George Moore (novelist)

Summary

George Augustus Moore (February 24, 1852-January 21, 1933) was an Irish novelist, writer, poet, art critic, memoirist and playwright. Moore came from a Catholic family. He originally wanted to be a painter, so in 1870 he studied art in Paris. There, he befriended many French artists and writers who had already achieved fame.

As a naturalist writer, he was among the first English-language authors to absorb the styles of the French realists and, in particular, influenced by the works of Émile Zola. His works influenced James Joyce according to literature critic and biographer Richard Ellmann, and, although Moore”s work is sometimes seen as alien to Irish and English literatures, according to other opinions he is to be considered the first great modern Irish novelist.

First years

George Moore was born at Moore Hall, near Lough Carra, County Mayo. The house was built by his paternal great-grandfather, who was also named George Moore, and who had made his fortune as a wine maker in Alicante. The novelist”s grandfather was a friend of Maria Edgeworth, and author of An Historical Memoir of the French Revolution. His great-uncle, John Moore, was president of the Republic of Connaught during the Irish Rebellion of 1798. The novelist”s father, George Henry Moore, sold his stable and hunting equipment during the Great Irish Famine, and from 1847 to 1857, served as an Independent Member of Parliament (MP) for Mayo in the UK House of Commons. George Henry was renowned as a landowner, fought for tenants” rights, and was a founder of the Catholic Defence Association. His estate consisted of 5000 ha (50 km²) in May, with 40 ha more in County Roscommon.

As a boy, Moore enjoyed the novels of Walter Scott, which were read to him by his father. He spent much time away from home with his brother Maurice, befriending young Willie and Oscar Wilde who spent his summer vacations on the outskirts of Moytura. Oscar, later, was to quip about Moore, “He takes care of his education when he is in public.” His father had returned to horse breeding and in 1861 he took his champion equine, Croagh Patrick, to England for a successful racing season, along with his wife and nine-year-old son. For a time, George was left at Cliff Stables until his father decided to send him to his alma mater, aided by his racing victories. Moore”s formal education was at St. Mary”s College, a Catholic school near Birmingham, where he was the youngest of a group of 150 boys. He spent all of 1864 at home as he was ill with a lung condition. His academic performance was poor as he was unhappy. In January 1865, he returned to St. Mary”s College with his brother Maurice, where he refused to study and spent his time reading novels and poems. That December the headmaster, Spencer Northcote, wrote a report that he “hardly knew anything to say about George.” In the northern summer of 1867 he was expelled, and returned to Mayo. His father, on one occasion, remarked about George and his brother Maurice, “I was afraid those two red-haired boys were stupid,” an observation that proved false to the youngsters.

London and Paris

In 1868, Moore”s father was re-elected as a Member of Parliament in May and the family moved to London the following year. There, Moore senior tried, unsuccessfully, to have his son pursue a career in the military. However, George decided to attend the School of Art at the South Kensington Museum where his achievements were no better. He was freed from all education when his father died in 1870. Moore, who was not yet famous, inherited the family estate, which was valued at 3596 pounds. He managed to manage it with his brother Maurice and in 1873, after heeding the opinions of the majority, he moved to Paris to study art. It took him much effort to find an artist who would accept him as a pupil. Monsieur Jullian, who had been a shepherd and circus man, accepted him for 40 francs a month. At the Académie Jullian met Lewis Weldon Hawkins, who became Moore”s housemate and who appeared, as an unsuccessful artist, as one of the novelist”s characters. He met many of the most important artists and writers of the time, including Pissarro, Degas, Renoir, Monet, Daudet, Mallarmé, Turgenev and, most notably, Zola, who influenced Moore”s performance as a writer.

While still in Paris, in 1877, Moore published his first book, a collection of poems called The Flowers of Passion, which were unoriginal and received poor reviews as moralistic readers had been offended by their content. The poems were unoriginal and received poor reviews as moralistic readers had been offended by their content. He was forced to return to Ireland in 1880 to raise £3000 to pay off debts that had accumulated on the family estate, as tenants were refusing to pay the rent and, in addition, farm produce had fallen in price. During his time back in May, he gained a reputation as a landowner, continuing the family tradition of not evicting tenants and refusing to carry firearms when he toured the estate. Still in Ireland, he decided to give up art and moved to London to become a professional writer. There he published his second collection of poems, Pagan Poems, in 1881. The poems reflect his interest in symbolism and are currently not widely accepted.

Controversy in England

During the 1880s, Moore began work on a series of novels in the realist style. His first novel, A Modern Lover (1883) was a three-volume work, and deals with the art world of the 1870s and 1880s, in which many characters are real. Circulating libraries in England banned the book for its explicit depiction of the protagonist”s amorous activities. At the time, English libraries, such as Mudie”s Select Library, controlled the market for fiction in the public, who paid fees to borrow their books, which were expected to comply with the morality they owed. His next book, A Mummers Wife (1885) is widely recognized as the first great realist novel in the English language. This work was also labeled unsuitable by Mudie”s and W. H. Smith refused to sell it in his stores. Despite this, during its first year of publication the book was in its fourteenth printing, mainly due to the publicity generated by its opponents. Both his later novels A Modern Lover, A Mummers Wife and A Drama in Muslin, were banned by Mudie”s and Smith”s. In response, Moore declared war on libraries, publishing provocative pamphlets; Literature at Nurse and Circulating Morals. In these works, he complained that libraries profited from the sale of popular fiction and rejected serious novels with literary significance.

The publisher of Moore”s books, Henry Vizetelly, began working on translations of French realist novels by Zola that endangered the morals and commercial influence of circulating libraries during that time. In 1888, the circulating libraries fought back by encouraging the House of Commons to implement laws to stop ”the rapid propagation of unmoral literature in this country.” Shortly thereafter, Vizetelly was taken to court by the National Vigilance Association (NVA) for ”obscene libel”. The charges had been brought for the publication of the English translation of Zola”s La Terre. The following year, another case was brought to court, calling for the removal of all of Zola”s works. This led to the 70-year-old writer becoming a cause célèbre in the literary world. Nevertheless, Moore remained loyal to Zola”s publisher, and on September 22, 1888, about a month before the trial, he wrote a letter that appeared in the St. James Gazette. In it, Moore suggested that it was improper for Vizetelly”s fate to be determined by a jury of twelve tradesmen, explaining that it would be preferable for him to be tried by three novelists. Moore pointed out that the NVA could make the same claims to books such as Gautier”s Madame Bovary and Mademoiselle de Maupin, since their morals were equivalent to Zola”s, although their literary merits might differ.

Because of his willingness to use themes in his books such as prostitution, extramarital sex, and lesbianism, Moore”s novels were initially disapproved of. However, as the public”s taste for realistic fiction changed, disapproval waned. Moore began to succeed as an art critic with the publication of books such as Impressions and Opinions (1891) and Modern Painting (1893), which was the first significant attempt to introduce the Impressionists to the British public. By this time, Moore was able to live off the proceeds of his literary work.

Moore”s other realist novels of this period include A Drama in Muslin (1886), a satirical story of marriage in Anglo-Irish society dealing with same-sex relationships through two unmarried daughters belonging to the gentry, and Esther Waters (1894), the story of a housekeeper who becomes pregnant and is abandoned by her lover. Both books were long in print before their first publication. His 1887 novel A Mere Accident is an attempt to unite his symbolism and realist influences. She also published a collection of short stories, Celibates (1895).

Dublin and the Celtic Revival

In 1901, Moore returned to Ireland to live in Dublin at the suggestion of his cousin and friend, Edward Martyn. Martyn had been involved in Ireland”s culture and dramatic movements for some years, and had worked with Lady Gregory and William Butler Yeats to create the Irish Literary Theatre. Moore soon became deeply involved in this project and the Irish Literary Revival. He had already written one play, The Strike at Arlingford (1893), which was produced by the Independent Theatre. The play was the result of a challenge between Moore and George Robert Sims over the former”s criticism of all contemporary authors, expressed in Impressions and Opinions. Moore won the hundred-pound wager made by Sims to witness an “unconventional” play by Moore, although Moore insisted that “unconventional” was not the proper definition.

The Irish Literary Theatre staged the satirical comedy The Bending of the Bough (1900), adapted from Martyn”s The Tale of a Town, originally rejected by the theater but which had been given to Moore to revise, and Maeve, also by Martyn. Performed by the company that would later become the Abbey Theatre, The Bending of the Bough was an important play historically, as it introduced realism into Irish literature. Lady Gregory wrote that the play “strikes impartially throughout.” The play was a satire of Irish political life, and was unexpectedly nationalistic, but considered the first to address a vital question that had appeared in Irish life. Diarmuid and Grania, a poetic prose play co-written with Yeats in 1901, was also performed at the theater. After this production, Moore split the company with the dramatic movement.

Moore published two books of prose fiction in Ireland around this time; a second book of short stories, The Untilled Field (1903) and a novel, The Lake (1905). The Untilled Field deals with the theme of clerical intrusion into the daily life of Irish society, and also with emigration. The stories were originally written to be translated into Irish, to serve as models for other writers working in that language. Three of the translations were published in the New Ireland Review, but publication was subsequently discontinued due to perceived anti-clerical sentiment. In 1902 the complete collection was translated by Tadhg Ó Donnchadha and Pádraig Ó Súilleabháin, and published in a parallel Gaelic League edition under the title An-tÚr-Ghort. Moore later revised the texts to make the English edition. The stories were influenced by Turgenev”s A Sportsman”s Sketches, a book that was recommended to Moore by W. K. Magee. Magee was a sub-librarian at the National Library of Ireland, and had previously suggested that Moore “was the one to become Ireland”s Turgenev.” The stories are recognized as some of the most representative of the birth of short stories in Ireland as a literary genre. They can even be seen as predecessors of Joyce”s Dubliners collection, which has a similar theme, although set in an urban landscape.

In 1903, after a disagreement with his brother Maurice over the religious upbringing of his nephews, Moore declared himself a Protestant. His conversion was announced in a letter published in the Irish Times newspaper. Moore continued to live in Dublin until 1911. In 1914, he published a three-volume collection of his memoirs, under the collective name Hail and Farewell, which entertained his readers but infuriated his former friends. Moore said in his memoirs that “Dublin is now divided into two sections; one half is afraid of what it will say in the book, and the other of what it will not say.”

Last years

Moore returned to London, where, with the exception of frequent trips to France, he would spend the rest of his life. In 1913, he traveled to Jerusalem to research data for his next novel, The Brook Kerith (1916). This book again generated controversy, as it was based on the assumption that a non-divine Christ had not died on the cross, but had been nursed back to health. In The Brook Kerith, Jesus had finally traveled to India to acquire wisdom. Other books from this period include a collection of short stories called A Storyteller”s Holiday (1918), a collection of essays entitled Conversations in Ebury Street (1924), and a play, The Making of an Immortal (1927). Moore also spent considerable time revising and preparing his writings for a single edition.

Partly thanks to Maurice Moore”s pro-treaty politics, Moore Hall was burned down by anti-treaty bodies in 1923, during the Irish Civil War. Moore eventually received £7000 compensation from the Irish Free State government. By this time, George and Maurice had parted ways, mainly due to an unflattering portrait of the latter, which had appeared in Hail and Farewell. Tension between them had also been heightened by Maurice”s active support of the Catholic Church, to which he made frequent donations from the estate”s monetary funds. Moore subsequently sold much of the estate to the Irish Land Commission for £25,000.

Moore befriended many other members of the expatriate art community in London and Paris and had a very long romance with Lady Maud Cunard. Moore took a special interest in the education of Maud”s daughter, the publisher and art patron Nancy Cunard, and it was suggested that Moore, rather than Maud”s husband, Sir Bache Cunard, was Nancy”s father. Gertrude Stein mentions Moore in her The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), describing him as a “very prosperous Mellon”s Food baby.”

Moore”s last novel, Aphroditis in Aulis, was published in 1930. Three years later, in 1933, he contracted uremia and died at his home in Ebury Street, in the London borough of Pimlico. On his death, he left a fortune of £80,000, none of which was received by his brother. He was cremated in London and the urn containing his ashes was buried on Castle Island in Lough Carra, near the ruins of Moore Hall.

Letters

Sources

  1. George Moore
  2. George Moore (novelist)