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