George Moore Long Fiction Analysis
Thirty of George Moore’s fifty years as a novelist postdate the Victorian era, yet he is not generally remembered as a modern writer. To some extent this is because his aestheticism was the outcome of inspiration rather than experiment. “I desire above all things,” he wrote in 1892, “to tell the story of life in grave simple phrases, so grave and simple that the method, the execution would disappear, and the reader, with bating breath, would remain a prey to an absorbing emotion.”
Complexity and diversity are striking characteristics of the Moore corpus. He told “the story of life” ranging from classical Greece (Aphrodite in Aulis) to industrial England (A Mummer’s Wife). His changing style reflected the influence of diverse writers, including Gustave Flaubert, Ivan Turgenev, and Walter Pater. Confused by such diversity, Arthur Symons reached the conclusion that Moore had no style, and James Whistler believed that he had no conscience. In a curious way this is true. He achieved not style, but expression. As an artist he avoided moral judgments and ceased his endeavors after discovering the soul in the body, the idea in action. The nature of his critical theories and the evolution of his fiction confirm that he was not a modernist, but a classicist.
A Modern Lover
Moore’s first novel, A Modern Lover, like his last, is a study of artistic temperament. The chiefprotagonist is Lewis Seymour, a young painter of middling talent whose problem is to advance his career. He is attracted to a fraternity of avant-garde artists called the moderns, who advocate a radical departure from academic painting. However, he realizes that to achieve success in the sense of worldly recognition, he must be conventional and flatter the tastes of an ignorant public. The narrative traces Lewis’s development as a painter with a “market” that expands in proportion to the distance between himself and personal integrity.
A Modern Lover represents the first conscious attempt to write a naturalistic novel in English. Reviewers noticed its power. In addition to its literary qualities, the novel offers an account of conflicting trends in art: The moderns are painters modeled on the French Impressionists; the medievalists are modeled on the Pre-Raphaelites; the Royal Academy appears as a copy of the original. Through the character of John Harding, Moore expounded his own views as a critic of Victorian culture and advocated reforms that prepared the way for a new definition of modern art.
Susan Mitchell noted in her study of Moore that he had an uncanny ability to understand women. A Mummer’s Wife and A Drama in Muslin may be regarded as portraits of women: the first novel rather sinister and tragic, the second almost feminist and deeply encouraging.
A Mummer’s Wife
Kate Ede is introduced in A Mummer’s Wife as the wife of a shopkeeper living in the industrial town of Hanley. She is a young woman of sober character and dry religious convictions. Dick Lennox, the actor-manager of a touring company, rents lodgings in her house and seduces her. She is persuaded to leave her unhappy marriage and to accompany Dick on his travels. In Moravia, Kate’s self-discipline gives way to a sensuous dreaminess. After becoming an actor, she marries Dick and has a baby by him, but her course runs steadily downward. As the moral underpinnings of her life are loosened, she slips almost unawares into depravity and dies in the end, an alcoholic among prostitutes.
A Drama in Muslin
Alice Barton, the heroine of A Drama in Muslin, is the daughter of an Irish landlord. She is an intellectual girl and rather homely; consequently she is unfitted for the grotesque “marriage market” of the Castle season in Dublin. Her sister and acquaintances spend their energy and sometimes dignity in preparing for the most important event of their lives: the entrapment of a moneyed young man in matrimony. All the innocence, loveliness, and promise of girlhood are publicly and somewhat brutally bartered for the passing illusions of title and fortune. Alice remains aloof, quietly preparing herself for a literary career. In the end, because of her intelligence and self-reliance, she alone makes a happy marriage.
Apart from many distinguishing features, the one shared by Kate Ede and Alice Barton is a departure from the common rut of experience. When Kate becomes the mummer’s mistress, she breaks free from the paralyzing control of her husband and mother-in-law. During the months before conscience prods her to become the mummer’s wife, she achieves sexual and emotional fulfillment and finds herself on the verge of a career and independence. Kate’s is not a social tragedy: The opportunity to change her life was offered, but for personal reasons she neglected it. Alice’s success is likewise of her own making. The reader finds soon after beginning A Drama in Muslin that the heroine is set apart less by her lack of beauty than by her strength of character. By virtue of a correct perception of Vanity Fair, Alice disentangles herself from the fatal bonds of...
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