The story of the life of a “fallen woman”, Esther Waters caused a sensation when it was first published in the late nineteenth century. Calls for it to be banned on account of its sexual frankness were rejected by Gladstone himself.
The plot follows the misfortunes of Esther, driven from home by a drunken stepfather and forced into domestic service at the age of seventeen. Esther is seduced by a fellow servant who deserts her, causing her to lose her position and descend into a life of poverty, hardship and humiliation in London, where she is forced to fend for herself and her baby boy. Her fortunes change for the better when she marries, but her husband is a bookmaker and publican operating outside the law and their luck is destined not to last . . .
Set against a backdrop of horseracing, and the gambling and drinking that goes with it, Esther Waters is a novel teeming with life. In its sympathy for the plight of the poor and dispossessed it is reminiscent of Dickens, while its naturalism places it in the tradition of Thomas Hardy.
This unjustly neglected classic, so celebrated and controversial in its day, is now available to readers in digital form for the first time.
“. . . standing at the kerb of Piccadilly Circus, waiting for a bus to take her to Ludgate Hill Station, the girl grew conscious of the moving multitude that filled the streets The great restaurants rose up calm and violet in the evening sky, the Café Monico, with its air of French newspapers and Italian wines; and before the grey façade of the fashionable Criterion hansoms stopped and dinner parties walked across the pavement. The fine weather brought the wenches up earlier than usual from the suburbs, and they came up the long road from Fulham, with white dresses floating from their hips, and feather boas waving a few inches from the pavement. But through this elegant disguise Esther could pick out the servant-girls. Their stories were her story. Each and all had been deserted; and perhaps each had a child to support. But they hadn’t been as lucky as she had been in finding situations, that was all.”
- Based on the revised text published in 1926, this is the first digital edition of Esther Waters
- Newly edited and corrected
- Includes a brief Note on the Text
“It’s an exciting, interesting, engrossing book . . . You will not forget Esther Waters. You grow to love her and want her to thrive . . . You can’t put it down . . . once you’re halfway through it, you really don’t want to be doing anything else.” – Colm Tóibín, BBC Radio 4
“The story owes much of its buoyancy and permanency to the fact that we can examine it dispassionately. There it hangs, complete, apart . . . Vivid, truthful, so lightly and yet so firmly constructed . . . Esther Waters . . . holds a very distinguished place in English fiction.” – Virginia Woolf, Times Literary Supplement (1920)
“There is not . . . one single page which is not packed as tightly as it can hold with whatever can be recorded. When we follow Esther to London here is the crown of the book . . . a London of theatres, music-halls, wine-shops, public-houses. And it is the scene of the struggle of Esther Waters to be a good woman and to bring up her child against fearful odds. . . Could all this be more faithfully described than the author has described it? Could it possibly be more complete, more probable? The technique is so even, it is as though a violinist were to play the whole concerto in one stroke of the bow.” – Katherine Mansfield, Novels and Novelists, (1930)
George Moore (1852–1933) was an Irish novelist. His short story “Albert Nobbs” has been adapted as a film, and is also available from Swift Editions.