Esther Waters (1894) was one of the first English novels to defeat
Victorian moral censorship. George Moore's story of a mother's
fight for the life of her illegitimate son won Mr Gladstone's
approval and was admitted, unaltered, into those bastions of
Victorian conformity, the circulating libraries. Esther Waters is
forced to leave home and become a servant in a well-to-do
household. Seduced in a moment of weakness she has to leave her
position and the novel charts her poignant story of poverty and
hardship: first the lying-in hospital, then service as a wet-nurse,
and even the workhouse as she struggles to look after her child.
Adapting the French literary practices of sexual frankness and
social exploration to the British climate, Moore produced his
masterpiece in Esther Waters. A landmark in publishing history, it
is also one of the finest of naturalistic novels.