The character of Lydia Aspen, and the tensions and transformations which she produces in the lives of others, dominates the novel. Lydia is the illegitimate daughter of a fifty-year-old man and a young woman of bad reputation whom Lydia never knew. Starved of affection in childhood, her emotional development was severely retarded, and when Richardson first sees her, he estimates her age to be at least four years younger than it really is. She is withdrawn, thin, and physically awkward. Yet, as Richardson gradually realizes, “there was something molten underneath it all.” She soon shows herself to be impatient, forthright, strong-willed, and impulsive, with the inevitable self-centeredness of the emotionally immature. She wants and expects to get her own way and learns quickly how to exert her charm to this end. Few people in the novel know how to say no to her. She even has an almost magical power to soothe the uncouth and belligerent Blackie Johnson and eventually to subdue him totally.
Her sudden entry into a new and exciting social world is too quick, however, for her to acquire a sense of caution regarding the intense feelings that she arouses in others. Sometimes she seems curiously indifferent to the effects of her words and actions. She watches the fight between Alex and Blackie with a kind of detached and fascinated calmness, apparently unaware that she, at least in part, is the cause of it. Richardson realizes, in one of his most acute...
(The entire section is 574 words.)