Elizabeth Jolley’s novel, The Well, tells the story of Hester Harper, who has never known her mother, had been cared for by her grandmother, and, later, had been cared for by a governess named Hilde Herzfeld. Hilde had cherished the girl, teaching her to sing, dance, sew, and cook. She helped Hester overcome her self-consciousness, and she involved her in romantic dreams. Hilde and young Hester also took a tour of Europe together.
Once Hilde had been ignobly bundled from the house after a miscarriage, Hester realized that she shared her only friend with a rival, her father. Hester was sent to boarding school for two years. Her grandmother died while she was at the school. Emotionally, Hester seems arrested by Hilde’s departure and her grandmother’s death. As an adult, she still does not speak of Hilde, until she meets Katherine. She remains unmarried and has no children. She is determined that Katherine will remain innocent despite the girl’s fascination with romance, magazines, and films and film stars.
Katherine is full of energy, and it becomes clear that as she gets older, from fifteen to twenty-one, she becomes more interested in marriage and longs to reestablish her friendship with Joanna. The two young women are the same age and share similar interests. Some of the novel’s black humor stems from the differences in age, education, and cultural interests between the older Hester and the younger Katherine.
Jolley, in having Hester bring the orphan Katherine to her own home, is suggesting that Hester is trying to re-create the nurturing relationship she had with Hilde. Hester plans a trip to Europe with Katherine and teaches her in the same way...
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