Do you find comparisons between this novel and Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles? What are some radical differences, and how do these reveal Moore's purposes?
How would you characterize the style of this novel? On what grounds would it have been labelled as “naturalist”?
What role is played by the narrator? By dialogue? By free indirect discourse?
What effect is added by the use of specialized argot?
Does Moore reveal sympathy for his subjects? In particular, are we supposed to judge Esther for her defects of insight or character?
Do you find resemblances between the character and story of Esther Waters and Elizabeth Dobbs/Annie Wakeman's The Autobiography of a Charwoman? Do the two main characters have parallel limitations and virtues?
Would you describe the novel as a bildungsroman? As a coming-of-age narrative?
Where is the novel set? (Shoreham, near the sea, West Sussex)
What scenes are portrayed in the opening descriptions? How would you describe their tone?
How are Esther and the other characters described?
What do we learn of Esther’s point of view, anxieties and concerns? Of her former family life and past employments?
How has she been enabled to gain a post as kitchen maid in a prosperous family?
Whom does she first meet on her entrance into Woodview Hall? How is William Latch described? Are there premonitory signs of limits to his character?
What are some aspects of his relationship with his mother? Was she foresightful in wishing him to be employed elsewhere?
Is William honest? Does his mother trust him?
What do we learn here and elsewhere in the book about the reading tastes of members of the lower classes?
What seem to be traits of Esther’s character? (timid, straightforward, apt to resent bullying and disrespect)
What are some of the first things she observes in her new workplace? (the stables and boys riding the horses, the elegant kitchen)
How is she treated by the cook on her arrival, and what is her response? Why is the issue of changing her clothes so important to her?
What forms of art adorn Esther and Margaret’s servants’ quarters?
How does Margaret describe the advantages and disadvantages of their place of employment? (are given enough food) What advice does she give her?
Which of Esther’s traits are seen as eccentric?
What are Mrs. Latch’s views on betting, and what has been her past? Will the novel confirm her opinions?
For what is Esther criticized by those around her? How is she treated by her fellow servants?
What effect is created by the scene in which the stablemen and jockeys eat breakfast and discuss their affairs in language incomprehensible to Esther? (the reader comes to understand what is happening indirectly, as does she)
How large is the Woodview household? What references and familiarities does Esther resent? Does she find an ally in her attempts to defend her honor?
What are Esther’s reactions to the romantic story read by Sarah?
What books of her mother’s does Esther carefully preserve? What range of literature do these represent?
Whose intervention permits Esther to remain at her post? What does Mrs. Barfield offer to do for her?
What do we later learn are Mrs. Barfield’s own origins? Her views of gambling?
Why hasn't Esther been able to receive an education? Why were her parents not forced to send her to school?
What effect do you think this deficiency has on her future life?
What do we learn of her parents and her mother’s current situation?
Why had her mother chosen to remarry? What is the character of Esther’s stepfather?
What might have happened to her had she remained a servant with Mrs. Dunbar?
In what religion has Esther been raised? Why do you think Moore chose this particular non-Anglican sect for his heroine’s religion? What seem to be some of the characteristics of the Brethren?
Are there other appearances of the Plymouth Brethren in the literature of the period? (Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son)
What is Esther’s response to her own inability to read? That of the other servants?
Why do you think it is difficult for her to learn to read, even though the narrator describes her as “possessing a clear intelligence”?
What does the novel reveal about the ways in which servants are addressed? (she is called “Waters,” even by the kind Mrs. Barfield)
What resolves must Esther make in order to keep her position?
What can one conclude from the fact that both Esther’s employer and immediate supervisor abhor gambling, and all the Woodview males take to it with zest?
Chapter 4: What pleasant changes occur in Esther's life once she is secure in her job? What forms of entertainment does she seek? (practical jokes, 30)
What are Mrs. Barfield's private habits and passions? (her garden, animals) What draws Mrs. Barfield to Esther? (memories of her Brethren past)
Chapter 5: How does her relationship with William develop? What does he suggest that she do? (purchase sweepstakes ticket) What charges does his mother make against gambling? (recounts tale of man who drowned himself, 34)
Chapter 6: What setting and landscapes do William and Esther share in their first outing together?
On what topics does he converse? What are his ambitions?Will he later achieve them?
Why isn't Esther more alarmed or repelled at his references to illegal betting?
Chapter 7: What hopes are laid on the next race? (winning of horse Silver Braid) What methods are used to reduce the weight of the jockey, "Demon"?
Chapter 8: Of whom does Esther think as she sits on the downs? Whom does she encounter? (Mrs. Randal, Mr. Leopold's wife) What does Esther learn from her about the proud and seemingly knowledgeable butler's private life?
What had John/Leopold attempted to do after one of many losses? (46, suicide)
Has Esther received sufficient warning of the probable results of William's attraction toward gambling?
Chapter 9: What role is played in the novel by accounts of food and drink? How is the account of the race received at Woodview?
How does William respond to Mr. Leopold's narrations and company?
What emotions does Sarah Tucker exhibit toward Esther, and how does she insult her? (makes fun of her religion)
Chapter 10: How is Esther enabled to attend the ball? With whom does she dance? What attentions does William pay her?
Chapter 11: Under what circumstances do William and Esther engage in sex? How does she respond? What is his reaction to her unhappiness about this act?
What emotions does she expect from him? (an apology) How does he respond to her unhappiness?
Is William willing to marry her? To whom does he become speedily attracted, and with what results? (elopes with Peggy Barfield)
How does Esther respond to his new attachment? (attacks him with kitchen knife)
Does Esther feel remorse for her deed? Are there contrasts between this scene and that in which Tess attacks Alec?
Chapter 12: What causes Esther to realize that she is pregnant, and what is her response? What consequences does she fear?
How does Mrs. Barfield treat her, and what opinions does she express on the topic of betting?
With what emotions do the other servants bid her farewell?
How does Mrs. Latch respond to the departure of the mother of her grandhild? (expresses regret at her son's actions, embraces her and offers money)
What are Esther's emotions as she leaves Woodview?
Chapter 13: What reception does Esther find on her return home? Who is pleased to see her, and what do we learn of the family's situation?
Under what working conditions do the daughters seek to make money?
What convinces Mr. Saunders to permit his step-daughter to remain with his family until her confinement?
Chapter 14: Does Mrs. Saunders blame her daughter for what has happened? (entirely forgiving) How do the two women show love toward one another?
What seems ominous about Mrs. Saunders’s attitude toward the purchase of baby clothes for Esther’s anticipated baby?
What does Esther hope will become of her son? (95)
What problem is caused by her stepfather’s appeals for money? (loses her small savings)
Chapter 15: Why can’t Mrs. Saunders deliver her child in the hospital? Might this have made a difference in the outcome?
What problems face Esther in obtaining a letter of recommendation to the charity hospital’s maternity ward?
Under what circumstances does Esther defend herself against intrusive questions? (99) Who finally helps her?
What would she have liked to do for the young lovers she sees? (warn them)
Chapter 16: Why does Esther leave home before her confinement, and where does she go? What forms of help does Mrs. Jones provide? (helps her to the hospital)
What is Esther’s experience of the hospital attendants? How does she react to the presence of male medical students, and what is shown by her reaction?
Chapter 17: Why does the visit of a clergyman not comfort Esther?
What horrible news does her sister Jenny bring Esther as the latter lies in the hospital? What is the motive for Jenny’s visit?
What unfeeling behaviors had accompanied Mrs. Saunders’s last hours? (108)
What is Esther’s response to the news that her stepfather and half-siblings plan to emigrate to Australia? Why does she not join them?
What advice does Esther try to give Jenny, and how does the latter respond? Why do you think this incident was included?
What does Jenny suggest as a possible means of support for Esther? What would such an occupation imply?
On what grounds does Esther give Jenny half of her small reserve? On what terms do they part?
Do they expect to see one another again? Is it likely that Jenny can/ will keep her promise to write?
Under what circumstances is Esther forced to leave the hospital? (beds are needed)
What expected benefit is denied her on leaving the hospital? (no job)
Chapter 18: What employment is Esther offered? What are hints that the new employer, Mrs. Rivers, may be selfish or demanding? That the new arrangement may have its dangers? (children of her two previous wet nurses have died)
What troubling attitudes does the child-minder Mrs. Spires exhibit?
Why has Mrs. Rivers not nursed her own child? Was she unable to do so?
What troubling news does Mrs. Spires bring, and what does she want? (money for doctor; suggests this may not be worth it)
What resolution does Esther take, and why? What is Mrs. Rivers’s response? (fires her)
Chapter 19: When Esther visits her child, what changes does she note? What does Mrs. Spires suggest Esther may wish to do?
Of what horrific precedent does she learn? (woman whose five children died)
What does Mrs. Spires recommend, and what alternative does Esther choose?
What difficulties face Esther as she seeks the workhouse?
Chapter 20: What employment enables Esther to leave the workhouse?
How are the new family characterized? How long is her workday, and with what forms of vacation?
What is she forced to do with her child in order to maintain her employment?
To what temptation is she exposed? (theft) What causes her to give notice? (Dress is torn; Mrs. Bingley demands to know what she does with her money)
What pleasures does she share with her son?
When she obtains another position, what occurs to force her to leave? (her out-of-wedlock motherhood is discovered)
At her next West End employment, why is she fired? (son of house has written her a love letter)
Why do you think Moore includes in the novel a description of Esther’s experiences at these four unhappy jobs?
Chapter 21: What temptations does she face in central London? (propositioned)
During a period of unemployment, whom does she meet in Charing Cross?
What news does Margaret Gale give her? (Barfields have lost most of their money from Mr. Barfield’s gambling, Margaret has become a prostitute)
What discouragements does Esther face before finally finding a job?
Chapter 22: What story is Esther told by a woman who waits to seek employment? (paid less after 40)
Under what circumstances is Esther hired? (Miss Rice praises her, hires her at higher rate)
What aspects of her story engage Miss Rice’s attention? (desire not to take her son to workhouse)
Why is Esther concerned not to take her son to the workhouse? (will be separated)
What characterizes her new employer?
How does Esther meet Fred Parsons, and how is he described? (small physically, voice speaks conviction)
What is his religious background and persuasion?
What are his financial prospects? Would marriage to him have improved Esther’s economic situation?
Under what circumstances do they court? Is it significant that revisiting the Brethren raises in Esther thoughts of her childhood, but not her future?
What prompts Esther to tell Fred of her child, and what is his response? Does this seem generous?
What is the significance of the statement that “she almost loved him”?
Chapter 24: What does Esther learn about Fred’s parents when she visits his family? (welcoming, decent, religious)
What sight especially touches her? (father caressing hands of his wife of forty years)
Chapter 25: Whom does she meet en route to fetch beer for her mistress?
What is her first response? What information does she nonetheless give William? (that he has a child)
What feeling overtakes her about this meeting? (bad fortune that she has met him) Why do you think her response is alternately fatalistic and angry rather than straightforwardly determined?
How does she respond to the fact that William waits around in the street? (fears she may lose her position or he will meet Fred)
What is indicated by her fear that the two men will meet?
What advice does Miss Rice give her, and on what grounds? (that the child’s father may give it money) Does this ignore facts of the situation? (father a bar-keeper, no reason to believe he’s responsible; Fred has a steady and respectable income which would enable their child to be educated)
Does Miss Rice seem concerned about the character of the two men?
What response does Esther give? (demures, but is influenced by her mistress to speak with William)
Why do you think Moore includes this scene? (relieves Esther of some of the responsibility for her choice)
What motives are ascribed to William for choosing to court Esther again?
What account does he give of his marriage? What has his wife Peggy offered him? (a divorce with a money settlement)
What statement of his financial situation does he give? What occupation does he intend to take up? (bookmaking)
Does the account of his prosperity influence Esther? (feels a return of love) Does this seem consistent with her character as previously presented?
Would a member of the Plymouth Brethren reasonably have approved of bookmaking?
Chapter 26: What seems indicated by the fact that Esther takes William to meet Jackie? Does this predetermine her later choice?
Of what does William converse on their way to Dulwich? (horses)
What account does he give of the Barfield estate at Woodview? How had Mr. Barfield lost his money, and what has since happened to him, his son, his wife, and his daughter Mary?
What news does he give about his mother? (has died) How will this affect the later plot? Does she tell him of the fate of her fellow servant Mary?
What motivates Esther to tell Jackie immediately that the stranger is his father?
How does Jackie receive William, and what questions does he ask? (why didn’t he come earlier)
What is Mrs. Lewis’s response to the signs of William’s prosperity?
What decision does Esther (apparently) give William, and on what grounds? (he should get a divorce before he can court her; his suit may hurt her in her job and cause her to lose her reputation for respectability)
Do these responses seem reasonable? Do they relieve her mind?
What does she later learn William has done in her absence? What new desires have been created in Jackie?
How does Esther respond to these changes? (breaks toy; tells Jackie he can choose his father over her) Are these responses wise if she hopes to repulse William and retain her child’s affections?
What responsibility does Mrs. Lewis bear for this change, and what may have been her motive?
After the visit what arguments does Esther later make to herself in favor of marrying William?
Does it seem likely that Jackie would never have been reconciled to a stepfather, as Esther thinks? (if prompted, will adjust, and he had in fact liked Fred)
What do you make of her claim that were she to marry Fred, Jackie would take to betting and drinking? (much more likely to do so in imitation of his father!)
Chapter 27: What news does William give her about the prospects for divorce? What motivations seem to compel him? (his wife will pay costs if he is the guilty party)
Were there other alternatives?
At what does Esther become angry, and are her complaints relevant to the situation? What purpose do they serve? (asserts her right to happiness and choice; seems to vent and then comply)
What does William offer her? (will give up betting if she wishes) Does he do so? Does she take him up on this?
What does he promise to do for Jackie? (will give her and child five hundred pounds) How does this offer affect her? (feels tenderness)
After William kisses her, how has her assessment of her situation changed? (feels her will “overborne by a force she could neither control nor understand”) What do you think is this force?
Chapter 28: What emotions does Esther feel as she contemplates the need for making a decision? (sorrow and misery)
Is it contradictory to say that “above all, she ought not to have taken him to see the child, but how could she help it?”
How does she imagine her future life with each of the two men? What does she seem to feel will be missing if she chooses Fred? (wants to see more of life)
Is she correct in judging that with William she will be financially secure? What does she neglect to consider? (uncertainty of betting; the 500 pounds only a promise; the life she will see behind the bar will be limited also)
Is it significant that she associates the prospect of life with Fred with her childhood? (regressive)
What compromise would she like? Why does she find it upsetting to dream that she is married to both?
Chapter 29: What is Fred’s response to the news that she is going to marry the father of her child? That she is going to live with him without marriage?
Do you think he is correct that “You are in love with this man”? What is Esther's response? Why does he no longer doubt her word? (she adduces her unhappiness)
What is significant about her claim that “it wasn’t to be”? (denies agency)
Does it seem in character that Esther should be more concerned about the money William might give to Jackie than about his character and example?
Is her argument about the importance of her little son’s fondness for a man he’s seen twice a convincing one?
Why does she think that Jackie would be tempted to betting and drink if she marries Fred? What answer does Fred give?
What does she claim to see as her duty? On what grounds? (seems natural, can’t help herself)
Does Fred behave well, considering the circumstances?
What reflections on contemporary literature does her story prompt in Miss Rice? (few could dare to narrate her tale)
What emotions does Miss Rice feel as her servant kisses her and leaves? (feels solitary and weeps)
What expectations does Esther have of the grandeur of “The King’s Head”?
Is it significant that the first person she meets there is Mr. Randal/Leopold? In what activity is William engaging?
How does Mr. Leopold react to her presence in the bar?
Chapter 30: What problems does the “King’s Head” confront? (lack of customers) What is Esther’s constant occupation?
What has happened to Mr. Leopold? (has lost his job and money) What advice does he give William?
Where does William prefer to spend his time when out of sorts?
Who are some of the bar’s most familiar patrons? What sorts of arguments occur there?
What are we expected to make of the different claims advanced for determining which horse will win? How had a sermon enabled one bar inhabitant to choose a winning horse? (heard sermon on vanity, and chose horse Vanity!)
What advice does Mr. Leopold give William? Why does the latter not consider that the advice of a man who is impoverishing himself through betting is unlikely to be good?
When Ginger visits the bar, what changes in him does Esther notice? Why doesn’t he shake hands with Mr. Leopold?
What seems to be the state of mind and fortune of Bill Evans? How does William respond to him?
Why does William refuse to take Ginger’s bet “over the bar,” and may this suggest an ominous outcome? Who have been witnesses? (a vagrant and two match girls)
In whose voice is the chapter’s final statement that betting brought hope into their lives made? Is this the novel’s ultimate point of view? An explanation for the pervasiveness of betting?
Chapter 31: Who suggests Esther should witness the Derby? Why hasn’t she been before?
Who does William suggest should accompany her?
How does he dress for the race? Why do you think their train ride to the racetrack is described in detail?
Chapter 32: What costume does William wear to place his bets?
What are some features of the description of the Derby?
What emotions does Esther feel as she watches her husband taking bets? (a unity of purpose)
Whom does Sarah encounter at the Derby? Are there any indications that this conjunction may be unpropitious?
Whom does Esther meet? Is this conjunction symbolic?
What practices do she and Fred share together?
What reason does Esther give for her unwillingness to join the Gospellers? With what does Fred charge her? What memories does she resist?
What is indicated by the way in which Moore describes a merry-go-round? Whom does Esther meet there?
How has William fared at the races? On their return to London, by whom are they joined?
What function does Sarah seem to serve at this point in the story? (a tasteless, man-seeking lower-class woman, in contrast to Esther)
What entertainment does William provide for his friends? Do they enjoy it? (don’t like elegant food to which they are unaccustomed)
What effects do his winnings and/or alcohol have on William? What does Esther find vaguely ominous which he fails to notice? (Sarah leaves with Bill)
What account is given of Sarah’s time with Bill? (he steals, is wanted by police, lives off of her, beats and evicts her onto the street)
What emotions does she feel toward the man who has abused her? (hopes he will return)
Why do you think the narrative of her fate is mostly given in the narrator’s voice rather than Sarah’s?
Why does she seek out “The King’s Head”?
What new details are added by Sarah? (he had forced her into prostitution; hadn’t been willing to work steadily)
What is shown by Esther’s desire to help her? (forgiving and unselfish)
What news does Esther give of William and of the pub? (has been sick from exposure, drinks too much, pub itself doesn’t bring in enough to support them without illegal betting)
How does Esther feel about the illegal betting? (ambivalent—dangerous, but they need the money)
What prescient response is given by Sarah? (hard to keep this quiet)
What does William threaten to do if Bill Evans returns? Why does he refrain from threatening a physical attack? (not "the man I was a twelvemonth ago")
What are some changes in William’s betting operation? (is unable to confine it to an upstairs room)
What has happened to its frequenters Journeyman and Stack? (both unemployed)
From whom do they receive a tip on an upcoming race? (Bill Evans) Is this ominous?
What ominous signs of the possibility of a raid are introduced, and how does William react? (threatens to remove angry interloper from bar)
What signs appear of limitations to his health? Which of his personal habits have made this more likely?
What does Esther begin to encourage him to do?
What seems the purpose of a chapter in which two men discuss ways in which they will select a horse on which to bet? (foreshadowing--neither will win)
Chapter 36: On what errand does Fred Parsons visit the Latches’ public house?
On behalf of what organization does he come, and what is his rank?
How does Esther respond, and what defense does he give? (256, Fred states that one doesn't owe doing evil even on behalf of those near oneself) Is she persuaded?
What regrets does she feel? What practical considerations cause her concern? (loss of license would make it difficult for them to earn their living and support Jack)
When Esther tells William of the warning, how does he react?
What argument/discussion do they have about the practice of betting, and what views does Esther express?
What are some recent instances in their experience of the damage caused by betting? (Mrs. Randal, boy who had stolen to place bet had placed his first wager in William’s bar, 259)
What does she give as her reason for supporting William in a trade she considers wrong?
Why do you think Jack has been so little present in the preceding chapters?
Chapter 37: What seems to motivate Sarah Tucker to visit the Latches’ bar? What does she seem concerned to ask about?
Chapter 38: In what condition does Sarah arrive at the King’s Head, and what seems unusual about her behavior?
What does she confess she has done? (has stolen silver plate from her employers to give to Bill Evans to pawn in order to lay a bet)
Under what condition does William agree to help Sarah redeem the pawned plate? (that Esther not remind him of his illegal betting)
Chapter 39: What complications make it impossible for Sarah to redeem the plate?
What feared intrusion interrupts their discussion of what can be done? (Sarah is arrested)
Chapter 40: What appeal is made by Sarah’s lawyer? Do you think this is as persuasive a case as could be made under the circumstances?
On what grounds does the judge rule against her? (evil effects of gambling and drink on the lower classes) What sentence is she given? (18 months hard labor)
What account is given of the conditions under which she must serve her sentence? (280)
How does the narrator undercut respect for the judge? (he too has lost money on the same horse! He too enjoys alcohol)
What is William’s response to the judge’s sentence? (fears they will be raided, 279)
On balance, does the narrative seem to support William’s critique, the judge’s critique, or both?
Whom do they see in rags on their way home from the trial? (280)
On entering the bar, whom do they meet, and to what condition has he been reduced? Why has he lost his job? (had lost his respectable clothes in betting, 281)
What incident leads to a police raid on the King’s Head?
Who is arrested on this occasion, and what are the consequences for William? (fined 100 pounds)
When he becomes more circumspect in taking bets, what consequences ensue for the pub?
What seems to occur to the mind of his frequent patron Ketley? What does the latter finally do (slits his throat)?
What happens to William as he jumps over the bar to help/examine him? (breaks blood vessel, 288)
At the inquest, what damning evidence is given by Mrs. Ketley?
What does William believe they must do in the face of their imminent loss of a license? What does he blame for this prospect?
What does Esther regret at this turn of events? (unhappy to leave what has been her home and occupation for years)
Chapter 42: What ominous sights do Esther and William witness at the hospital?
Whom does she meet from her past, and how does she describe her husband in this context? (a betting man)
What has happened to her old mistress, Miss Rice? (Why is this a significant detail?)
What news does William receive, and what do the doctors advocate?
Chapter 43: What does William do with his last reserve of money?
What does the doctor recommend for him? (the hospital)
Why does Esther not share the full news of his father’s ill health with her son? How does the author describe her character in this context? (“the noble instincts which were so intrinsically Esther Waters’")
How does the race turn out? What is William’s reaction when he hears the news? What opinion does he now express of gambling?
Even as he reads the bible, where do his thoughts turn? (wishes he had made a different set of bets)
How does Esther herself react to the news? (weeps after she leaves her husband)
Chapter 44: What feature of the London weather accompanies William’s death?
What is added to the novel by the scene of his death? To what recognitions has he come?
What does he most regret as he dies?
What promise does he extract from Jack? Does the reader assume that the promise will be kept?
What kind of care does Esther provide for her dying husband?
What familiar response to his death does she initiate? (prays with her helper Mrs. Collins)
How does the account of William’s death compare with other fictional death scenes with which you are familiar?
Chapter 45: What problems does Esther face in supporting herself and her son after William’s death?
What enables her good fortune in returning to live as Mrs. Barfield’s servant? What has happened to Mrs. Barfield’s family? (daughter has died; son has left and spends his time in racing horses)
What emotions does Esther feel as she returns to Woodview? Which aspects of her return echo her previous entrance? How long has it been since she first met William?
What changes have occurred in Woodview?
How does Mrs. Barfield respond to her tale of her life? On what basis could Esther’s life be described as “quite a romance"? Chapter 46: What do we learn about the economics of the estate? Who owns it now? (Arthur Barfield, not his mother; she receives merely a jointure paid by the rents)
What do we learn about Mrs. Barfield's financial situation?
What changes does Mrs. Barfield make in her former home? On what basis does her son Arthur disapprove of using his property for a Plymouth Brethren meeting?
What does she say in defense of inviting shopkeepers into her home? What purpose does she believe she and Esther find in their religion?
Chapter 47: What relationship develops between the two women?
How does Jack fare in the city? Who helps Esther support her son? (the two women share)
In answer to Mrs. Barfield’s question, does Esther wish to remarry, and if not, why? (sense of “worry and bother,” 329) What is revealed by the fact that she cannot imagine that marriage could improve her life?
Chapter 48: What new changes cheer Mrs. Barfield in the spring? What has motivated Jack to enlist, and what new anxieties does this bring?
Is Jack's enlistment as a soldier good news? What limitations to the happiness of the book's characters will continue?
What comfort is provided by his visit and farewell?
What meaning, if any, can be attached to the novel’s closure? What forms of good and bad fortune has Esther experienced in her life?
Why do you think this scene is used as the closure to the book? Are we to believe that Esther has achieved something in her life? (has perpetuated life)
What is the tone of the ending? Has Esther’s life been an unusual one? Tragic? Successful?
To what extent are descriptions of the novel’s characters influenced by notions of physiognomy?
Are any of the novel’s outcomes influenced by contemporary notions of hereditary determinism? (Mr. Latch senior is a gambler and so is his son; Esther resembles her pious and honest parents, etc.)
Does the novel present a consistent message on issues such as social determinism and human responsibility?
What determines Esther’s choice of marital partner? What are some good and bad effects of religion on her fate?
Might she not have married William Latch had she not considered it her duty to her son? (On the other hand, a sense of duty isn't unique to any specific religion) Or is she actually more attracted to William than to Fred?
What are William's ambitions? Does he attain them? Why doesn't Esther find these a deterrent to her courtship with him?
What effect does gambling have on Esther and William's life? What finally causes his death?
Are there elements of comfort or companionship in William and Esther's marriage? On what issues have they differed?
Why do you think Fred Parsons is introduced in the novel? What role does he play? Mrs. Latch? Miss Rice and Mrs. Barfield?
Does the novel attempt any case for the benign effect of religion in lower class life? What alternatives seem presented to the characters?
What seems to motivate betting on sports events? Could the characters’ gambling be described as an addiction? Is this addiction presented as class-based?
Is there significance to the fact that the novel begins in a rural setting, moves to the city, and returns at the end to a depopulated and depressed countryside?
How important to the novel are relationships between women? What types of scenes or incidents does Moore convey skillfully? (acts of kindness, close female relationships, as between Esther and her mother, Miss Rice and Mrs. Barfield)
Are there ways in which this is a feminist novel?
Literary naturalists were often accused of immorality. What is the center of morality, if any, of the novel, and how would this have reflected a critique of middle-class Victorian norms?
Had Esther and William had other children, would this have significantly altered the plot? What would have been the chances of this occurring? Similarly is it plausible that Jack picks up none of the drinking and gambling habits of his father?
What criteria could be used for evaluating a novel such as this? How would these criteria differ from the ways in which, say, we evaluate Middlemarch or Lady Audley's Secret? On its own terms, is it successful?
What changes in the reading audience and social expectations have prepared the way for a novel whose main characters are an illiterate servant girl and a pub owner who engages in illegal gambling?
Page numbers from Riverside edition, ed. Lionel Stevenson, 1963.