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Vanessa Summary

(Masterpieces of British Fiction)

Vanessa was fifteen years old when her grandmother, Judith Paris, died. At the funeral, Adam, her sincere but unpolished father, made a speech that was admired only by Vanessa and her mother, Margaret. Adam loved his mother well and spoke with too much sincerity. His numerous relatives would rather have heard a eulogy of the proud family of Herries.

At the funeral, Vanessa noticed everyone, and her beauty made even the most distant relatives notice her. She had special interest, however, for her cousin Benjie. She already knew she loved him. Benjie was a rascal who did not fit in well with his haughty family. He was capable of hard work and common sense for a while, but he had sporadic fits of wildness. Some of his relatives believed that no good could come from Benjie’s heritage. His uncle had killed his father. One grandfather had committed suicide. The other one was living out a mad dotage.

Vanessa also noticed hesitant, stiff Ellis Herries, her distant cousin. Ellis managed to remark that it was a nice day. As soon as Vanessa agreed, she ran out to meet Benjie.

Although Benjie was personable, Adam did not like her to take walks with him. Benjie kissed Vanessa, however, and she promised to marry him when she grew up. Vanessa was so good and beautiful that Benjie had qualms about such a promise. He told her the truth about his character and his wildness, and he attacked her faith in God. Vanessa, however, resolved to hold fast to her promise.

In 1880, Vanessa became engaged to Benjie. Still uneasy about his unworthiness, Benjie agreed that no one should know of the engagement and that they should not meet for two years. Then if they still wanted to do so, they would be married.

In the meantime, Vanessa went to London to stay with her city cousins. Dressed in fashionable clothes, lovely Vanessa soon became an admired belle. She had many proposals of marriage. The most insistent suitor was her cousin Ellis. Ellis was good and sober and already a respected financier; but Vanessa thought only of Benjie.

Vanessa returned home to Fell House to care for her ailing father and wait for the two years to end. Then, in 1882, Fell House burned down, and Adam perished in the blaze. Too distraught to think of marriage at that time, Vanessa put Benjie off. Several weeks later, she went to The Fortress to stay with Elizabeth, Benjie’s mother, and to await the return of her fiance. When he did come back, Vanessa knew that something had happened.

She soon learned the story. Sometime before, Benjie had become acquainted with the Halliday family and had been attracted to their daughter Marion. After Adam Paris died, he went to visit the Hallidays. Following an evening of gaiety, he went upstairs to bed. In this room, he found Marion, who was waiting for him at the urging of her mother. Marion became pregnant, and she and Benjie were married. Without bitterness, Vanessa wished him a happy marriage and went back to London.

At the age of twenty-six, honored as the reigning beauty of London society, Vanessa finally decided to give in to Ellis and be kind to him. Ellis and Vanessa were married, and Vanessa became the great lady of highly fashionable Hill House.

One day, quite by accident, she saw Benjie and his son Tom at the Jubilee Celebration. She did not talk with him, but she did learn that Marion had left Benjie for another man. After struggling with her inclinations for some time, she met Benjie again and visited with him as an old friend.

Meanwhile, it was becoming more and more impossible for her to live with Ellis. His mind was weakening rapidly, and he had delusions of persecution. To the outward eye, however, he still was the sober financier. One night, he locked himself and Vanessa in their room and announced that he intended to cut her throat and then his own. She talked him out of the notion, but she was afraid of him from that time on.

Then Ellis brought in two elderly cousins to take charge of the house and to spy on Vanessa. As his next step,...

(The entire section is 1,197 words.)