Hester: A Story of Contemporary Life, Volume 3 (of 3)
Volume 1 introduces us to the eponymous protagonist, Hester, a young woman who has just arrived in London from the countryside. She is the daughter of a clergyman who has fallen on hard times, and she is looking for work as a governess. Hester is a gentle and sensitive soul, with a deep love for nature and a strong sense of morality. She quickly finds employment with the wealthy and aristocratic Raeburn family, and begins to settle into her new life.
Volume 2 sees Hester struggling to come to terms with her feelings for Mr. Raeburn, the head of the family. She is torn between her desire for him and her knowledge that their relationship is forbidden. Meanwhile, Hester’s brother, Stephen, comes to London to try to make his fortune, but he is seduced by the city’s temptations and falls into a life of vice and crime.
In Volume 3, Hester’s world is turned upside down when a shocking secret is revealed. It turns out that Mr. Raeburn is actually Hester’s biological father, the result of an affair he had with her mother many years ago. Hester is devastated by the news, but she resolves to keep the secret and continue to serve the Raeburn family. Meanwhile, Stephen’s life takes a tragic turn, and he dies in poverty and despair.
Throughout the novel, Oliphant explores the themes of social class, morality, and the changing roles of women in Victorian England. Hester is a symbol of the new, independent woman who is trying to make her way in a world that is still dominated by men. She is not afraid to speak her mind and stand up for what she believes in, even if it means going against convention.
The novel also examines the double standards that existed in Victorian society, particularly when it came to sex and morality. Mr. Raeburn is able to carry on his affair with Hester’s mother without consequence, while Hester and Stephen are punished for their transgressions. Oliphant is critical of this hypocrisy, and she uses the novel to highlight the injustices that were prevalent at the time.
Hester is not the only character who undergoes significant development in the novel. Mr. Raeburn is a complex character who is torn between his love for Hester and his duty to his family. He is a sympathetic character, but he is also flawed and capable of making mistakes. Similarly, Stephen is not simply a villain, but a tragic figure who is unable to escape the circumstances of his birth and upbringing.
Overall, Hester: A Story of Contemporary Life is a powerful and thought-provoking novel that offers a glimpse into the complexities of Victorian society. Oliphant’s vivid descriptions of life in London and the countryside bring the novel to life, while her incisive commentary on the social and moral issues of the day make it a timeless work of literature.