Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Love for Lydia is an unsparing examination of the helplessness of youth in the face of its first exposure to the onslaughts of love and passion. Richardson and Lydia do not have the experience to deal with the potentially destructive force of the emotions which they unleash, and they discover that the growth to maturity involves pain, separation, and loss: Toward the end of the novel, Richardson feels that a part of himself has been severed from him and will never return, but he also realizes that the pain of love is a part of its flowering. True compassion, unlike the first intoxication of romantic and sexual love, is hard-won.

Three stylistic devices enhance the theme. First, Bates occasionally switches the point of view of the narrator from Richardson as a young man, totally involved in the events he is describing, to Richardson reflecting as an older and more experienced observer, looking back at the events which he did not fully understand at the time. This device alters the reader’s perspective; it gives a sense of the passage of time and suggests Richardson’s growth from myopic self-centeredness to some measure of objectivity and wisdom, a broader and more compassionate view of events.

Second, the novel has a circular structure. It ends where it began, in winter, with Richardson and Lydia skating on the frozen river. It is clear that Bates intends his reader to make this connection, since in the final scenes Richardson...

(The entire section is 457 words.)