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(Text kindly supplied by Amy de Gruchy)


1874, published by Macmillan


The main events of the novel are set in England between 1835 and 1849, are described by one of the chief characters at some unstated later date, and arise from happenings in Canada in 1814-15.

In 1814 a young English officer stationed in Canada marries a local girl. After Indian attacks each believes the other dead. The wife bears a daughter, Hester, and later remarries. Her first husband, recovering from his wounds, returns to England, inherits an earldom and, believing himself to be a widower, marries a lady of good family by whom he has two sons and two daughters, the elder of whom, Ursula, narrates the story. Many years after his second wife's death the earl marries for e third time, but his young wife dies in childbirth, leaving her sickly baby son, Alured, to Ursula's care.

Meanwhile in Canada Hester, having been given a good education, has married an American farmer. Chance reveals her real rank, and after the death of her mother and the birth of her son she is determined to go to England and claim her rights. In this she is opposed by her husband, but encouraged by a crafty lawyer.

When she arrives the shock proves fatal to her father, but to her disappointment, her son is not the successor, for the third marriage took place after her mother's death, so little Alured is legitimate, and the new earl.

There is now a reversal of situation. Lady Hester is now rich, having inherited half the earl's fortune. The four children of the second marriage, now impoverished as well as illegitimate, turn to farming. The younger brother emigrates to New Zealand, the elder takes over a farm near his old home, and as guardian of little Alured manages the estate. Ursula and her sister share this farmhouse life. The elder brother's engagement is broken off by the girl's worldly mother, and Ursula rejects her own suitor in pride and self-will.

Much of the novel deals with the family's adaptation to their new life. The plot consists of Hester's attempts to rid herself of her little half-brother. From the start she had hoped that the sickly little earl would die, so that her son would replace him. However, Alured thrives and grows strong in his healthy farmhouse life, and develops a warm friendship with Hester's son. Hester and her second husband, the crafty Canadian lawyer, try to kill the young boy, but in the last attempt the lawyer accidentally shoots and kills Hester's son. Hester gradually repents, is reconciled to her half-brothers and sisters, makes reparation to them, and dies.

The minor characters are shadowy figures, but the half sisters Hester and Ursula are strongly drawn. They are both proud, strong, determined women, almost obsessed by their maternal or quasi maternal feelings, but generally indifferent to the needs of others. The underlying theme is that circumstances matter less than the response to them. The moral teaching also warns against pride and excessive love.

Further Reading

For contemporary reviews see L. Madden, J.B. Shorthouse and C.M. Yonge, unpublished thesis, University of London Diploma in Librarianship, 1964.

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