Original date of publication: 1883
My edition: 1985 (Virago)
Why I decided to read: found this while searching for VMCs on Ebay
How I acquired my copy: Ebay, October 2010
Mrs. Oliphant is an author who was enormously popular when her novels were first published but who is nearly forgotten nowadays. She is maybe better-known for her Chronicles of Carlingford series (of which Miss Marjoribanks is one), but Hester is also a very fine novel.
The story centers firstly around Catherine Vernon, a kind of matriarch and queen in Redborough. She is the head of Vernon’s Bank, and it was through her intervention that a run on the bank was prevented in her younger days. The bulk of the story, however, takes place many years later, when Catherine is in her sixties, with her cousin/nephew Edward Vernon playing William Cecil to her Elizabeth I. Catherine’s life is shaken when her fourteen-year-old relative, Hester, and her mother move to “the Vernonry” after a period away. A lot of the novel deals with Hester’s growth from girl to woman, and the men who express interest in her along the way.
Hester has a variety of suitors vying for her hand (he cousin Harry, Edward, and the stranger in town, Roland Ashton), which is intriguing, but what I enjoyed the most was the interplay between the two main characters. I was interested in the contrasts that exist between them: one young, one old, both locked in an antagonistic struggle with each other. There’s also a fair amount of antagonism between Hester and Edward Vernon (bringing to mind comparisons with Pride and Prejudice). Is he in love with her or not? It’s fairly obvious from the start that he’s not (someone who’s into you generally doesn’t start fights with you or ignore you completely), so it’s fun to watch Hester figure that out for herself. The plot of the novel drags a bit in the middle, and as such, I thought the book could have been at least 100 pages shorter. But nonetheless, I really enjoyed this novel.