Read Classics with Me: My Favourite Quotes and Scenes from Hester by Margaret Oliphant
Hester tells the story of the aging but powerful Catherine Vernon, and her conflict with the young and determined Hester, whose growing attachment to Edward, Catherine’s favorite, spells disaster for all concerned.
Catherine Vernon, jilted in her youth, has risen to power in a man’s world as head of the family bank. She thinks she sees through everyone and rules over a family of dependents with knowing cynicism. But there are two people in Redborough who resist her. One is Hester, a young relation with a personality as strong as Catherine’s, and as determined to find a role for herself. The other is Edward, who Catherine treats like a son. Conflict between the young and the old is inevitable, and in its depiction of the complex relationships that develop between the three principal characters, Hester is a masterpiece of psychological realism. In exploring the difficulty of understanding human nature, it is also a compulsive story of financial and sexual risk-taking that inevitably results in a searing climax.
Quotations and extracts may contain spoilers.
Mrs. John Vernon was considered very refined and elegant according to the language of the day, a young lady with many accomplishments. But it was the fashion of the time to be unpractical just as it is the fashion of our time that women should understand business and be ready for any emergency.
She was all angry scorn from the high knot of brown hair on the top of her head to the point of her sandalled shoe.
She saw coming out upon her in the light of a candle a pair of brown eyes, large and wide open, full of eager curiosity, with a tall girl behind them, somewhat high-shouldered, with clustering curly short hair.
Right and wrong, are like black and white; they are distinct and easy. The things that baffle us are those that perhaps are not quite right, but certainly are not wrong.
Dreams were in it of sudden successes, of fortunes achieved in a moment. Castles in the air more dazzling than ever rose in a fairy tale.
Here was enough, all ready and in his hands, to ruin them all.
“You can make others do: you can inspire (isn’t that what Lord Lytton says?) and reward. That is a little highflown, perhaps. But there is nothing a man might not do, with you to encourage him. You make me wish to be a hero.”
He laughed, but Hester did not laugh. She gave him a keen look, in which there was a touch of disdain.
“Do you really think,” she said, “that the charm of inspiring, as you call it, is what any reasonable creature would prefer to doing? To make somebody else a hero rather than be a hero yourself? Women would need to be disinterested indeed if they like that best. I don’t see it.”
“These women, who step out of their sphere, they may do much to be respected, they may be of great use; but — —”
“You mean that men don’t like them,” said Hester, with a smile; “but then women do; and, after all, we are the half of creation — or more.”
Hester was not touched by that reference to her little heart, which was not a little heart, but a great one, bounding wildly in her breast with perplexity and pain, as well as love, but ready for any heroic effort.
Catherine was the first to rouse herself. The spasm was like death, but it came to an end.
And the silence resumed its sway.