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A gently appealing tale of love and loss in late Victorian England, threaded with mystery and focusing on the search for an unhappy young woman. The soon-to-vanish lady is 24-year-old Lydia Lorne, cousin of young Isobel Penrose, who narrates. Lively, pretty Lydia has turned down suitor Charles because she loves Isobel's widowed father, a dilettante scholar--Lydia and Isobel have been keeping house for him. But the fragile affection of Mr. Penrose for Lydia, which both girls are expecting to blossom into a declaration, is about to be blighted and twisted. Their country home is invaded by Simeon Graw, an itinerant portrait painter with an elusive, uncommunicative wife in tow. Dark, sensual Graw is hateful to the girls but is welcomed by Mr. Penrose as a divertisement, and the painter's vaguely cruel arrogance is transfered to canvas as he shades ever so slightly--but enough to influence Penrose--his portrait of Lydia: ""Somehow he had turned her zest for life into a voluptuous greed."" Graw leaves at last, but so does Lydia--her love has been tainted!--and Isobel's search for Lydia takes her through ugliness, illness, and a poverty she has never known. Lydia's fate is finally resolved, but not before it's seen to be connected to Graw's gnawing secret (which will cause his suicide) and the hidden beauties of Graw's silent wife. An attractively atmospheric, sustained, and nicely worked Victorian miniature.

Pub Date: March 14th, 1980
Publisher: St. Martin's