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Critical Response – The Landlady

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‘The Landlady’ is a short story by Roald Dahl, which I recently read and enjoyed. The main features of the story that I enjoyed most were the setting, the plot, the author’s clever characterisation and the brilliantly unexpected ending. The story is set shortly after The Second World War in a city called Bath. It is basically about a man called Billy Weaver who is going on a business trip to Bath. He is on his own when he arrives on the afternoon train, but he is due to meet his manager at the local bank the next morning.

In an attempt to find somewhere to stay, he stumbles across a cosy-looking bed and breakfast and this is where the mystery begins. He looks in the windows of this B;B and notices a warm fire with a dog curled up comfortably in front of it. He also notices a parrot in a cage in the corner of the room. He thinks to himself that this seems a nice, friendly, warm place to stay and as it’s deadly cold outside, he is tempted to stay there. The author begins the mysterious theme of the story by including an event, which breaks the normality of the events so far.

He decides to go and take a look at a pub hotel further along the road that he is on, but as he turns to leave, he notices the B&B sign in the window and is held by it and forced to walk up to the door and ring the bell. This turns the story around from a completely normal every day story to one full of mystery and strange events. I enjoyed this bit because it is really effective by making you want to read on. You want to find out why the sign draws him in and what is going on in the house to make it seem so mysterious. The next event, though, adds to the curiosity because when he rings the doorbell, the door springs open almost immediately.

This is next in a chain of unusual events in this story that I enjoyed. The readers now want to know what on earth the woman was doing standing at the door, as if waiting for someone to call. The next event that I enjoyed adds even more curiosity and confusion because the woman who answers the door is not only friendly but she seems to have been expecting him. Billy says: “I saw the notice on the window” and the woman says: “I know”. This is very strange because not only is he drawn in by the sign and responded to instantaneously after ringing the doorbell, but the woman seems to have been expecting him.

This is creepy because he never intended to go there in the first place. She goes on to say: “your room’s all ready for you my dear”. This again makes you wonder about the woman as this also shows in a sinister manner that she seems to have expecting Billy. There are a few features of the story that I enjoyed and will discuss in the following paragraphs. The plot, first of all was enjoyable due to a certain technique the author used. He cleverly began the story by listing normal everyday, events such as getting on the train, getting off at Bath and asking the porter if he knew of any hotels nearby.

These are all trivial and get us into the trivial pattern of the story. He then does a clever thing. He breaks the normality of the previous events by suddenly throwing in an event that contains mystery. The first thing is the bed and breakfast sign that holds him in place and draws him into the house. It gets us wondering what is going to happen and is effective in making the reader want to read on. He continues to add to the list of mysterious events until the reader is hooked on the story and wants to keep reading till the end to find out what happens.

The second thing that made the story more enjoyable was the choice of characters. There were two main characters in the story. Billy Weaver first of all was the, if you like, goody in the story. He was a young businessman of the age of seventeen who went about his work in a swift but organised way and who seemed careful with his money. He was very clever in the way he judged a situation. For example, when he first enters the B&B, he begins to think the old lady is off her head, but instead of chickening out and leaving he decides that at such a cheap price, it was worth it.

Also, instead of judging the woman on her behaviour and treated her like a head case, he looks for the best in her and comments on how kind and friendly she and how she probably lost a son in the war. The second main character is of course the woman, the landlady, owner of the cosy little B&B. From the moment of her sudden and strange appearance at the front door and her seeming to have been expecting Billy, we, as readers form the perhaps cruel and prejudiced opinion of her as a bit of a nut job.

She seems very fussy over the young man and at certain times it seems obvious that she fancies him, which is a bit weird considering he’s 17 and she’s an old lady. She seems also to have a bad memory as she keeps forgetting the boy’s name. She continues to fuss over him until Billy notices something really quite amazing. He discovers that the animals, the dog and the parrot, which he saw earlier in the story, were in fact dead, and stuffed. He comments on how amazingly well preserved they were and congratulates the woman.

It is now that she makes quite a chilling statement and we now really begin to wonder about this woman: “I stuff all my pets when they pass away”. This basically sums up the woman’s character and confirms the opinion we had of her earlier. Finally, I will talk a bit about the ending, and why, like the rest of the features I mentioned, I found it enjoyable. The mystery, which began near the start of the story, continues as the woman asks Billy to sign the guest book.

Her reason for asking him to do this is that: “if, later on I forget what you were called, I can always come down and look it up”. The word that seems to jump out from that statement is were. We begin to wonder what the woman has in store for poor Billy and even more so when Billy reads the guest book. He notices that there are only two names in the book, dating back to almost 3 years. He also seems to recognise both of the names and when he asks the lady about them, she says that it is ludicrous that they are well known for anything.

He finally concludes that the men from the guest book had, in fact, gone missing and he’d read about them in the newspapers. When the woman offers him some tea and he notices an odd taste from it we begin to think that the woman is going to kill Billy and perhaps stuff him like the animals and maybe even the other two men. She indicated that this might be so, earlier in the story when she says that the two men are still on the third floor, which makes us think that, if they were in the hotel over two years ago, that the woman may have done something to them to make them stay there.

She also makes a suspicious remark when she says: ‘Mr Mulholland was also seventeen’. This, along with various other remarks, which using the past tense to describe Mr Mulholland, suggests that he is dead because if he as alive, she would have said ‘Mr Mulholland is also seventeen’. Overall this was a great, enjoyable, short story and I have hopefully explained the reasons why above. The features that I mentioned above, along with the ending, made it an intriguing story to read and one which will remain in my memory for a great many sleepless nights.

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