Lydia Fielding (by Susan Sallis)

I've been reading 'Lydia Fielding' by Susan Sallis over the past three or four days. It wasn't as compulsive reading as most of the books I've read recently; indeed about a third of the way through I was tempted to give up as I found it rather sordid in places. Set firmly in rural England in the mid-19th century, there are many events taken for granted which are unfamiliar as well as unpleasant: bolting horses, problems in childbirth, family feuds. But I continued and am glad I did; the novel definitely grew on me.

The main character is Lydia Fielding of the title, and I found her fairly likeable although I never felt entirely in sympathy with her. The book opens at her 21st birthday party where it becomes apparent that two very different young men are attracted to her: one a rather blustery businessman, and the other a straight-laced Methodist. The overall plot follows Lydia's emotions as she finds herself often torn between the two, and eventually realises where her heart lies.

But along the way there's much unpleasantness, a rather confusing number of other characters, and everyday life passing by. It was interesting as a piece of social history, since it also covered some political issues such as caring for 'fallen women', educating poor children, and rights for women, but I doubt if I'll be reading it again. I bought it second-hand, and probably won't be keeping it.

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