Only Returning Vets Could Love Lydia Bailey

Lydia Bailey burst onto the post-war literary scene, securing author Kenneth Roberts a niche in popular historical fiction for years. Today the novel serves only as a glimpse into the background of events that occasionally erupt onto the evening news.

In 1800, lawyer Albion Hamlin reluctantly leaves his New England farm to represent clients fighting government regulation and red tape.

Hamblin’s work takes him to Haiti, where he meets and marries the lovely Lydia Bailey. Caught in the hostilities surrounding the French re-invasion of the island, the couple escape and sail for Europe.

In the Mediterranean, they are captured by forces of the Baashaw of Tripoli, who has declared war on America. The couple saves their skins, but their lives are never the same afterward.

Hamlin says the things most soldiers just home from the front lines would like to say. I suspect his bitterness made Lydia Bailey a success among folks who had just come through World War II.

Today’s returning vets may have the same gripes, but they wouldn’t go for Roberts’ writing. All Roberts’ meticulous research can’t hide the implausible plot. And his flat, one-dimensional characters and paragraph-length sentences would sink the novel.

Lydia Bailey
By Kenneth Roberts
Doubleday, 1947
488 pages
#4 bestseller in 1947
My Grade: C
© 2007 Linda Gorton Aragoni