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Lydia Wells is the book's resident vixen. Anna may be the most beloved and sought-after prostitute in Hokitika, but Lydia is a madam (and, not so coincidentally, the person who got Anna into hooking).
Despite the fact that she's basically pure evil, everyone seems to agree that Lydia's pretty alluring:
…Lydia Wells was a woman of ample beauty, and a pleasure to behold. She was perhaps forty years of age, though she might have been a mature-seeming thirty, or a youthful fifty; the precise figure she would not disclose. She had entered that indeterminate period of middle age that always seems to call attention to its own indeterminacy, for when Lydia was girlish, that girlishness was made all the more visible by the fact of her age, and when she was wise, her wisdom was all the more impressive for having been produced in one so young. There was a vixen-like quality to her features: her eyes slanted slightly and her nose curved upward in a way that called to mind some alert and inquisitive creature. (I.10.5)
So Lydia is pretty chameleon-esque, and can appear very different, depending on the audience and circumstances. Hmm, no wonder she's so good at manipulating people.
Of course, as big a flirt as she is, her heart belongs to one man only: Frank Carver. The two of them are in cahoots against basically everyone else for most of the novel, until Carver gets what's coming to him.
According to the table of contents, Lydia's character is associated with desire—and according the chapter titles and the charts that begin each section, we know that her planetary association is Venus (which is also associated with femininity and desire). So, it's really not that surprising that she's the owner and operator of the brothels in town, we suppose.
Lydia is all about lying, tricking, or stealing to get what she wants. Venus is also associated with money, after all, and she'll do pretty much anything to protect hers. For example, she marries Crosbie Wells just to avoid having to pay out a jackpot at her gambling establishment, and then she steals Crosbie's gold to help out Francis with his schemes against Alistair Lauderback.
Aside from the stealing and money grubbing, she has some more purely moral crimes on her resume too. According to Crosbie, she makes a sport out of tricking young girls into becoming indebted to her, and he warns Anna that Lydia is grooming her to become a prostitute. However, all the while, Lydia pretends to be a caring guardian.
Crosbie gives Anna the down-low on Lydia pretty much right away, breaking the news that Lydia's promise of a prepaid room for her was, indeed, too good to be true:
'It's a line she spins. So you believe her, and you follow her home, and before you know it, you're beholden. Aren't you now? She's given you a fine meal and a hot bath and nothing but the milk of kindness, and what have you given her? Oh'—he wagged his finger—'but there will be something, Miss Anna Wetherell. There will be something that you can give.' (IV.5.49)
That "something" begins with Anna working as a barmaid…and then ends with her being sent to Mannering in Hokitika to work of her debt in the world's oldest profession.
So, you probably get the point: Lydia's not the nicest lady.
Just when we're ready to write Lydia off as pure evil, though, she comes out with just a little smidgen of humanity when she's talking to Francis about their joint swindling of Alistair Lauderback:
'Poor Mr. Lauderback,' she said again.
'He made his own bed,' said Carver, watching her.
'Yes, he did; but you and I warmed the sheets for him.'
'Don't feel sorry for a coward,' said Carver. 'Least of all a coward with money to spare.'
'I pity him.'
'Why? Because of the bastard? I'd sooner feel sorry for the bastard. Lauderback's had nothing but good luck from start to finish. He's a made man.'
'He is; and yet he is pitiable. He is so ashamed, Francis. Of Crosbie, of his father, of himself. I cannot help but feel pity for a man who is ashamed.' (IV.7.14-20)
So, perhaps we can give her some credit for being able to at least feel some remorse for the guy she's using her husband to swindle. Of course, she doesn't actually feel bad for her husband, who pretty clearly gets the rawest deal in this particular Carver-Wells scheme …but hey, we'll take what we can get.