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3.86  ·  Rating details ·  367 ratings  ·  36 reviews
Catherine Vernon is the head of the family bank, reputed in the Home Counties to be 'solid as the Bank of England'. Loved and revered by the people of Redborough, she is nevertheless seen as a none-too-benevolent despot by those of her family who, dependent upon her charity, live in the nearby 'Vernonry'.

Catherine is a proud businesswoman, in firm control of her life, her
Paperback, 520 pages
Published December 10th 2004 by Little Brown and Co. (UK) (first published 1883)
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Average rating 3.86  · 
Rating details
 ·  367 ratings  ·  36 reviews

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Katie Lumsden
Feb 20, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I absolutely loved this. One of the best Victorian novels I've read for a while - insightful, dramatic, full of fantastically drawn characters, beautifully written, and really smartly exploring the role of women in Victorian society and in the Victorian world of work. I adored it.
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1800-1900, reviewed
I was keen to read a ‘serious’ work by Margaret Oliphant, having enjoyed her witty, ironic Miss Marjoribanks. Hester lived up to my expectations in full. It’s a fine, rich, absorbing late-Victorian novel—I would say on a par with the works of Elizabeth Gaskell (high praise in my book). In some ways, it’s more interesting than anything I have read of Gaskell’s, in that it’s a little weirder and more original and less resolved.

The fulcrum of the book is supplied by the tension between the paired,
Aug 20, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 19c-lit
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 f ...more
3,5 stars

A very interesting read even though far from as captivating and definitely more serious than Miss Marjoribanks.

Need to think about it some more before attempting a review.
This was my first novel by Margaret Oliphant and while I did like it, it just lacked something, both in the story and the characters. For the story, I can't really say there was something missing or wrong, but it's a typical Victorian novel and while I do love those, there are unfortunately for Mrs. Oliphant many authors I read before and found better. I love classics, especially the 19th century. I always have, so I read many novels from many different authors for years and with Hester, I just ...more
Jul 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I do love Mrs. Oliphant. She should be more well known. I have a lot of her books in the much lamented green covered Virago Classic series. Saving them up like treasure for rereading in old age.
Catherine Siemann
Jun 03, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: victorians
Somewhat leisurely in its pace, and internal in its actions, Oliphant's Hester is marvellous in its depiction of two strong, independent women, who cope with the situations presented to them in the best way they can. Catherine Vernon, who many years before stepped in to save the family bank when her feckless cousin, John Vernon, ran it in to the ground fled oversees, is both maiden lady and yet also matriarch. Benevolent and yet cynical, her only blind spot is her nephew Edward, one of her two c ...more
Mar 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Margaret Oliphant is a newly discovered joy for me. She deserves to be up there in the literary canon with Trollope, Jane Austen, and Thackery, but some reason she is mostly unknown. "Hester" is a leisurely, slow-moving book but a wonderful deep exploration of character.
Apr 03, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: britlit
You have to love Victorian feminist lit which involves banking and "masculine" females so simultaneously heavily. Extremely worth reading. Why does no one know Mrs. Oliphant? Excellent question.
From BBC Radio 4 - 15 Minute Drama:
The tale of a 19th-century woman who runs her own bank.
Jun 30, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This Victorian novel has two main characters. In middle age Catherine Vernon was given an opportunity to utilise her abilities and energies and thus gain the kind of respect and status given to vanishingly few women in her time, when her cousin runs the family-owned bank into the ground and disappears, leaving her to save it. During the time of the novel she is in her sixties/seventies and, still greatly esteemed, has retired from the bank and found protegees among family members to run it. She ...more
Emily Moore
Mar 10, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Blah. I forgot how heavy-handed some Victorian novels can be, not allowing the reader to even dare to imagine the characters' inner thoughts, but rather, the omniscient and busy-body author must spend pages upon every blessed nuance of every blessed thought or emotion. And then some more pages upon the shade of pale of the heroine's face as she observes the action around her. Also, worst. ending. ever. It seems like the author decided that her book was about long enough but she realized too late ...more
May 16, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
To put it simply: I think Margaret Oliphant is a very good writer and I will continue exploring her writing in her other novels. However, the problem for me are the characters. They annoyed the hell out of me. Hester as a main heroine stays shallow through the entirety of the novel and I disliked her from the beginning. The only well developed character is the "villain" of the novel, Catherine Vernon. All the relationships feel very superficial and I only felt annoyed by the big love story. The ...more
Aug 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A rather brilliant story that puts into practice the old truism: first as tragedy, then as farce. Also interesting as a study between women of different generations within a family that bears considerable financial responsibilities. For me, this puts Oliphant right on the map with flair and much contemporary relevance.
William Leight
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
[3.5 stars, really]

[Spoilers, although as is often the case in Victorian novels plot twists are not exactly hard to guess.]

The book is named after Hester, but it is largely the story of the tragic downfall of her cousin Catherine Vernon, who is the real heroine. The story begins years before Hester’s birth, when her father, through some combination of mismanagement, personal prodigality, and financial shenanigans, nearly brought down the bank that the Vernon family had run for decades. (Apparent
Mar 19, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers of Victorian novels
Shelves: classic-fiction
This is the best work of one of the lesser-known, but prolific Victorian women novelists. Written in the 1880s, it's set in the 1860s and features banking and "speculation" as one of its underlying themes. The novel also reflects the move from rural life to town life.

While Hester is an interesting character, her antagonist Catherine Vernon is perhaps even more interesting. A wealthy spinster of a prominent local banking family, she "saves the bank" during a run 30 years prior to the time of the
The essence of this review is basically that I loved Hester and I’m not even sure if there’s really anything more to add.

That’s partly because I can’t quite put my finger on why I liked this book in the first place. One of my least-favourite topics in the world plays a large role in this book: banking and finance. For me, this is about as interesting a topic as a book about the finer points of Watching Paint Dry.

But something about Hester grabbed me right from the very beginning. Set in a small
Jan 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The model against which all other heroines will in future be measured: Catherine Vernon.
Katie Pompeani
Oct 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: the-classics
I enjoy the complexities of Oliphant’a novels - and how she examines the potential and constraints of female social power in the 19th c. Her heroines have complicated lives and are often forced into needing to fend for themselves despite being raised for a life of financial security and leisure. Her works explore the limited “respectable” options available for women in the 19th c who wanted to achieve financial independence- both out of a personal desire to support themselves as well as necessit ...more
Huh. That summary provided by Goodreads doesn't sound like the same story. Granted, it was done in only 5, 13-minute segments, so the abridger had to leave a lot out. But the whole focus of the story changed. Catherine was made out to be kind, sensible, and suffering, but highly competent. I don't think I noticed that SHE wasn't Hester... I guess I forgot the name of the novel. Hester was the young girl? She hardly figured at all in this abridged audio. Anyway, a depressing story. I guess the en ...more
Art the Bookworm
What a great surprise this book was. It was funny, tragic, and fiercely feminist. This has become one of my all time favorite classics I've read.

After I read the last paragraph of the book, I had to laugh - such a great final statement that pokes fun at traditional Victorian novels:

(view spoiler)
Jackson Cyril
Sep 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A surprisingly good read-- no doubt because it's one of the few Victorian novels I've read recently which managed to stay under 400 pages (not by a lot, but still). The novel is about a strong matriarch who takes control of her family's bank during a crash, elevates it to its former status, and who, as she ages, must choose a successor; while the novel is named after a male character, Hester, it should be named Catherine, the matriarch who dominates the novel and who's status as a bank owner is ...more
Oct 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-group, fiction
This was a selection for my Classics book group. I hadn't heard of Margaret Oliphant prior to this, so was amazed to find out she wrote over 100 novels. Hester was a very refreshing read. Using the background of a successful family bank in a country town, Oliphant tackles a range of feminist issues in a sensitive and convincing way. The right of women to work and their ability to handle business affairs as well as (or better) than men, being two of the main ones. Catherine and Hester are strong, ...more
Apr 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mrs. Oliphant knows human nature. I spent a good part of reading this book with a grin on my face because of the antics of the silly characters who ate from the one hand of Catherine Vernon while they bit the other. Catherine Vernon is the matriarch of the Vernon family, the great banking family of an English town. She has saved the bank once already, when the protagonist's father would have ruined it. Hester will not know, till the very end, why Catherine hates her so, but these two will find t ...more
Sam Wilkinson
This is quite the cheerless tome. It started really well, and then just gradually became more and more depressing until it's fairly inevitable, and maybe of it's time, but neither cheery, nor feminist conclusion.
Lynnee Argabright
I made it to pg. 185 through Ch IX. This one wasn't as sloggy as some others; there were just more interesting books out there to read at the time. I'd wanted to read a Margaret Oliphant book, but perhaps this was not the one to start with. After that, I suspect I'll retry this one.
Nov 06, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wasn't crazy about this one. She does some interesting things, especially with the marriage plot, but most of the characters are just too unpleasant for me to have an enjoyable time.
Nov 14, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Original and deeply satisfying. Oh! Mrs. Oliphant! I believe you!
Franziska Self fisken
Margaret Oliphant depicts many of her characters here vividly, often with humour, sympathy and understanding. She goes beyond the domestic sphere and gives some insight into how people did speculate using other peoples' money. She does criticise the Victorian marriage market, whilst showing how for too many Victorian women getting married well was the only way of gaining security and respect. Unlike Jane Austen, Margaret Oliphant does more than hint that perhaps women could and should go out int ...more
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Margaret Oliphant Wilson Oliphant (née Margaret Oliphant Wilson), was a Scottish novelist and historical writer, who usually wrote as Mrs. Oliphant. Her fictional works encompass "domestic realism, the historical novel and tales of the supernatural".

Margaret Oliphant was born at Wallyford, near Musselburgh, East Lothian, and spent her childhood at Lasswade (near Dalkeith), Glasgow and Liverpool. A

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“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. Besides, we are not in the days of chivalry. What could you be inspired to do— make better bargains on your Stock Exchange?” 3 likes
“Besides,'' she said, "it was not a hero I was thinking of. If anybody, it was Catherine Vernon." "Whom you don't like. 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.” 2 likes
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