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A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

Title: Hester

Author and Title: Margaret Oliphant. Hester: A Story of Contemporary Life

First Edition: London: Macmillan, 1883. 3 volumes, post 8vo, 31s 6d.

Summary: For generations, the Vernon family has maintained a family bank in Redborough. The story opens on a crisis: on the next day during the market, there will be a run on the bank. The chief clerk attempts to track down the current manager John Vernon but is unable to find him since he has fled town knowing the bank will collapse due to his speculating. His cousin, the domineering Catherine Vernon, steps in and saves the bank with her personal fortune. From that moment, Catherine becomes the head of the family bank. Twenty years pass. Catherine, now in her sixties, recruits two distant cousins to manage the bank: Harry Vernon and Edward Vernon. The latter is her personal favorite, whom she treats as if he were her son. Catherine also maintains an almshouse for her impoverished relatives—the new arrivals are Mrs. John Vernon (now a widow) and her daughter Hester. At their first meeting, Catherine and Hester become antagonists since Hester's pride (and lack of knowledge about her father's failure) keeps her from showing due deference to Catherine. The kind-hearted but unimaginative Harry unsuccessfully woos Hester. Edward finds himself drawn to Hester, but chafes under Catherine's strictures and prejudice against Hester. In order to free himself from the bank and Catherine's control, he begins speculating with the bank's funds hoping to make an independent fortune. Events come to a crisis when Edward loses the bank's money and he asks Hester to elope with him. Finally told of her father's similar flight years earlier, Hester refuses to go with Edward who flees alone. Working together, Hester, Catherine, and Harry save the bank at great personal cost. (TJB)

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References: BL; EC