Because Hester’s consciousness is central to the story, Elizabeth Jolley fully reveals not only the adult spinster’s loneliness but also, through memories, the development of her sense of isolation in her childhood. Having lost her mother, Hester transferred her love to her father, but soon her closest companion became her governess, Hilde Herzfeld. As Hester’s relationship with Katherine deepens, Hester relives the golden days with Hilde, retelling her little stories, teaching Katherine her little games. Yet part of the memory of Hilde must also be that of loss, for one night, Hester awakened to find Hilde bleeding and calling for Hester’s father. Overcome, Hester ran to her bed, and the next morning, she found Hilde gone, without explanation. Although she realized that the seemingly close companionship between her and her governess was limited to the daylight hours and that her governess had another intimacy at night, in her recollections, Hester has tried to omit that closer, sexual relationship, just as she chooses to believe that she can possess her later companion, Katherine, forever, denying Katherine’s own sexual desires.
Although Hester is jealous and possessive, she is a more sympathetic character than Katherine, whom even Hester sometimes suspects of concealing greedy motives beneath an affectionate and compliant exterior. Katherine’s willingness to spend Hester’s money, her insistence on making lists of the clothing that her...
(The entire section is 572 words.)