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Subjectivity and Story in George Moore's Esther Waters Annette Federico James Madison University GEORGE MOORE'S OPINIONS about fiction, artistic freedom, realism , aesthetics, and feminism make their way into almost all of his journals, memoirs and "conversations." But it is in Esther Waters (1894), his finest novel, that Moore seriously and most compellingly engages some of the central preoccupations of his generation: new theories of fiction, the changing roles of women, and the challenge to Victorian cultural authority. Though Moore criticized Hardy's machine-made plots and dour moralizing, Esther Waters is as strongly tied to the tradition of English realism as Tess of the d'Urbervilles. The subtitle of Moore's novel is "An English Story," and there are comforting connotations in this.1 Despite the unconventional circularity of the narrative, its "unified, seamless, rhythmic" design,2 and Moore's early experiments with anti-climax, "suspended cadences," and "the melodic line," Esther Waters is counterpoised by a deep commitment to the attributes of the nineteenth-century English story, which Raymond Williams has identified as sympathetic concern with the substance and meaning of community , human relationships, morality, the knowable and unknowable individual, and the historical imagination.3 In Esther Waters Moore is as interested in the imaginative importance of romance in women's lives as in A Mummer's Wife (1885), A Drama in Muslin (1886), and Evelyn Innes (1898). But Esther Waters also voices an urge that is bound up with the relations of gender, fiction, and late-Victorian culture, an urge to dissolve cultural hierarchies and to change the literary marketplace by questioning received ideas about what subjects—and subjectivities— are appropriate for art. Moore's commitment to challenge and comprehend these issues is grounded in the feminine voice and values of the working girl, Esther Waters. The nature of this challenge can best be 141 JSLT 36:2 1993 understood by first looking at some of the debates about both women and fiction which Moore participated in at the turn of the century. In 1907, Freud explained to Jung that servant girls "are barely worth consideration and the analyst can tell their story without needing to listen: "Fortunately for our therapy, we have previously learned so much from other cases that we can tell these persons their story without having to wait for their contribution. They are willing to confirm what we tell them, but we can learn nothing from them.' "4 Freud's assertion that a servant girl has no story is striking in relation to Esther Waters, a novel about a servant girl who apparently has. And yet Freud's remark bears comparison with Moore's own statements about art and female servants in his controversial pamphlet, Literature at Nurse, or Circulating Morals, privately published and distributed by Vizetelly in 1885. Aggravated with the policing of English fiction by "a mere tradesman ," Moore wrote the declaration of independence for the modern novelist. Literature at Nurse repeatedly emphasizes the writer's need to explore any subject in any manner he sees fit. Prefiguring Freud, Moore frequently uses the naturalistic writer's favorite metaphor of medical analysis: "To analyze, you must have a subject. A religious or sensual passion is as necessary to the realistic novelist as a disease to the physician."5 His language throughout reveals his private aesthetic: "the novel of observation," "a study of life and manners," an examination of "life's passions and duties," a literature that reflects the nineteenth century's "nervous passionate life." This is the novel for mature and intelligent men and women, and it is this powerful thing that is being rocked to sleep "in the motherly arms of the librarian." 6 In Moore's manifesto, the literary enterprise places the masculine authority of the analyst—his "strength, virility, and purpose"7—against the effeminate prudes who subscribe to circulating libraries, represented by the motherly librarian and the nursemaid. Several critics have pointed to the distaste and anxiety generated by the feminization of fiction—and of culture—which this dichotomy suggests.8 When Moore declares that it is useless to attempt "to reconcile those two irreconcilable things—art and young girls," his exasperation is directed not only at...


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pp. 141-157
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