The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Hester Harper

Hester Harper, an Australian rancher. A thin, flat-breasted, middle-aged woman with a lame leg, she is aware of having been a disappointment to her father, with whom she lives, because she was a girl, and an ugly, crippled one at that, instead of a boy. When she takes an orphaned teenager home with her, Hester feels close to another human being for the first time since the loss of her childhood governess. After her father’s death, Hester neglects and then sells her land, planning to spend the money on luxuries for Katherine and for herself and determining never to let Katherine leave her. When the girl, driving fast in the dark, hits some object, presumably a man, Hester throws the body into her well to protect Katherine and to keep her. When she finds her money missing and learns that there has been a thief in the neighborhood, Hester assumes that the money is in the well with the man, but she is willing to lose the money rather than to lose Katherine.


Katherine, an orphan. Almost sixteen years old when Hester meets her, she is a pretty, delicate-looking girl with thin blond hair and a childish voice. Ingratiating and imaginative, she becomes a playmate for her employer, out of whom she can soon wheedle anything she wants. After the automobile accident, Katherine’s sexual frustrations turn into an obsession. She is certain that the man in the well is still alive and that he must be...

(The entire section is 570 words.)