The Landlady Summary & Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 20-page guide for the short story “The Landlady” by Roald Dahl includes detailed a summary and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 15 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Anonymity of Modern Life and The Fetishizing of Youth.
“The Landlady” is a short story by Roald Dahl. It appears in his Collected Stories, the Everyman’s Library version of which was published in 2006.
The story is set in Bath, England. It begins with 17-year-old Billy Weaver arriving by train in Bath; he has come here from London, for a job that is never specified. We know only that he has never been to Bath before and knows no one in the town, other than a local “Branch Manager” to whom he is expected to report. As Billy is dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase, we can infer that his job is an office job. We can also infer, from Billy’s interior monologue, that he is ambitious: “He was trying to do everything briskly these days. Briskness, he had decided, was the one common characteristic of all successful businessmen” (Lines 33-36).
Billy must find lodging for the night. He inquires at the train station, and is told by a porter that there is a pub called the Bell and Dragon not too far from the station. While Billy prefers the idea of staying in a pub to a boardinghouse, his eye is caught by a “bed-and-breakfast” sign in the window of one of the run-down houses he passes. He is also transfixed by the scene inside the house: he can see a parrot, and a dachshund resting in front of a fireplace. He decides that he should look at the Bell and Dragon before making up his mind; however, he finds himself strangely hypnotized by the sign in the window: “Each word was like a large black eye staring at him through the glass, holding him, compelling him, forcing him to stay where he was and not to walk away from that house ” (Lines 104-08).
Billy rings the doorbell and is met almost immediately by a pleasant-looking middle-aged woman. While not introducing herself, she greets him warmly and invites him in, telling him that she has not had a visitor in a long time. She offers him a cheap rent for lodging, and Billy decides that while she seems a little eccentric–she keeps forgetting his last name, and at the same time seems oddly overjoyed to see him—he can bear her company for the low rent.
The landlady shows Billy to his room, and asks him whether he would like some dinner. He tells her that he would prefer to go to bed early, as he has to start work early the next day; she asks him to please sign the guestbook in the living room first. In the guestbook, he sees two other names: Christopher Mulholland and Gregory W. Temple. He feels certain that he has seen these two names before, and moreover that the names are somehow connected; however, when he asks the landlady if her two previous guests were somehow well-known, she demurs. She does, however, tell Billy that the two “boys” were about the same age as him, and rhapsodizes over their charm and handsomeness.
The landlady serves Billy tea, which has an odd, bitter taste, reminiscent of almonds. (This is likely the smell of cyanide.) He also notices a strange smell about the landlady herself: “It was not in the least unpleasant, and it reminded him–well, he wasn’t quite sure what it reminded him of. Pickled walnuts? New leather? Or was it the corridors of a hospital?” (Lines 393-97). (This smell is likely that of the chemicals used in taxidermy.) As he sits with the landlady, Billy grows gradually convinced that he has seen the other two names in the guestbook from newspaper headlines. He also notices that the parrot in the living room is, in fact, dead and stuffed. He compliments the landlady on the lifelike aspect of the parrot, and she points…