Synopsis of Village Anecdotes by Elizabeth Le Noir
The novel is comprised of the letters of Sophia Willars to her husband Edward, while he is away at sea. She relates in the first of her letters that she is staying at Shortlands, the home of the Peterson family, for the duration of her husband's absence, Mr. Peterson being a respectable farming gentleman. The events contained in her letters describe incidents within the Peterson family, and events that take place within the small rural community in which they are living, and descriptions of the individuals in the village.
Early on in volume one Harriet Peterson comes to stay at Shortlands. The niece of Mr. Peterson, and recently orphaned, she comes under the guardianship of Mr. Peterson. Sophia immediately befriends Harriet, and decides to adopt Harriet as her daughter. The two young women form a close friendship which strengthens throughout the novel, Sophia providing moral guidance and advice to the naive and unassuming Harriet. Both enjoy walks in the countryside, and this becomes a common pastime for them.
At the beginning of volume one Sophia talks of meeting a solitary stranger while on one of her walks, and ponders his identity. The man later reappears at Shortlands, with Mr. Peterson. He is introduced as Mr. Ewer, and had come to the aid of Mr. Peterson in a dangerous incident with a poacher. This is the man that turns out to be the hero of the novel. The Petersons assume on the appearance of Mr. Ewer that he is a man of little importance, and henceforth show little respect for him. Sophia on the other hand sees a lot of good in Mr. Ewer and appreciates his good manners and learning. She forms a good friendship with him.
Early on in the novel Harriet shows a distinct partiality for Mr. Ewer, but is plagued by the attentions of Mr. Deacon, a gentleman from the village, and favoured by the Petersons as a match for Harriet. They aim to marry her to a man of wealth as Harriet is without a substantial inheritance.
Throughout the novel Mr. Ewer plays the part of the perfect gentleman, making timely appearances whenever the ladies are in distress, or in need of help. He also often intervenes with financial help, whenever he can. As a consequence Mr. Ewer is held in great esteem by all the ladies in the village, but essentially remains a man of mystery. Who he actually is and where he is from remains unknown, until the closing chapters of the novel.
News comes in volume one of the illness of the squire, lord of the manor, and owner of the estate. Fears are voiced by the Petersons over the consequences of his death and of the actions of his successor, an estranged brother, for the majority of the novel. They have grown quite rich from the neglected attentions of the squire to his estates, the rent not having been raised for many years.
Throughout the novel Sophia relates to us the incidents in the village, such as the balls and parties, at which Mr. Ewer often makes an appearance. Certain incidents lead some of the villagers to believe that Ewer has a wife somewhere, and speculation on what he is doing in the village increases. News from a stranger confirms the story that he has a wife, but tells of adultery on her part, and how Ewer has left her as a consequence.
Ewer's close friendship with Mrs and Miss Larimer throughout volume two adds to rumours that Miss Larimer is his mistress. Sophia and Harriet are the only ones trusted with their story. In fact the Larimers are very good friends of Ewer's and he has helped them through a lot of misfortune. Sophia also becomes good friends with the Larimers.
The whole story centres on the mystery and rumours surrounding Mr. Ewer, and the increasing bad feeling of the villagers towards him. It is only Sophia who retains faith in his character, though she admits that the stories surrounding Ewer are strange. Despite all the rumours, by the end of volume two, Harriet confesses that she has fallen in love with Ewer. Also by the end of this volume news is revealed that Ewer's wife is dying of a fever. Ewer leaves the village to be with her, increasing gossip in the village.
In volume three Harriet is ordered to marry Deacon by her uncle to her great distress, but also suspects Ewer of courting Miss Larimer. A chance meeting gives her hope and leads her to believe he might have feelings for her. Sophia warns Harriet, telling her to act cautiously as they do not know what Ewer is hiding. Rumours continue to circulate on a marriage between Ewer and Miss Larimer.
A meeting between Harriet and Ewer results in him declaring love for her, and proposing to speak to Mr. Peterson about an engagement. Peterson refuses permission for the match, Harriet is left distraught, and Ewer leaves the village, leaving behind two letters: one for Sophia, and one for Harriet, explaining that he will be back, with means of resolving the situation. He returns with a Mr. Folwing, who he says can act as a character witness for him. They come to Shortlands with the intention of explaining Ewer's past.
Meanwhile Mr. Peterson's son Thomas enters the house to say that he has discovered that Ewer is the new lord of the estate. Ewer is suddenly regarded in a different light by all who disbelieved in him, and Mr Peterson rejects Deacon for Ewer as Harriet's intended.
Ewer talks of his love for Harriet, and explains the mysteries surrounding his behaviour, claiming to have come to the village with the intention of gaining knowledge of the people of the village without them knowing who he was, and thus gaining a true idea of their characters, knowing that later he would be squire here. The Larimers were the only people who knew of his true identity.
It is decided that Sophia will live with Harriet and Mr. Ewer until Edward returns. In the final chapter Sophia learns that the vessel on which Edward is aboard has been praised for its gallant action, naming Mr. Willars in particular. On hearing nothing from Edward herself Sophia worries for his safety, and a friend is sent to enquire at the Admiralty. A note from the author concludes the novel, saying that Mr. Willars arrived at Southlands that evening.