George Moore Moore, George - Essay


(Short Story Criticism)

Moore, George 1852-1933

(Full name George Augustus Moore) Irish short story writer, novelist, autobiographer, essayist, critic, dramatist, poet, biographer, and editor.

Moore has been praised for the accuracy and insight with which he realistically portrayed the life of his native Ireland. Distinguished by their style and objectivity, his short stories have been commended for their sensitive psychological studies of human weakness and loneliness. Critics have widely discussed the influence of his short fiction on several significant English and Irish writers, in particular James Joyce, Arnold Bennett, Frank O'Connor, Mary Lavin, and D. H. Lawrence.

Biographical Information

Moore was born at Moore Hall, County Mayo, Ireland, to a wealthy, well-respected family. When his father was elected to Parliament in 1868, Moore and his family relocated to London. After the death of his father in 1870, he moved to Paris to study painting and painters, meeting Edgar Degas, Édouard Manet, Camille Pissarro, and others. He also made the acquaintance of many prominent French writers, and his inclinations toward painting, never very devoted or promising, were channeled into literature. During this time, Moore met the French novelist Émile Zola and was impressed with his naturalist approach to fiction, an approach he would incorporate into his own novels and short stories. He returned to London in 1880 and began his career as a writer. Throughout his career he published his short fiction in several well-respected periodicals in Ireland, England, and the United States. Moore remained in England for twenty-one years then moved to Dublin in order to help establish the Irish Literary Theatre. In 1911 he returned once again to London, where he lived until his death in 1933.

Major Works of Short Fiction

Moore's best-known and critically acclaimed short story collection, The Untitled Field, realistically depicts turnof-the-century Ireland and its people. Thematically, the stories exhibit loneliness, human weakness, the repressive effects of the Catholic church on its people, and the implications of emigration, especially to the United States. In "Homesickness" James Bryden returns to Ireland from America and is dismayed at the tyrannical manner in which the local priest treats his parishioners. He gratefully returns to America and eventually marries there. However, in his old age, he becomes homesick for Ireland. "In the Clay" is concerned with a talented young Irish sculptor, Rodney, who earns his living designing and creating religious decorations. When he uses a beautiful young village girl as a nude model for a sculpture for the Madonna and Child, the local priest recognizes the young girl and informs her family of her relationship with Rodney. The artwork causes much debate and consternation and is eventually destroyed by her brothers. Rodney, disheartened by the destruction of his work, prepares to leave Ireland for the more tolerant environs of Europe.

Critical Reception

Although Moore is often remembered more as a novelist and memoirist, his vivid portrayal of turn-of-the-century Ireland and its people in his short stories garnered critical attention and provided a model emulated by many English language writers in the first half of the twentieth century. Moore's profound influence on short fiction writers, especially James Joyce, is widely acknowledged and discussed by literary historians.

Principal Works

(Short Story Criticism)

Short Fiction

Celibates 1895

The Untilled Field 1903

The Lake (short novel) 1905

A Story-Teller's Holiday 1918

In Single Strictness 1922

Other Major Works

Flowers of Passion (poetry) 1878

Pagan Poems (poetry) 1881

A Modern Lover (novel) 1883

Literature at Nurse (essay) 1885

A Mummer's Wife (novel) 1885

A Drama in Muslin (novel) 1886

A Mere Accident (novel) 1887

Confessions of a Young Man (autobiography) 1888

Impressions and Opinions (criticism) 1891

Esther Waters (novel) 1894

Evelyn Innes (novel) 1898

The Bending of the Bough (drama) 1900

Sister Teresa (novel) 1901

Diarmuid and Grania [with William Butler Yeats] (drama) 1902

Memoirs of My Dead Life (autobiographical essays) 1906

Hail and Farewell: Ave (autobiography) 1911

Hail and Farewell: Salve (autobiography) 1912

Hail and Farewell: Vale (autobiography) 1914

The Brook Kerith (novel) 1916

Avowals (dialogues and essays) 1919

Héloïse and Abélard (novel) 1921

Conversations in Ebury Street (criticism) 1924

George Moore in Transition (letters) 1968

J. S. Watson, Jr. (essay date 1918)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of A Story-Teller's Holiday, in The Dial, Chicago, December 14, 1918, pp. 534-37.

[In the the following review, Watson faults the insincerity of Moore's A Story-Teller's Holiday.]

In A Story-Teller's Holiday, George Moore's latest and nearest approach to the perfectly confidential, our friend of deathless middle-age is discovered on a familiar scene. Self-revelation is taken up as easily as if it had never been dropped; the old properties have scarcely needed a dusting. Moore Hall even looms again, and one gathers with sorrow that it is passing into other hands, though one is not very clear on the matter—not unpleasantly clear and not confused at all. Moore rid himself long since of that juggler's ambition to keep more than one object in the air at a time, so that no perplexities hinder the soft satisfaction of things that are forever taking leave.

Halfway through the book, reminiscence condenses and takes shape in stories on a theme, or rather the refinement of a theme, which Boccaccio probably thought he had pretty well exhausted. It is not inappropriate that the Irish Renaissance should have found a new quill for this ancient itch. Boccaccio would have been envious; but he might also have been impatient. Moore's story of the temptation of the saints by the saints for the greater glory of Heaven lingers along with as many tantalizing pastoral interruptions as the story of "Daphnis and Chloe." And while Moore, knowing Christian doctrine better than Longus, did not have to resort to an improbable innocence to stave off the event, Boccaccio would still have been impatient. A quotation here from "The Nuns of Crith Gaille" may be of use:

"In the South," said Brother Marban, "the blood is hotter than it is in the North. Ah!" the Mother Abbess grunted, "true for you. It's in holy Ireland only that strength is given to man to best temptation; and now, for it's getting late, which of us is going to. . . ."

But this is neither Italy nor Ireland.

An American's annoyance at Moore's interruptions is likely to be more complex than an Italian's, because the American is generally under more constraint. In spite of his editors the American still has a taste for what is not entirely nice in literature. The influence of the editors, however, becomes evident as soon as he makes up his mind to the plunge. Like a boy of twelve he will have had to assume much inward bravado; his conscience will be sternly clamped down; his heart will beat rapidly. And being finally ready for the worst, he will insist on having it unadulterated. Anything less than the worst will naturally seem an impertinence or even an insult. The only interruption that he could possibly excuse would be from the moral idea, the familiar moral idea which purifies vaudeville. Alas, in A Story-Teller's Holiday the familiar moral idea is not to be found. What is not nice is interrupted by what is more or less beautiful—an intolerable interruption. Would any American have looked for the clear singing finish to "The Nuns of Crith Gaille"; would he be apt to like it? Not at first. Later perhaps, he would remember the expurgated Odyssey of his high school days, and how when Circe had changed the sailors back from swine into men they appeared "taller than before they were, and handsomer far, and pleasanter to look upon." In this way he would get back to the moral idea, though not exactly the familiar one.

Let me hasten to add that probably no such moral idea was in Moore's mind when he wrote "The Nuns of Crith Gaille," and that if it was there, he had it well under control. The mind of the reader is a different affair. One frequently hears of persons who claim to have been converted to a new and freer mode of life by one of Moore's novels or stories. Art's misfortune it surely is to be open to "interpretation" at all hours of the night by the first comer with a prejudice, a prejudice sometimes that has hitherto gone unrecognized by its possessor. At the same time I am not going to set about correcting wrong impressions by trying to appreciate the exclusively artistic triumphs of these delicately joined indelicacies. For one thing it would be superfluous. Few writers are more frankly awake than George Moore to the merits of their own work, and he has been at some pains to celebrate the fine points of each one of these stories.

Moore's self-celebrations always seem more trustworthy than other people's. We cannot doubt him when he tells us what part of a story is the best part, or when he tells us where the parts came from and how they were put together. De Gourmont and others have contradicted Poe's account of how he wrote "The Raven," but no one is likely to contradict Moore as to his cool way with situations. And nothing in the stories contradicts him either. Indeed we have been aware for some time that he either could or would not commit himself in any prose narrative. His fortune is tied up; it is no longer available as it once was for the risk of being ridiculous. Since particulars here would simply be confusing, I may leave everyone to think for himself of some early book of Moore's that seems silly to him. This should be easy enough; but to think of a later book of Moore's, a book written since Hail and Farewell which seems silly will be more difficult. In fact, as I said, Moore appears to have ceased altogether to run this salutary risk of being ridiculous, and equally he seems to have lost his ability to strike fire.

Without trying further to connect these two observations, I will point to The Brook Kerith. There is nothing silly in The Brook Kerith; it could no more be ridiculous than a well chosen collection. A collection of literary objets d'art it certainly is—a marvelous collection adroitly disposed. Every bit of character, incident, scenery that appears in it is of the very highest quality. Yet one looks in vain for anything to equal the last heroic scene of Esther Waters.

The Brook Kerith is held together by a sustained grayness such as we do not often find. In a measure Moore's consistently gray palette is responsible for this not altogether agreeable effect, but only in a measure. Turgenev proved very well with his colorless intensity that grisaille in literature is capable of life and vibration. Intensity. Decidedly we shall have to fall back on this reliable tertium quid when we are finding fault with The Brook Kerith and the stories of A Story-Teller's Holiday.

Where we can, however, we may as well be explicit. Moore's inadequacy when he comes to deal with people and atmospheres which he has never experienced is not anything one needs be vague about. Without a doubt he wanted to do the exotic and do it down to the ground. His ideas on translation tell us as much. In The Confessions of a Young Man he announced that the translator had failed miserably who had failed to bring over even a little of the original's strangeness. No detail seemed to him insignificant or obscure enough to permit any other than word for word translation. Perhaps his statement of this principle is exaggerated—exaggeration has been always his favorite way of showing his contempt for principles, even his own principles—but the principle itself is a much healthier one than that of the translators who were then in fashion. What a relief it is even now to turn to an interlinear after the sweetness and light of—shall we say—Jowett's Plato!

Unfortunately, writing The Brook Kerith was hardly the same thing as translating. Moore had here to give new life to something which had never come within the range of any one of his keen five senses. The sixth romantic sense that should have...

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The Spectator (essay date 1922)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of In Single Strictness, in The Spectator, Vol. 129, No. 4915, September 9, 1922, p. 342.

[In the following essay, the critic provides a laudatory review of In Single Strictness.]

Mr. George Moore's revised volume In Single Strictness is a book of short stories, all of which have one central theme—celibacy. Wilfred Holmes, whose history makes the first story, is a celibate from futility. Priscilla and Emily Lofft are orphan twins, so brought up that they have no opportunity of marriage and no knowledge of the world. Hugh Monfert is a celibate for a variety of reasons, some of them sinister, or, rather, tragic; Henrietta Marrremains...

(The entire section is 938 words.)

Richard Church (essay date 1927)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Flowers of Sterility," in The Spectator, Vol. 138, No. 5146, February 12, 1927, pp. 249-50.

[Church was an English novelist, poet, autobiographer, and critic. In the following review, he offers a mixed assessment of Celibate Lives.]

The five stories in [Celibate Lives] are all studies of people in whom the normal sex-life has been submerged under conflicting waves of spiritual impulse and fear. Abnormal senses of duty or exaggerated fastidiousness have forced these men and women along a path of experience which never sees the sun of common social life. In consequence, they seem to have a peculiar etiolated quality about them, an unhealthiness that...

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R. L. Duffus (essay date 1927)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "In 'Celibate Lives': A Study of Inadequate Living," in The New York Times Book Review, October 2, 1927, p. 6.

[Duffus was an American novelist, critic, and nonfiction writer. In the following favorable review, he provides a thematic and stylistic analysis of Celibate Lives.]

The enlightened few have been rolling George Moore's prose over their tongues these many years. Much of it has not been readily accessible to the general reader. This publication of Celibate Lives at a price the public has learned to pay cheerfully enough for half the novels it reads is consequently of considerable importance. Just what will George Moore signify to the larger...

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The Times Literary Supplement (essay date 1928)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of A Story-Teller's Holiday, in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 1402, December 13, 1928, p. 984.

[In the following essay, the critic favorably assesses stylistic aspects of A Story-Teller's Holiday.]

In [a two-volume] uniform edition of Mr. George Moore's works, Ulick and Sorocha has been revised and made an integral part of A Story Teller's Holiday. Both of these books have only appeared previously in limited editions. After Ulick and Soracha a new story has been added to this sequence of tales, which are connected by the pleasing convention that they are told either by Mr. Moore himself or by an Irish peasant...

(The entire section is 998 words.)

Brendan Kennelly (essay date 1968)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "George Moore's Lonely Voices: A Study of His Short Stories," in George Moore's Mind and Art by A. Norman Jeffares and others, edited by Graham Owens, Barnes & Noble, Inc., 1970, pp. 144-65.

[Kennelly is an Irish poet, critic, novelist, and educator. In the following essay, which was first published in England in 1968, he perceives the theme of loneliness as integral to Moore's short fiction.]

In his introduction to Celibate Lives, George Moore has an imaginary conversation in which, with a characteristically light touch, he reveals something of his attitude to the short story. When his imaginary protagonist asks Moore if he is for or against...

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Charles Burkhart (essay date 1969)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Short Stories of George Moore," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. VI, No. 2, Winter, 1969, pp. 165-74.

[Burkhart is an American critic and educator. In the following essay, he provides an overview of Moore's short fiction.]

George Moore's short stories have been highly praised—by Frank O'Connor; by Osbert Burdett; by his biographer, Joseph Hone [in The Life of George Moore, 1936]; by various French critics; and, most enthusiastically of all, by George Moore himself. Of his story "So On He Fares" in The Untitled Field, Moore declared that it was "the best short story ever written." Till the end of his long life, Moore thought that his finest...

(The entire section is 3939 words.)

Kenneth B. Newell (essay date 1971)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Artist Stories in The Untilled Field," in English Literature in Transition: 1880-1920, Vol. 14, No. 2, 1971, pp. 123-36.

[Newell is an American critic and educator. In the following essay, he discusses the similarities of thirteen stories he classifies as "the artist stories, " focusing on Moore's perception of the artist in Irish society.]

In the first English and American editions (1903) of George Moore's The Untilled Field, "In the Clay" begins the collection and "The Way Back" ends it. And though eleven other stories are placed between them, the events in these two are consecutive and their casts of characters are practically the same....

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John Raymond Hart (essay date 1973)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Moore on Joyce: The Influence of The Untilled Field on Dubliners," in The Dublin Magazine, Vol. 10, No. 2, Summer, 1973, pp. 61-76.

Not that Joyce was so staggeringly original as he appears in books by students of Joyce. After all, it was only twelve months before (Joyce began Dubliners) that George Moore had published The Untitled Field, and it takes a student of Joyce to ignore a simple fact like that.

—Frank O'Connor, A Short History of Irish Literature

In 1903 a collection of Moore's short stories about Irish life, The Untilled Field, was published. He...

(The entire section is 6280 words.)

Kenneth B. Newell (essay date 1973)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "The 'Wedding Gown' Group in George Moore's The Unfilled Field," in Éire-Ireland, Vol. VIII, No. 4, 1973, pp. 70-83.

[In the following essay, Newell discusses the four short stories that comprise the "wedding gown" group, pieces linked by their non-polemic treatment of Irish life, maintaining that these stories "embody not only the strangeness and pathos of human existence but also varieties, both literal and figurative, of 'exile ' and 'vision. ' "]

In George Moore's short-story collection The Unfilled Field (1903), "The Wedding Gown," "The Clerk's Quest," "Alms-Giving," and "So on He Fares" form a group separate from the other stories though...

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John Cronin (essay date 1979)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "George Moore: The Untitled Field," in The Irish Short Story, edited by Patrick Rafroidi and Terence Brown, Humanities Press, Inc., 1979, pp. 113-25.

[In the following essay, Cronin surveys the major themes of The Untilled Field.]

The strange origins of George Moore's seminal collection of short stories, The Untilled Field, reflect the writer's idiosyncratic response to the Ireland of his time. They also throw a revealing light on the linguistic ferment of the age, a period during which many writers deliberately fed into their work the creative impulses of Ireland's two vigorous languages. All Moore's great contemporaries, from Yeats to Lady...

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Robert Welch (essay date 1982)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Moore's Way Back: The Untilled Field and The Lake" in The Way Back: George Moore's "The Untilled Field" & "The Lake", edited by Robert Welch, Barnes & Noble Books, 1982, pp. 29-44.

[In the following essay, Welch examines the autobiographical aspects of Moore's The Untilled Field and The Lake.]

Those who have written of George Moore's part in the Irish literary revival have recognised the significance, for the man and for his art, of his return to Ireland in 1901. He was tired of England, and wanted to play a part in the rejuvenation of life he felt was starting to take place in Ireland.

Moore had been living and...

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David B. Eakin and Helmut E. Gerber (essay date 1985)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to In Minor Keys: The Uncollected Short Stories of George Moore by George Moore, Fourth Estate, 1985, pp. 11-52.

[In the following excerpt, Eakin and Gerber provide an overview of Moore's short stories and maintain that the concept of "in minor keys" seems to be his "way of designating a story in which he implies a significant moral idea marked by a subdued or underwritten ending."]

'Under the Fan' (February 1882), Moore's first known published story, may well have had its origins in some of the aborted works begun before Moore left Paris and work he began in the Strand lodging-house upon his return to London. One early source for the story...

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Augustine Martin (essay date 1988)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Julia Cahill, Father McTurnan, and the Geography of Nowhere," in Literature and the Art of Creation, edited by Robert Welch and Suheil Badi Bushrui, Colin Smythe, 1988, pp. 98-111.

[Martin is an Irish critic and educator. In the following essay, he finds the themes of social and spiritual bleakness in the story "Julia Cahill's Curse" representative of Moore's short fiction in The Untilled Field.]

'Julia Cahill's Curse' is deservedly the most famous and anthologised story in George Moore's Untilled Field. In the first edition of the book it is placed between two of the most neglected pieces, 'A Letter to Rome' and 'A Play-House in the Waste,'...

(The entire section is 5647 words.)

Jeffrey Malkan (essay date 1989)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "George Moore's The Lake: Repetition, Narcissism, and Exile," in English Literature in Transition: 1880-1920, Vol. 32, No. 2, 1989, pp. 158-69.

[In the following essay on The Lake, Malkan finds that the protagonist's search for personal fulfillment in the face of existential monotony is tied to his self-absorption and renunciation of social obligations.]

The Lake is a novel about exile which not only celebrates the decision of its protagonist to leave the country of his birth, but one which supports his decision to leave the priesthood as well. The loss of nationality and vocation, paradoxically, is affirmed by Moore to be a rediscovery of...

(The entire section is 4527 words.)

Paul Deane (essay date 1992)

(Short Story Criticism)

SOURCE: "Conversion to Doubt: George Moore's The Lake" in Notes on Modern Irish Literature, Vol. 4, 1992, pp. 35-41.

[In the essay below, Deane explores the complex nature of Moore's protagonist Father Gogarty, focusing on his spiritual development in the short novel.]

Since the beginning of the Irish Renaissance, the Catholic clergy has not, in general, been accorded a favorable image by Irish commentators, an arresting fact in so predominantly Catholic a country. Equally surprising is the number of priests in Irish literature who question their faith, who lose it altogether, or who, at the least, are faced with threats to it. Early in the twentieth century...

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Further Reading

(Short Story Criticism)


Gilcher, Edwin. A Bibliography of George Moore. Dekalb, III.: Northern Illinois University Press, 1970, 274 p. Comprehensive listing of Moore's work. Gilcher includes information about revisions and editions.

——. Supplement to A Bibliography of George Moore. Westport, Conn.: Meckler, 1988, 95 p.

Presents new and additional information to A Bibliography of George Moore.


Hone, Joseph. The Life of George Moore. New York: The Macmillan Co., 1936, 515 p.

Definitive biography that includes many extracts from Moore's letters. The book concludes with a...

(The entire section is 593 words.)