George Moore Short Fiction Analysis

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

George Moore brought to his short fiction the same theories and intentions that were the mark of all of his work. He wanted to write about ordinary people, and, in particular, about ordinary Irish people. He was determined to follow the late nineteenth century French writers, such as Zola and Gustave Flaubert, and the Russian writers, such as Ivan Turgenev, in attempting a realistic portrayal of life without artistic cleverness or dramatic heightening. His aim was to develop an “oral” style in which the reader would be presented with a sense of intimacy, as if the writer were talking to a friend.

The stories were chosen to avoid extravagant or violent action. The plots were simple and direct, with no intrusion of interior exploration of a character or of narratorial monologue. They were to be objective, not judgmental. It was a matter of showing, not telling the reader how to react. He followed Turgenev in using landscape to convey mood and to strive for a lyric simplicity, a flow of narrative with an avoidance of dramatic shaping, obvious climax, or clear conclusion.

He was to have a strong influence on the short story and particularly on the Irish writers. His determination to draw the short story away from eccentric, heightened behavior and incident to “real life” with a kind of subtle artlessness was to be an example followed by James Joyce in his collection Dubliners (1914). A further aspect of his career as a short-story writer appeared in his series of Irish folk tales, in which the fairy world comes into play and wherein he made a serious attempt to retrieve and reshape Irish literary heritage.

“Wilfrid Holmes”

Moore often published his stories in sets exploring a single theme. In In Single Strictness, the characters live repressed lives, and Moore uses a minor incident to explore such unhappiness, very quietly, in stories leading to subdued, and often, inconsequential endings. Wilfrid Holmes is the youngest son of a middle-class family. He has a comfortable childhood but tends to be lazy and dreamy. The older children gradually go off to normal lives in business and marriage. It becomes obvious, however, that Holmes’s aimlessness carries on into maturity. He tries a number of possible careers, but nothing quite works. He likes music and finally settles on composing operas, but he never attempts to learn the finer aspects of composition; his skill is in melody. He exists on a regularly paid allowance from an aunt.

Rubbing along, working on his opera, Wilfred is suddenly aware that his allowance has not come. Several days go by, and he becomes worried, not knowing if he should write his aunt. He gets a small amount from a brother. He attempts to get a job as a music critic, but it is obvious that he simply does not know enough for such work. The allowance comes. The aunt has simply forgotten to send it and to make up for her forgetfulness, she sends him considerably more than usual. He is happy again, continuing on his feckless, incompetent way with his opera.

Moore, who spoke and wrote often of his literary theories, liked to think that the arts had strong connections and could be helped by cross-reference; this story is an example of his use of “minor keys,” a kind of story that goes nowhere but explores without comment a hopeless life. Aside from a very quiet heightening in the story when Wilfrid begins to fear that he will not be able to survive, the rest of the work is as lazily quiet...

(The entire section is 1433 words.)