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sther Waters, which David Trotter described as “ a peculiar hybrid of French and English traditions” (119), was published only three years after Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), and the affinity between the protagonists was striking for Victorian readers. Both Tess and Esther have to face insurmountable social and economic obstacles, and although they are both social victims, Esther, contrary to Tess, is not a pitiable or tragic fallen woman who must die a redemptive death. Moore does not offer a tragic end for his heroine, who is free of Tess's emotional and physical vulnerability. She not only does not get punished like her literary predecessors, but in fact lives on to accomplish her main task — raising her son.

Of course, Moore's novel is not simply a response to Hardy's novel. The American critic Granville Hicks made an interesting remark about Esther Waters in 1939:

It is unfair, perhaps, to compare it with Tess of the D'Urbervilles, for Hardy was writing high tragedy, but, if the comparison is made, Esther Waters seems the more nearly perfect achievement. If it never moves the reader as Tess does, it never irritates with incredibilities or irrelevances. It is realism in the best British tradition, but it is realism purged — thanks to Moore’s discipline in the French school — of faults that had beset that tradition for a hundred years. [...] If, comparing it with other novels of the nineties, one is impressed by the absence of both squeamishness and moralizing, one is amazed, comparing it with Moore's other books, by the freedom from snobbishness and pose. Hardy would have felt called upon to defend Esther. Gissing would have attacked her and her William as vulgar, and would have denounced Barfield's wastrel habits. Moore accepts them all. And yet, for all its beautiful lucidity, the book is never cold. Moore, in defiance of all his theories, boasted that the novel, by its depiction of the evils of baby-farming, “had actually alleviated more material suffering than any novel of its generation.” True or not, the boast suggests that more feeling for humanity went into Esther Waters than found its way into anything Moore wrote thereafter. [209]

In fact, Esther has more affinity with Hardy's another fallen woman, Fanny Robin in the novel Far From the Madding Crowd (1874), who is seduced and deserted by the dashing sergeant Frank Troy.

Related Material


Baugh, Albert C. A Literary History of England. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1948.

Hicks, Granville. Figures of Transition: A Study of British Literature at the End of the Nineteenth Century. New York: Macmillan, 1939.

Kranidis, Rita S. Subversive Discourse: The Cultural Production of Late Victorian Feminist Novels. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995.

Moore, George. Esther Waters. Edited with an Introduction and Notes by David Skilton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

___. A Communication to My Friends. London: Nonesuch Press, 1933.

Ohmann, Carol. “George Moore’s Esther Waters”. Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 25(2) 1970, 174-187.

Regan, Stephen. Introduction to George Moore's Esther Waters. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Last modified 12 July 2014