Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

For forty-five years following the publication of his first novel, The Two Sisters (1926), H. E. Bates was a prolific writer of novels, short stories, and novellas. His work was well received, both by critics and by the general reading public, during the period before World War II, but his critical reputation declined rapidly in the postwar years, although his commercial success continued. His critics believed that he had abandoned literary quality for the more easily produced sensationalism of the popular novel.

Love for Lydia, however, along with The Feast of July (1954), marked a return to the creative freshness of Bates’s prewar works. Indeed, Love for Lydia has been acclaimed as one of the finest of his twenty-three novels and gained especial popularity when adapted for television in the 1970’s. It has the virtues which characterize the best of Bates’s work: simplicity and directness of style, straightforward development of plot (Bates was not an innovator and his work reflects little of the experimental qualities of much twentieth century fiction), and effective use of setting, particularly in his subtle evocations of the changing cycles of nature. In terms of literary antecedents and influences, he is probably closest to Joseph Conrad (whom Bates acknowledged as a major influence on The Two Sisters) and Thomas Hardy, a writer whom Bates professed to dislike but whose stories of the tragedies of rural characters exposed to a harsh fate often parallel Bates’s own.