The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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 She is withdrawn, thin, and physically awkward.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.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)


Richardson, the protagonist and narrator, nineteen years old. At the beginning of the story, he is naïvely dissatisfied with his position at the local newspaper and longs for a life of effete leisure that his middle-class family is unable to provide. He meets Lydia Aspen and abandons his job so that he can escort her to local dances and outings with his, later their, friends. It is Richardson who introduces Lydia to the social whirl of which he is fond, yet it is she who helps him to realize the deadly futility of this kind of life. After a brief absence, Richardson returns to Evensford and Lydia with open eyes. Through his experiences, he is able to identify not only his real needs and desires but also what is real and important in his life.

Lydia Aspen

Lydia Aspen, the youngest member of a local aristocratic family. The sheltered Lydia quickly embraces the round of parties, dances, and fetes that life at the Aspen house affords. She is a free spirit whose thirst for new experiences seems to know no bounds. Lydia eventually falls prey to her own physical and emotional abandonment, however, only to be saved by the devotion of Richardson and Blackie Johnson to their quixotic mistress.

Tom Holland

Tom Holland, a young farmer and a friend of Richardson. Stolidly loyal, Tom falls under Lydia’s spell and, despite his misgivings, betrays his friendship with Richardson. Tom later...

(The entire section is 422 words.)