I’ve spent the whole day writing about Love for Lydia, and now I wonder why. Bates isn’t a writer anyone’s much interested in any more. Love for Lydia‘s not even his best work. I start out adoring it and end up angry with myself for being pulled in. A bit like Richardson himself, I suppose. It was published in the early 1950s, when I was a child in Warwickshire, and it seems to catch that time better than it catches the time it’s set in. This post, Lost Worlds, from four years ago, suggests I’m picking up on that:
…when I began to read HE Bates, my memories of the town of my birth, Rugby in Warwickshire, became fatally enslaved to Bates’s fictional Evensford. How to free them, except with care & hard work, image by image ? They were far too similar. Black sticks of reeds where the towpath has collapsed into the canal. A dead cat in a gutter in melting snow. The movements of people through streetlight, projected faintly on to the ceilings and upper walls of a bedroom; their laughter. The bang & squeal of trains coupling and decoupling in the night. A constant sense of the dry cold winds of the early part of the year, on building sites, on the corners of the streets down by the railway, under bridges, across pond ice, over the vast empty expanse of the cattle market with its moveable metal dividers. How do you begin to retrieve a landscape you spent so much of your life forgetting ? Not by using satellite maps, that’s for sure. All they record is its absence. To separate Evensford & Rugby, I need a psychic splitter, & it is uncertainty. Evensford is a place certain of its feelings–certain anyway that feelings, whatever turmoil they create, are the point; that even coldness and despair are part of human warmth & hope; that human mess is nothing less than human. I can read that out of the pervasive combination of love & perspective Bates imparts to every story. But everything I felt–everything that was communicated to me–in the very similar social & geographical spaces of postwar Warwickshire was simultaneously clouded and sharpened by anxiety, cancered-up with stealthy growths of alienation.
Though I didn’t read it until the mid-1970s, Love for Lydia trapped me in what’s become a weird, 60-year double loop, a tangle of memory, landscape, politics, emotional politics. I’ve never been clever enough to reason my way out. It sums me up, somehow. Inexplicable.