Value of Early Impressions to a Novelist.
I have quoted an example of the impressions of Bjoernson’s childhood. I do not think critics have ever quite realized the extent to which writers of fiction—especially those who use a personal style—depend upon the remembered impressions of childhood. Such impressions—no matter how fantastic—are an author’s firsthand stock: and in using them he comes much closer to nature than when he collects any number of scientifically approved data to maintain some view of life which he has derived from books. Compare Flags are Flying with Arne, and you will see my point. The longer book is ten times as realistic in treatment, and about one-tenth as true to life.
March 31, 1894. “Esther Waters.”
It is good, after all, to come across a novel written by a man who can write a novel. We have been much in the company of the Amateur of late, and I for one am very weary of him—weary of his preposterous goings-out and comings-in, of his smart ineptitudes, of his solemn zeal in reforming the decayed art of fiction, of his repeated failures to discover beneficence in all those institutions, from the Common Law of England to the Scheme of the Universe, which have managed to leave him and his aspirations out of count. I am weary of him and of his deceased wife’s sister, and of their fell determination to discover each other’s soul in a bottle of hay. Above all, I am weary of his writings, because he cannot write, neither has he the humility to sit down and learn.
Mr. George Moore, on the other hand, has steadily labored to make himself a fine artist, and his training has led him through many strange places. I should guess that among living novelists few have started with so scant an equipment. As far as one can tell he had, to begin with, neither a fertile invention nor a subtle dramatic instinct, nor an accurate ear for language. A week ago I should have said this very confidently: after reading Esther Waters I say it less confidently, but believe it to be true, nevertheless. Mr. Moore has written novels that are full of faults. These faults have been exposed mercilessly, for Mr. Moore has made many enemies. But he has always possessed an artistic conscience and an immense courage. He answered his critics briskly enough at the time, but an onlooker of common sagacity could perceive that the really convincing answer was held in reserve—that, as they say in America, Mr. Moore “allowed” he was going to write a big novel one of these days, and meanwhile we had better hold our judgment upon Mr. Moore’s capacity open to revision.
What, then, is to be said of Esther Waters, this volume of a modest 377 pages, upon which Mr. Moore has been at work for at least two years?
“Esther” and Mr. Hardy’s “Tess.”