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A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

Title: Story of a Sin

Author and Title: Helen Mathers. Story of a Sin: A Sketch

First Edition: London: Chapman and Hall, 1882. 3 volumes, post 8vo, 31s 6d.

Serialization: The Burlington, January 1881 to December 1881 (monthly)

Summary: Janet Stork is found guilty of murdering a child in a pool near the village of Lovel. She confesses to Barrington Eyre, a rich landowner, that the child she drowned belonged to her mistress and she came to Lovel to find the father. As a young man, Eyre lived a debauched life (much like his father) and seduced a young woman named Hester Clarke. It is their illegitimate child who was drowned. Eyre repented of his ways and married "Madcap," a beautiful but childish woman. In the past, Frank, Lord Lovel, loved her and continues to harbor affection for her. When he returns from years of travel, he learns to his regret that she has married Eyre. Hester, after reading about the case in the newspapers, comes to Lovel to see Janet who confesses to her the negligent death of the child. By chance, Hester meets Madcap and her son Dody—the resemblance between Dody and her own dead child unhinges her. Madcap's suspicions about her husband disappear when Frank lies that he is the dead child's father (his motive is to protect Madcap from pain). Eyre thanks Frank for his deceit and attempts to get Hester to leave the neighborhood but she has taken an unhealthy interest in Dody. Time passes and Eyre lives in fear that Hester will confess the truth to Madcap. One night after dinner with Eyre and Frank, Madcap is found stabbed. She lives long enough to give birth to a daughter before dying. The sickly Dody dies shortly after. Hester is arrested for the murder since she was seen at the house visiting the ill Dody. At the trial, the evidence is all circumstantial and Eyre is forced on the stand to admit Hester was his mistress. (Most of the town find Eyre's behavior contemptible, especially his silence on Frank's part.) The jury finds Hester not guilty. The novel ends with the disappearance of Frank and Hester from the town. Mathers wrote a sequel, Eyre's Acquittal (1884). (TJB)

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References: BL; EC