Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 781
Love for Lydia is the story of the youngest member of an aristocratic family, Lydia Aspen, and the young men from the small English town of Evensford who fall in love with her. In almost every case, the results are tragic, but the passage of time produces some maturation, and the conclusion holds a promise of future happiness.
The protagonist and narrator is a young reporter who dislikes his job on the local newspaper. He meets the shy, nineteen-year-old Lydia when his boss sends him to unearth a story following the death of one of the elder members of the Aspen family. The two elderly Aspen sisters, Juliana and Bertie, are anxious to ensure that their young niece meets some people of her own age, and they encourage Richardson to take Lydia skating. Lydia quickly emerges from her shyness, and they skate regularly all winter. Richardson falls completely in love with her, and by the summer, the two young people have become lovers; the depth and permanence of Lydia’s affections, however, are not so clearly established.
In the second part of the novel, their horizons expand. At the instigation of the aunts, Richardson invites several of his friends to accompany him and Lydia to a dance: Alex Sanderson, Alex’s mother, Tom Holland, who is a farmer’s boy, and his sister, Nancy. Throughout the autumn and winter, they form a happy little group, dancing regularly, with Lydia’s youthful beauty and engaging innocence as the center of interest—but the tranquillity does not last for long. Alex falls in love with her and becomes jealous of the attention that he thinks she is paying to Blackie Johnson, a young, aggressive, and surly mechanic, who drives them to the dances in their rented car. The tension between Alex and Blackie erupts into violence at a village dance, and they fight.
In the meantime, Richardson becomes jealous when he realizes that he no longer has exclusive claim to Lydia’s affections. It is becoming clear that her seductive charms can also bring danger and distress into the lives of her male admirers. This section of the novel ends with Lydia’s twenty-first birthday party, when Richardson asks her to marry him; her reply is equivocal.
Tragedy strikes twice in part 3. At a dance, Richardson learns that Alex is also contemplating asking Lydia to marry him, and he deliberately misleads Alex into thinking that Lydia intends to marry Blackie. In an argument which develops on their way home after the dance, Alex, who has had more than enough to drink, slips from the running board of the car, falls from the bridge into the river, and drowns.
Richardson is grievously affected by the death of his close friend and spends most of the summer brooding on his own, in an emotional void, until by chance he meets up with Tom Holland, who has acquired some land and set up as a farmer in his own right. Former relationships are reestablished, and Richardson realizes that in his absence, Tom’s affection for Lydia has grown and they plan to marry.
Tom and Lydia, however, are not destined to find fulfillment together. Tom quarrels with his neighbor, an aggressive Presbyterian Scot named McKechnie, over McKechnie’s daughter Phely. McKechnie assumes that the two are to be married, but the innocent Tom has never seen in Phely anything more than a girl who was helping out on his farm. Phely, disappointed, runs away from home, and Tom has to face the threat of violence from McKechnie. Restless and unable to sleep, he goes out in the middle of the night to shoot at a troublesome fox but only succeeds in shooting himself. It is uncertain whether the act is an accident or suicide. Richardson, having already decided to leave Evensford, departs for London.
Part 4 takes up the story two years later, as Richardson returns to Evensford for the first time since the tragedy. He discovers that Lydia has been admitted to a sanatorium. It transpires that after Tom’s death, she went on a yearlong orgy of parties, dancing, and alcohol, which took her to the point of exhaustion. Richardson visits her regularly, over a period of months, yet he finds that his love for her has lessened in the intervening years. Meanwhile, Blackie Johnson, also one of her regular visitors, has become a changed man—courteous, patient, and obviously devoted to Lydia. Richardson finally realizes, however, how lonely Lydia is and how much she needs his love. He accepts her remorse for her earlier flirtatious behavior, and the novel ends as he agrees to accompany her to the coast for a period of convalescence.
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