Book Review: Hester Morley’s Promise

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Sunday, November 19, 1911: Went to Sunday School this afternoon. Wore my new hat and coat. I’ve just finished reading a book tonight, I can call it that for it is about half past eleven. Hester Molly’s Promise was the name; most too sad to be really interesting.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Hester Morley’s Promise by Hesba Stratton was published in 1873. It is available online and can be downloaded from the Internet Archive.

This novel tells the story of two women (Hester and Miss Walden) in a small town in England who love the same man—a young minister named Carl.

As a 16-year-old Grandma probably enjoyed the romance–though she obviously didn’t like the lack of a “happy forever after” ending.

The book also examined how pettiness and self-interest of church members can pull a church apart.  This may have resonated with Grandma since the church that she attended was shuttered within 10-years of the time that she kept this diary.

Grandma probably also took away something about extra-marital affairs. I was surprised that books from that long ago dealt with this topic, and found it interesting that the novel suggested that an affair doesn’t affect just the people who are involved in it, but also their families and communities.

Hester’s father was a bitter, broken, 50-year-old man named John Morley. Hester’s mother died when she was young, and John then married a woman 14-years his junior named Rose.

About 10 years prior to the beginning of the book, Rose was not satisfied with her marriage and had an affair. When John found out about the affair, he threw Rose out—but never could get over his anger and his life spiraled downward.

The young minister Carl got drawn into all of the messiness as the ongoing repercussions of the ancient affair played out. Intertwined in this story was the story of  two woman who loved Carl–and one had the power to destroy his future in the town if he didn’t reciprocate her advances.

Carl chose Hester, and Miss Walden set out to destroy him.  She spread nasty rumors about Carl, and he was soon asked to leave the church for heresy.

In many ways this book seems very dated—yet I still enjoyed reading it. It gave me a better understanding of how sin, redemption, love, and relationships were viewed a hundred plus years ago.

2 Responses

  1. How wonderful to know what an ancestor read. Sounds like Helena was engrossed with it even if she didn’t like the ending.

    • It’s really cool to know what she read–and it’s amazing that I could find the book. When I first started to try to figure out this diary entry, someone suggested to me that it might be a low-quality “dime novel” from that era. I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that the book apparently was considered to be of high enough quality that was worth digitalizing.

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