I did have problems with Esther's character--not least for the reasons outlined by TGS. In trying to create this modest, gentle, saintly, self-effacing character Dickens really set himself a nearly impossible task. She's maybe too good to be true. Another fictional orphan, Jane Eyre, works far better simply because she is something of a rebel against and critic of the system. Esther seems to accept it and work within it.
There are some good moments for Esther all the same. She is aware of the horrors of marriage for some women in the lower classes. In one of her visits she clearly witnesses the brutalization of a wife. Later when visiting a family with Detective Bucket, it's clear that the husband holds the threat of physical violence over his wife all too obviously. Dickens must have felt that dramatizing this social horror was far more emotionally effective when filtered through the Esther character than it would have been if it had been simply stated by the omniscient narrator.
I think this is the key to Esther's narrative function. The ON is a very powerful voice but he is remote. Esther provides a personal view. She humanises the themes and relates directly to the various characters. Since she is clearly an optimist and tries to see the best in people--much more so than the ON--her criticism of Richard Carstone is especially damning. The same applies to her dislike of Mrs Jellyby and her support for Caddy.
Esther's relationship with Charley was quite sensitive and very believable. Through this specific maid-mistress relationship, Dickens could effectively dramatise the general truth of the essential human equality of all despite differences in social class and occupation.
I rather liked the way Esther accepted the proposal of John Jarndyce. There actually was something quite sweet about the scene. On the other hand, as i said before, I didn't find the "romance" with Allan Woodcourt at all convincing. He was really a very boring character. But, then, I suppose in the heel of the hunt, Esther isn't exactly a live wire either.
Last edited by fantasyfan; 07-22-2011 at 03:34 PM.