(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The first person Esther Waters meets when she arrives at Woodview is William Latch, the son of the cook under whose direction Esther is to work. William is the worry of his mother’s life, for, like his dead father, he is a gambler. Mrs. Latch has hoped that William would become a delivery boy and leave Woodview, but William is determined to go into service for Mr. and Mrs. Barfield, the owners of Woodview, so that he can observe their racing stable.

The position as kitchen maid at Woodview is a godsend to Esther, for her stepfather, claiming that he has too many mouths to feed, has forced her to leave home. The workhouse might have been her only refuge if she had not secured a position with the Barfields. In spite of her efforts to do her work well, however, it is hard for her to get along with the other servants. Mrs. Latch seems to go out of her way to make life unpleasant for her, and the maids tease her because she is religious. William is at first her only champion among the servants, for which she is grateful to him. Then Esther finds an unexpected friend in her mistress, Mrs. Barfield, who is also deeply religious.

Learning that Esther cannot read, Mrs. Barfield tries to teach her. William continues to pay her special attention, to the anguish of Sarah Tucker, another of the maids. After a servants’ ball in celebration of the victory of one of the Woodview horses, William takes Esther out to some wheat stacks and seduces her, telling her they will be married as soon as he has enough money. By the following morning, Esther has convinced herself that she had been betrayed, and she refuses to speak to William. Tiring at last of her sulking, he turns to Peggy Barfield, a cousin of his master, and after a few weeks elopes with her.

Three months later, Esther realizes that she is pregnant. Strangely, the servant girls who had been her former tormentors become kind and sympathetic, which only makes her feel more ashamed of her wickedness. Mrs. Barfield is sympathetic, too, but she has to send Esther away, for she has become a bad example for the other girls.

There is no place for Esther to go but to her home, where she finds that her mother is also pregnant. Her stepfather is crueler than ever, but he tolerates her as long as she pays rent and gives him money to buy beer. At last, realizing that she has to leave before all of her savings disappear and there is nothing left for her baby, Esther takes lodgings close to the hospital where she is to be confined. After her son is born, she is filled with a happiness she has never known, but her joy is lessened when she learns that her mother has died in childbirth, just a few days after Esther’s Jackie was born. Soon afterward, Esther’s stepfather and...

(The entire section is 1124 words.)