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At the Circulating Library

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

A Database of Victorian Fiction, 1837–1901

Title: Olive Varcoe

Author and Title: Frances E. M. Notley. Olive Varcoe

First Edition: London: Saunders and Otley, 1868. 3 volumes, post 8vo, 31s 6d.

Serialization: The Family Herald, 2 May 1868 to 24 October 1868 (weekly)

Summary: Olive Varcoe is the orphaned second cousin of Sir Hilton Trewavas and his brother John. They all live on the Trewavas estate in Cornwall with Sir Hilton's grandmother, the proud Lady Trewavas. Olive's father was English and her mother foreign (possibly Turkish)—this explains her dark features, passionate nature, and sometimes impish behavior. Having grown up together, Sir Hilton and Olive love each other but Lady Trewavas convinces her grandson that Olive is not a proper wife for a baronet. Instead, the grandmother has selected the conventional Eleanor Maristowe as a proper wife for her grandson. Olive develops a strong antipathy to her rival and John falls in love with Eleanor himself (only sharing his secret with Olive). Eventually, Sir Hilton proposes to Eleanor, though he doesn't love her. As a result, John is heartbroken and Olive is told she must leave the estate on Eleanor's demand. Various scenes follow—Hilton quarrels with Eleanor, Olive confronts Eleanor, John pleads with Hilton—but Sir Hilton and Eleanor are to marry and Olive must leave. The next day, Charles Vigo (a neighboring squire who harbors his own love for Olive) sees an angry confrontation between Olive and Eleanor in the woods. He watches Olive go then wanders the woods before finding Olive crying in a clearing. He assists her back to the house where Eleanor is missing. A search is begun: Vigo and his friend Damerel find the body of Eleanor drowned in a pool in the wood near where Olive argued with her. The body's hands are tied with Olive's belt. Vigo hides this evidence causing a rift with his friend. Olive is accused of the crime (jealousy being her motive), but is not tried due to lack of evidence and Vigo's refusal to testify. He then affects her escape from the neighborhood after proposing to her. Vigo swears to find the killer (since he believes in Olive's innocence) with the help of the retired attorney Mr. Heriot. Meantime, in Ireland, Olive works as a governess "Miss Opal Vansittart" for the heiress Florian Langley. Damerel, by chance, catches sight of Olive from a train window which causes Olive to flee her employers in the middle of the night. The characters converge in Paris: Sir Hilton searches for the missing John (who suffers from depression), Damerel follows Florian there, Vigo comes at the prompting of Florian, and Olive goes to hide in the Paris slums. A family friend, Mrs. Gunning, finds Olive starving in a garrett. Vigo, confirmed by Olive's story, solves the mystery of Eleanor's death: after her argument with Olive (where the latter dropped her belt), Eleanor met John who professed his love for his brother's fiance. She rejected his addresses and the deranged man killed her with the belt. (Olive suspected John's guilt and hid his crime.) John dies of heart disease before he can be tried. Olive returns to England. Vigo releases her from their engagement so she can marry Sir Hilton and Vigo can marry Florian. (TJB)

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References: EC; Toronto


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