The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne Summary

Brian Moore


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

In The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, Moore’s first novel, he introduces all the themes that will flower in his distinguished career. He takes a large risk by making his protagonist an unmarried, plain, narrow-minded woman over forty who is impoverished, lonely, conventionally pious, and secretly alcoholic. He is tender with her, even inviting the reader to like her as he describes in impressive detail her confused interior life. Honoré de Balzac would have made her a villain, as he did the brooding title character in La Cousine Bette (1846; Cousin Bette); Flannery O’Connor would have mocked her with gothic glee; Eudora Welty would have drawn her comically; F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner would not have imagined her; Vladimir Nabokov would have disdained her.

Joyce, though, might have joined Moore in empathizing with Judith Hearne as a loser whose fate is determined by the suffocating weight of Irish banality, hypocrisy, and empty religiosity. Hearne is an aging, long-faced Belfast music teacher with barely one hundred pounds a year to her name, in a land where a good man is almost impossible to find. Yet she longs for such a husband, and the merciless way in which her hope is broken makes for the action of Moore’s most moving novel.

Before the book’s present time, Hearne has spent years caring for her aunt, a selfish, domineering woman whose life, like that of Eveline’s...

(The entire section is 507 words.)

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Judith Hearne takes a room at a boardinghouse run by Mrs. Henry Rice, a widow. It is located on Camden Street, a rundown Belfast neighborhood that was once middle class, tidy, and secure. Judith places a photograph of the dead aunt who raised her on the mantelpiece and prepares to hang a print of the Sacred Heart above the bed to make the room seem homier.

Judith visits Mrs. Rice’s quarters. There, she meets Bernard, Mrs. Rice’s adult son. Bernard is an only child, as well as an unemployed university graduate and aspiring poet. Tirelessly pampered by his seemingly devout mother, Bernard nonetheless holds subversive religious views. Judith finds him and his ideas both intriguing and repulsive. They gossip about mutual acquaintances, the pastoral temperament of the parish priest, and Mary, the country girl Mrs. Rice has hired to help around the boardinghouse. Hearne returns to her room with a borrowed hammer to hang the Sacred Heart icon and prepares for sleep without supper.

Judith wakes wondering how she will spend the coming days. As she ritualistically washes up and brushes her hair before a mirror, she considers options for cheap dining, what she will wear, and how she will conduct herself at breakfast. She daydreams about the impression her jewelry and black-and-red dress will make. Once ready, she enters the breakfast parlor and sits down among her fellow lodgers. She is disappointed to discover that breakfast consists only of toast and tea, a discovery that affects her lunch and supper plans for the foreseeable future.

Mrs. Rice introduces Judith to the other guests, including James Madden. Madden, Mrs. Rice’s brother, has recently returned from the United States, where he lived and worked for thirty years. He impresses Judith with his talk of life in New York City. Judith assumes Madden is a man of means, and she silently resolves to learn more about the storied metropolis so she will have something to discuss with him to further their acquaintance.

Judith settles into life at the boardinghouse by maintaining a regular routine of teaching...

(The entire section is 858 words.)

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne Summary

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Judith Hearne has just moved into what will be the last of the numerous shabby bed-sitting-rooms in the seedy section of Belfast that she has occupied since the death of her aunt. (This aunt, a mean and domineering woman, had taken her into her own home when, as a child, Miss Hearne lost her parents; years later the young woman gave up her work and her few friends in order to nurse her aunt, who finally died.)

At breakfast the next day, Miss Hearne meets the other inhabitants of the boardinghouse. Besides Mrs. Rice, the landlady, and her son, Bernard, the only one of the four boarders who takes any notice of Miss Hearne is James Madden, who is grateful for her apparent interest in the United States. The others are all bored with his endless bragging about his life there. Madden has returned to his native Ireland following a traffic accident and an out-of-court settlement of ten thousand dollars, which he dreams of investing in a small business as soon as he can find a partner. Meanwhile, he spends long, tedious days drinking in a pub. Because Miss Hearne, in her awkward attempts at friendliness, seems to approve of his scheme, Madden mistakenly imagines that she has money which she might invest in his project. She, on the other hand, imagines, also mistakenly, that he is romantically attracted to her. They attend Sunday Mass together, after which Miss Hearne makes her weekly visit to the O’Neills, who are all bored by the lonely, tiresome woman. The children ridicule her behind her back, Professor O’Neill escapes to his study, and Moira dozes off while Miss Hearne is talking to her.

After an evening at the cinema (Victor Mature playing Samson), Madden and Miss Hearne are confronted by Mrs. Rice, who proceeds to disparage her brother and to disillusion and insult Miss Hearne. Back in her room, Miss Hearne battles with her ambivalent feelings about Madden, her awareness that her deceased aunt would have considered him common, her own fantasies about him, and her loneliness and self-pity. Finally, she succumbs to the temptation that she has resisted for six months; taking two bottles of whiskey from her trunk, she begins to drink and continues to do so until she becomes unconscious. That same night, Madden also yields to the secretly lustful side of his nature and rapes Mary, the young housemaid, who has been having an affair with Bernard.

The next morning, Miss Hearne, deeply ashamed and penitent, goes to church but fails to find comfort and salvation; she feels her faith weakening. Not long afterward, she confronts Madden and learns that he never intended to marry her, as she had imagined, while he discovers that she has no money beyond the hundred pounds a year on which she barely manages to live. Miss Hearne next seeks comfort...

(The entire section is 1132 words.)

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Cox, Marcia R. Characterization in the Novels of Brian Moore, 1983.

Dahlie, Halvard. Brian Moore, 1969.

Flood, Jeanne. Brian Moore, 1974.

McSweeney, Kerry. Four Contemporary Novelists, 1983.