter how many men a woman has given herself to, she never holds her life cheap until she foolishly believed it to be valued.” 17 likes
More quotes…