Thursday, 9 February 2012

Esther Waters by George Moore part II

If there was ever a novelist with the background knowledge of the world of horse racing it was George Augustus Moore. The Moore's of Moore Hall were horse mad like the Barfield's of his best selling Esther Waters and there is a little tribute to his Uncle, Arthur Augustus Moore, who was killed riding in the Aintree Grand National of 1845 on a horse Mickey Free. Mrs. Barfield is worried about her son Mr. Arthur aka Ginger, who is a famous gentleman rider and is relieved that he came through but only placed fourth. From the Irish National point of view the greater fame attaches to George's father George Henry who won the Chester Gold Cup with Coranna in 1846. His prize money was augmented by £17,000 from on course bets. This he used for Famine Relief on his estate and the purchase of a cow for each of his tenants. No one was evicted from the Moore place in hard times and this is remembered to this day. The incendiarybosthoons that burnt down the house in 1922 have commemorated this with a plaque. That's nice!

So then George Augustus Moore came from fine stock and he supplied the literary credentials to a family that was prominent in sporting and political life. His family must have resigned themselves to a hiatus with the poor specimen that he presented and the lack of confidence in his own powers is evinced by the surprise that he got with the success of Esther Waters. Receiving the first bound copy from the printers he writes:

...turning the pages, seeing all my dreams frozen into the little space of print, I had thrown the book aside and had sat like one overcome until the solitude of King's Bench Walk became unendurable, and forced me to seek distraction in St. James's Theatre, for I did not think that anyone had yet read the book and was genuinely surprised when an acquaintance stopped me in the lobby and began to thank me for the pleasure my story had given him. But I could not believe that he was not mocking me, and escaped from him, feeling more miserable than ever
(from Ave first vol. of Hail and Farewell.

This was Moore's 16th. book and 9th. novel and it was published in 1894. It was a massive success perhaps helped by its banning by that guardian of public morals, Mudie's Circulating Library. As an author Moore had arrived and in his way of retreating to the absurd poles of his personality, moi the whoremaster extraordinaire or the sad clown mocked and despised; claimed that it was the ruination of his access to the common people. He had come to know well one of the charladies of the King's Bench apartments. From her came all the inside dope about life in service during the Old Queen's reign. This would all end with success and in his Rousseauist way he relates how he forgot to answer the letter requesting aid from his char's son in her poor old age.

Esther Waters is pure realism with its mixture of sun and shade that even the most wretched life has. Moore describes the evils of baby farming and the connection between it, infanticide and the 'wet nursing' of the offspring of fine ladies that do not wish to spoil their figures. Esther is a battler with that degree of natural irascibility that will help her deal with obstacles while being part of why she faces them in the first place. Her sullenness and sulking drives William her lover away from her before she knows that she is pregnant by him. The enabling and disabling elements of character are well described. The people that she meets as she struggles to maintain a grip on life and rear her boy to manhood are a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly. The wheedling baby farmer who offers to snuff her baby for £5 is a portrait of evil shocking because utterly normalised. Moore affected to believe that his novel was the inspiration behind the outlawing of the baby farming parlour industry.

This is a novel that is well worth reading and not just for historical reasons or Eng.Lit. requirements. It's a classic. Find the American edition on Internet Archive.

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