Thursday, 2 February 2012

Esther Waters by George Moore

George Moore loved to revise but when faced with two versions of his classic Esther Waters one from Internet Archive on my ereader and the other a Dent Everyman paperback in an edition first published in 1936 and reprinted in 1976, I couldn't decide which was the later revised version. My preference was for the ereader version and I hoped that my assessment coincided with that of Moore but you never know. They say that Yeats's father, who was a portrait painter, did excellent work but you had to find out how many more sittings it would take to finish it. When he said 2, at that point you should insist on taking it with you.

A little more research and I found out that the British and Irish editions are based on the earlier work and the American is the revised. Very gratifying to discover ones taste coincides with that of a modern master. The initial opening of the book puts a lot of information into the mouth of a station porter who becomes that creaky expository device, the bystander explainer.

'So they do,' he answered, 'near Shoreham yonder,' and he pointed to a belt of trees,'they be too fine folk for the town. Shoreham, you see, isn't what it was in days gone by with shipyards about the harbour, and ships from all parts dropping their sails as they come within the breakwaters. Not much doing in the way of building down this way- a three ton boat or two on the stocks, not much more.'

MRV: (the porter is shunted)
That was the way to Woodview, right up the lane. She could not miss it. She would find the lodge gate in that clump of trees. The man lingered, for she was an attractive girl, but the station-master called him away to remove some baggage.

Moore in the Impressionist manner composes the landscape:
It was a barren country. Once the sea had crawled at high tide half way up the sloping sides of these downs. It would do the same now were it not for the shingle bank which its surging had thrown up along the coast. Between the shingle bank and the shore a weedy river flowed and the little town stood clamped together, its feet in the water's edge. There were decaying shipyards about the harbour, and wooden breakwaters stretched long thin arms seawards for ships that did not come. On the other side of the railway apple blossoms showed above a white washed wall,, some market gardening was done in the low lying fields whence the down rose in gradual ascents. On the first slope there was a fringe of trees. That was Woodview.

Two Versions A and B
A:
It opened into a handsome avenue, and the gatekeeper told her to keep straight on, and to turn to the left when she got to the top. She had never seen anything like it before, and stopped to admire the uncouth arms of elms, like rafters above the roadway; pink clouds showed through, and the monotonous dove seemed the very heart of the silence.

B:
He told her to keep straight on and to be sure to turn to the left when she got to the top; and having never seen an avenue before, she stopped to admire the rough branches of elms, like rafters above the roadway, and to hear the monotonous dove.

I am just a little way along the avenue that is Esther Waters myself and likewise stopping to admire the view. She is a chapel girl of the Plymouth Brethern sect, and is to find herself a kitchen maid in a gambling mad establishment. This won't end well. More anon.

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