George Moore’s fiction was at all times innovative and influential. Amid much controversy in the early 1880’s, he adapted the methods of French realism to the English novel. His earliest goals were to liberate the novel from Victorianconventions of subject and treatment and from commercial constraints imposed by a monopolistic book trade.
By the middle 1880’s, Moore began to turn from realism to aestheticism. Under the influence of his friend Walter Pater and the rising Symbolist poets of France, Moore anticipated the “decadence” of the 1890’s by eschewing the conflict between realism and popular Romanticism that had formerly absorbed him. He realized that these schools of writing were generally organized and evaluated on moral and social grounds. In regard to prosenarrative, Moore’s increasing and then sole preoccupation became literary art.
As an aesthete in the early 1890’s, he composed his masterpiece Esther Waters. He also wrote some of the short stories that later contributed to his reputation as an inventor of modern Irish fiction. The large income generated by his books allowed him to quit his second career as one of England’s leading art critics. He cofounded the Independent Theatre and Irish Literary Theatre and by the turn of the century he became a leading polemicist of the Irish revival.
The major achievement of Moore’s Irish involvement was the composition of Hail and Farewell: A Trilogy (1911-1914). In the tradition of Laurence Sterne, Thomas De Quincey, and George Borrow, Moore wrote the story of his life using the conceptual framework of fiction rather than history. The trilogy contains an account of artistic movements of the late Victorian era, but attention is concentrated on the intellectual life of Dublin in the early years of the twentieth century.
During the 1910’s and 1920’s, Moore retreated from the popular literary market to the composition of prose epics. Biblical history in The Brook Kerith, medieval history in Héloise and Abélard, and classical history in Aphrodite in Aulis offered structural premises for a new exploration of human problems and for the development of a modern, rarefied aestheticism. Reviewers greeted the novels as exemplars of composition and elevated Moore to the status of Ireland’s senior man of letters.