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3.5 out of 5 stars11
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 13 January 2008
This is the story of Catherine and Hester Vernon, and the relationship between the two women and the one man whom both of them loved; Catherine as a son and Hester as a woman. Catherine once saved the family bank from ruin at the hands of Hester's reckless father when he fled the country in disgrace, and Hester and her mother return years later as paupers living at the charity of cousin Catherine, as do several other assorted Vernon relatives. Hester makes a poor impression on Catherine on her first day there and for years the two women barely tolerate each other. Catherine rules the "Vernonry" as it's called where those relatives live in relative comfort and she amuses herself watching their minor quirks and foibles as they gossip and interact with each other. As Hester matures, she catches the eye of two of her cousins, Harry and Edward Vernon, Edward being the apple of Catherine's eye and loved as she would her own son. Edward chafes under Catherine's thumb and plots to free himself forever, but he must find a way to obtain funds to do so, which could lead to the downfall of all the Vernons and the bank.

Sound boring? Actually it's not; it's a fascinating tale of two women and their intertwining relationships between themselves and others. I loved the secondary characters, especially the two Misses Vernons, such delightfully catty old maids! Oliphant does a fine job of setting her scenes and giving you a wonderful in depth look at a slice of Victorian England.

Just be warned, this is not an action packed, sit on the edge of your seat, can't put it down until its finished type of novel. This is a story to savor and enjoy the multi-faceted characters like a fine red wine or a box of chocolates (or both!!). If you are looking for high action and adventure, this is not the book for you. Oliphant is superb and although she doesn't quite come up the ten star standards of George Eliot, this is one author well worth taking the time to check out. If you are a first time reader to this author your best bet is to try her delightful Miss Marjoribanks first, a very funny and lighthearted romp and a refreshing change from the strum and drang of most 19C British literature. Five stars.
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on 16 August 2005
This was the first of Oliphant's novels that I have come across, and, having finished it, I'm genuinely surprised that she isn't more widely read - as another reviewer has said, she certainly gives Trollope a run for his money, and I'm a big fan of Trollope. 'Hester' gives a very different view of the status of women in the 19th century, well worth reading for anyone interested in 19th century literature or history. However, it's also a genuinely well-written, enjoyable novel, with strong characters and a well-thought out plot. It's less a novel of suspense and more a novel of subtle character development, as we see the ageing, wealthy, businesswoman Catherine Vernon's relationship with the young, penniless, Hester, who is prevented from going out to work by her family's pride. Well worth reading!
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on 19 June 2009
This reprint is only volume 3 of the full 3 volumes (nineteenth-century novels were generally published in 3 volumes). The publishers do not say this. I advise people to buy one of the other editions, although there is enough drama in the final volume to make even an incomplete story a good read.
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on 24 February 2014
I got to know Margaret Oliphant through to her fabulous novel 'Miss Marjoribanks', and was sad to discover that though she wrote a huge number of novels, precious few of those are still in print. Luckily, this one still is because it is an absolute gem.

Hester Vernon is the young relative of the ageing Catherine Vernon, and shortly after Hester's father dies she comes to live on Catherine's estate 'the Vernonry' together with her kind-hearted but rather dull-witted mother. It doesn't take Hester, who's anything but dull-witted, very long to realize they have stepped into a hornets' nest: several other aged relatives of Catherine are also living at the Vernonry, most of them grudging a venomous hatred towards Catherine (the Miss Vernon-Ridgways and Mr Mildmay Vernon are amongst the most venomous fictional characters I've come across), and Hester and Catherine from the very start get off on the wrong foot. And then there's some mystery surrounding Hester's father: how exactly was he involved in the Vernon Banking House, at the head of which Catherine has been sitting for years?

I cannot heap enough praise on this brilliant novel, though it is entirely different from 'Miss Marjoribanks'. Whereas in the latter there's plenty of high humor and laugh-out-loud moments, 'Hester' is a lot more serious, at times tragic, in tone. The characters (all of them really, but first and foremost Hester and Catherine) are brilliantly drawn, and I could not stop reading in my eagerness to find out how the story would develop and, ultimately, end.

Warmly recommended!
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on 15 January 2014
A good read with an intricate weave of characters. The transcription however was poor with frequent non-alpha characters or misspellings.
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on 19 May 2015
Well written with excellent insight into the contradictions of human nature. I enjoyed the story very much.
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on 20 January 2014
The book itself is a marvellous read, and Margaret Oliphant certainly deserves to be up there with the greats. Particularly impressive are her radical views on the role of women in society. However this Kindle edition is littered with typographical errors which seriously interrupt the reading. I began highlighting the errors, but simply gave up in the end as there were so many - 3 or 4 per page in some sections. A character called Roland is printed as Boland countless times. At a crucial point where the family home (called The Grange) is to be sold, the Kindle version brings its own unique take on the text by reading 'The Orange was to be sold'. 'He fully understood' is rendered as 'He frilly understood' 'He had gone' reads as 'He bad gone'. Ampersands and other symbols enter at random, full stops appear in the middle of sentences all over the place, and all in all it's a pretty poor show. Perhaps acceptable if it were a freebie or a 99p buy, but it's not. In fact I think I'll ask for a refund.
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on 8 December 2008
This is a Victorian novel like so many Victorian novels: reminiscent of a Victorian interior, all gloomy and cluttered. There's a lot of wood panelling, firelight, and evening walks on the darkening common. There is a plethora of fussy detail, which you try strenuously to remember, only to find it's not actually necessary. Piercing psychological insights, striking on the first view, get very wearing when you are obliged to admire them over and over and over again. Never fear that you will miss the point, as it will be put before you in several different ways before the author finally moves onto the next scene.

Sometimes this novel is anthropologically interesting, giving an insight into a culture that was so much more deferential and hierarchical than our own, and in which women's choices were closely constrained by their gender and their class, rather than by their abilities. And yes, she does make the point that this was untenable and morally unjustifiable, but I'm not sure she needed 456 pages to do it. Some of the characters are convincing, and some of them are complex, caught in the grip of conflicting motives; some were meant to be funny, but were just downright pathetic and irritating - and they're all so middle class: the servants and the lower orders barely feature, and only once in a flood do they seem to have minds of their own.

Margaret Oliphant's difficult life had aroused my sympathy, so I was sorry not to be smitten. But folks, I was BORED: it took me more than three months to get through this. If you want to read Victoriana, stick to Mrs. Gaskell or Thomas Hardy, or jump back a little further and give Jane Austen houseroom. She at least should make you laugh.
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on 21 April 2014
'Esther' is both rather good and deeply annoying; I certainly don't regret reading it but I have seldom seen characters whose good points so belied the way they act. We are constantly told how excellent a woman Catherine Vernon is and yet she fails to endear herself to anybody in this novel, except for her kinsman Captain Morgan and his wife. It's true that being grateful is a burden very few people like to bear and the cattiness expressed at the Vernonry is therefore believable but there is too much of it. It would have been more true to life if some had been petty in this way and others had seen the real Catherine and appreciatd her. We are also told that she is a great reader of characters and very astute. Well, considering that the one she loves most and would do anything for, can't stand her and cannot wait to escape what he sees as insufferable tyranny there is reason to doubt her powers of observation. As for Esther and Catherine's enmity, as it stems from nothing at all, it is simply impossible to credit that several years afterwards those two excellent women should still dislike each other so much. Both are credited with extraordinary intelligence and one may wonder why after an acquaintance of several years (although they did see very little of each other) such intelligence should still have kept them in the dark. It seems anyway that the only one to appreciate everyone at their proper value is Harry, though as we are abundantly told, 'he will never set the Thames on fire'. Well if being credited with low intelligence, dogged perseverance and incredible good nature allows him to see more than his clever relatives, one may just as well be stupid. It would have been nice as well had there been the slightest bit of suspense in the story but any forthcoming catastrophe is dealt so much with before it even happens that by the time it unfolds it is a relief it didn't get delayed any longer. Not one of the good Victorian novels I'm afraid.
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on 9 March 2015
This is good, as expected
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