Brian Moore

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Brian Moore was born in Belfast as the fourth child in a family of nine. His father, James Bernard Moore, had made his way through medical school on scholarships to become a prominent surgeon. He had not married until he was fifty, and he died when Brian was eighteen. Moore recalled his father as an exacting man, impatient with failure, who put great pressure on his children to excel in their schooling. The son’s response was to focus on failed or marginal characters in his fiction; he has said that he regards failure as “a more intense distillation [than success] of that self you are.”

Moore was educated at Newington Elementary School and St. Malachy’s Diocesan College, both in Belfast. He bitterly recalled his formal education as old-fashioned, rigid, and harshly disciplinary, with canings for the slightest infractions. In The Feast of Lupercal (1957), he draws an acrid portrait of St. Malachy’s in his Ardath College, where clerical masters prevent students from developing independent minds. His feelings about his Jesuit education are related to the ambivalence he has about religious belief.

The Moore family had originally been Protestant, but Brian’s paternal grandfather converted late in life to Catholicism. Brian was raised a Catholic, only to be stunned when his mother confessed her unbelief on her deathbed. From his youth, he was an unbeliever, yet all his life he remained fascinated by the role faith plays in people’s lives. In most of his novels, he has dramatized what he regards as the suffocating weight of Irish Catholicism’s moral flaws.

After having failed in mathematics, Moore left college in 1938 without taking a degree. For a year he took courses at the University of London’s Belfast branch. In 1940, he joined Belfast’s Air Raid Precautions Unit and National Fire Service, gaining experiences he would delineate in The Emperor of Ice-Cream (1965). In 1943, he joined the British Ministry of War Transport and accompanied the Allied Occupation Forces into North Africa, France, Italy, and Germany. In 1945, he worked for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration Economic Mission in Warsaw, then traveled as a freelance reporter in Scandinavia and France.

Moore returned to England in 1947 but emigrated to Canada the following year. From 1948 to 1952, he reported for the Montreal Gazette and also had several pulp novels published under an assumed name. In 1953, he became a Canadian citizen, and he retained his Canadian citizenship even after moving to the United States in 1959. In 1955, Moore issued his first serious—and perhaps still best—novel, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. The book won him Britain’s Authors’ Club First Novel Award.

From 1959 to 1962, Moore resided in New York City, living partly on a Guggenheim Fellowship while writing The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1960, set in Montreal) and An Answer from Limbo (1962, set in New York). In 1963, he moved to Los Angeles to write the screenplay for The Luck of Ginger Coffey, then to write Torn Curtain for Alfred Hitchcock. In 1964, he settled in Malibu with his second wife, Jean Denney. His first marriage, to Jacqueline Sirois, had lasted from 1951 to 1957. In Southern California, Moore wrote occasional film scripts and travel articles and taught as an adjunct professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, but he devoted the bulk of his time to his novels. He was essentially a loner who gave few interviews and enjoyed his international status, living in California yet retaining his Canadian citizenship while writing, more often than not, about Ireland’s taboo-ridden, backward society.


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Brian Moore may never attract a wide public, but he is admired by discerning...

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readers for his intelligent and sensitive command of such dark aspects of human nature as guilt, disillusionment, unfulfillment, loneliness, betrayal, and misunderstanding. He tenderly yet unsparingly created characters who are outcast from life’s usual joys and who forlornly seek a spiritual beatitude they will find unattainable. Himself a lapsed Catholic and self-exile from Ireland, Moore nevertheless revisited the struggles of people who are religiously tormented and morally baffled, either as victims of a puritan, taboo-ridden, benighted Belfast or as strangers to a hedonistic, dehumanizing, aimless United States. His quietly impressive body of work earned him a place among the English-speaking world’s best writers of minor rank.


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The basic facts of Brian Moore’s life are familiar to anyone who knows his work, for he has mined heavily his own experiences for his novels. Moore was born in Belfast, in 1921, to James Bernard Moore, a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons, and Eileen McFadden Moore. His childhood was a stable and fundamentally happy one; the warm and well-ordered O’Neill family in Judith Hearne was in fact identified by Moore in an interview as “a sort of facsimile of my own.” Although his work reveals a continuing ambivalence about the order and protection of the family, as about other highly ordered forms of community, he clearly finds much to admire in the sort of family structure that provided his early nurturing.

Moore was educated in Catholic schools, leaving St. Malachi’s College, Belfast, in 1940 to join the Air Raid Precautions Unit in Belfast. He served with that unit until 1942, when he left Belfast to serve as a civilian employee of the British Ministry of War Transport in North Africa, Italy, and France. Immediately after the war, he served as a port officer in Warsaw, and then remained for some time in Scandinavia, where he was a freelance reporter in Sweden, Finland, and Norway until he emigrated to Canada in 1948. From 1948 to 1952, he continued his career as a journalist in Montreal. His Canadian newspaper career began humbly; he was first a proofreader for the Montreal Gazette. He was promoted to reporter, an occupation he continued until he began writing pulp fiction to finance his serious work. Although some of his serious short fiction was published in the early 1950’s, Moore was forced to continue to write pulp fiction until the appearance of Judith Hearne in 1955, and even after, under the pseudonym Michael Bryan.

The early stages of Moore’s life and work essentially came to a close two years after the publication of Judith Hearne with the appearance of his second novel, The Feast of Lupercal. Shortly thereafter, he moved to the United States from Canada, and in 1959, received the Guggenheim Fellowship that allowed him to complete one of his most highly regarded works, The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1960). Between 1960 and the publication of The Emperor of Ice-Cream in 1965, he published An Answer from Limbo. Moore said, in an interview with Hallvard Dahlie, that a dramatic change in his life occurred in the years between the publication of the latter two novels: “I am much happier now than I was when I was thirty-five or forty. Emperor was written at a crucial time in my life—it was the first book after I changed.” That change was demonstrated also in his personal life during the year of The Emperor of Ice-Cream’s publication. In 1966, Moore married his second wife, Jean Denny, his first marriage having been to Jacqueline Sirois.

From 1966 until his death in 1999, Moore continued to publish at the rate of a novel every one to three years. Although he maintained Canadian citizenship, he continued to live in the United States, in a house overlooking the Pacific Ocean, near Oxnard, California.