Author Of Esther Waters: In 1894, George Moore published his novel Esther Waters, which was the first novel to be published in the United States. Taking place in England between the early 1870s and the present day, the novel is about a young, pious woman from a poor working-class family who, while working as a kitchen maid, is seduced by another employee, falls pregnant, is abandoned by her lover, and decides to raise her child as a single mother in the face of all the obstacles she faces. It is one of several Victorian novels that describe the life of a “fallen woman.” Esther Waters belongs to this category.
Written in a naturalistic style reminiscent of Zola’s, the novel stands out among Moore’s books as the book that offered him financial security immediately after publication, thanks to Gladstone’s endorsement of the novel in the Westminster Gazette.
Moore’s friend and fellow novelist George Gissing, who lived in the late nineteenth century, remarked that there was “There is some sadness and strength in the latter half, but the prose is terrible. The dialogue is frequently expressed in a bizarre manner “….. Moore reworked it four times further, in 1899, 1917, 1920, and 1931, and it is widely recognized as his finest work.
Esther Waters is born in Barnstaple, Devon, to hardworking parents who are Plymouth Brethren in their faith. Esther’s mother relocates to London and remarries, but her stepfather turns out to be a hard-drinking bully and wife-beater who forces Esther, a natural beauty, to abandon school and work instead, greatly diminishing her chances of ever learning how to read and write, and Esther remains illiterate for the rest of her days.
It is with the Barfield’s, a nouveau riche family of horse breeders, racers, and bettors who live at Woodview near Shoreham, that she gets her first employment (“situation”) outside of London, as a kitchen maid. She meets William Latch, a footman, and is tempted by him while she is there. She is shocked to discover that Latch is having an affair with the Barfields’ niece, who is staying at Woodview while she is daydreaming about a future with him.
Despite the fact that Latch and his lover have eloped, Esther continues to live at Woodview until she is unable to conceal her pregnancy any longer. In spite of the fact that she has found a kindred soul in Mrs. Barfield, who is also a Plymouth Sister and who despises the horse betting that is going on all around her, Esther is fired (“I couldn’t have kept you on because you were setting a bad example to the younger servants”) and must reluctantly return to her home in London.
With the little money she has saved, she will be able to rent a room away from her stepfather’s home and be out of his sight. Her mother is pregnant with her eighth child and dies while giving birth to it at the same time that Esther is giving birth to a healthy boy she names Jackie at Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in New York City. While still in detention, she receives a visit from her younger sister, who asks her for money to help her pay for her travel to Australia, where her entire family has decided to relocate. Esther never hears or sees anything about them again.