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The Case of the Split Self: George Moore's Debt to Schopenhauer in Esther Waters David Alvaeez University of California, Davis G. K. CHESTERTON ONCE REMARKED that George Moore was "in a perpetual state of temporary honesty."1 No study using Moore's autobiographical works can safely ignore what we may charitably call an artistic attitude towards his own life story. The subject of these autobiographies remains constantly in view, but the composite of the portraits appears only indistinctly. Moore's many poses and postures make it difficult to determine the true extent of the influence he claims Shelley, Pater, Zola, and Schopenhauer (to name a few) had upon him. Even he depicts himself as a collage of influences, as "covered with 'fads' as a distinguished foreigner with stars. Naturalism I wore round my neck, Romanticism was pinned over the heart, Symbolism I carried like a toy revolver in my waistcoat pocket."2 Should Moore have continued, as Patrick Bridgwater urges, by adding "Schopenhauer I wore on my sleeve"?3 Was Schopenhauer merely a fad for Moore? An examination of Esther Waters suggests not. Although Schopenhauer 's name does not appear in the novel, the ascetic hand of the great pessimist animates the characters; the will to live surges through them in its blind and purposeless striving. Moore's depiction of the self, his emphasis upon resignation, and his exploration of the maternal strength of the female all show the influence of Schopenhauer. As George Egerton states, the novel examines the life of a living, wholesome , good human being, pregnant with the best instincts of womanhood ,"4 but it does not give an unequivocal endorsement to the feminine nature it explores. Compelled by her instincts, Esther fights stubbornly 169 ELT 38:2 1995 for the life of her son, succeeds in bringing him to manhood, and yet in the end sums up her struggle as "eighteen years of labour, suffering, disappointment."5 Moore raises in this novel the same question about life that Schopenhauer poses in his philosophy; given the few joys and many sufferings of life, "Le jeu vaut-il bien la chandellel"6 Published in 1894, Esther Waters follows directly upon a series of works by Moore that, according to Bridgwater, show clear signs of Schopenhauer's influence.7 Later works also take up the ideas of the philosopher, especially The Brook Kerith (1916), which Michael Brooks argues explores in some depth Schopenhauer's emphasis upon resignation .8 Although not a philosopher, Moore found in Schopenhauer a portrait of the self that matched his own experience and prevented him from harboring illusions about the joys of embracing life. The characters in Esther Waters bear the marks of uniquely Schopenhauerian ideas about the self; so unique in fact that an explanation for them must go beyond the usual recourse to a late-Victorian atmosphere charged with Darwinism and pessimism. Moore's use of Schopenhauer in Esther Waters goes beyond faddism. Moore began writing the novel in 1890. During the previous year he had revised Confessions of a Young Man, first published in 1888. In the new edition he adds approximately sixty pages "to accentuate the philosophy of the book (that of Schopenhauer)," to whom, he claims, "I owe much of my mind."9 One of the additions reveals this debt quite clearly. Moore, recalling the death of his father, remembers journeying along a bleak country road when a man approached us, and I heard him say that all was over, that my father was dead. I loved my father; and yet my soul said, "I am glad." The thought came unbidden, undesired, and I turned aside shocked at the sight it afforded of my soul... was it I who was glad? No, it was not I... the voice that said "I am glad" was not my voice, but that of the will to Uve which we inherit from elemental dust through countless generations. Terrible and imperative is the voice of the will to live___Terrible is the day when each sees his soul naked, stripped of all veil; that dear soul which he cannot change or discard, and which is so irreparably his.io As he describes the thoughts and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 169-185
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Ceasing Publication
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