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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 507

In The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, Moore’s first novel, he introduces all the themes that will flower in his distinguished career. He takes a large risk by making his protagonist an unmarried, plain, narrow-minded woman over forty who is impoverished, lonely, conventionally pious, and secretly alcoholic. He is tender with her, even inviting the reader to like her as he describes in impressive detail her confused interior life. Honoré de Balzac would have made her a villain, as he did the brooding title character in La Cousine Bette (1846; Cousin Bette); Flannery O’Connor would have mocked her with gothic glee; Eudora Welty would have drawn her comically; F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner would not have imagined her; Vladimir Nabokov would have disdained her.

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Joyce, though, might have joined Moore in empathizing with Judith Hearne as a loser whose fate is determined by the suffocating weight of Irish banality, hypocrisy, and empty religiosity. Hearne is an aging, long-faced Belfast music teacher with barely one hundred pounds a year to her name, in a land where a good man is almost impossible to find. Yet she longs for such a husband, and the merciless way in which her hope is broken makes for the action of Moore’s most moving novel.

Before the book’s present time, Hearne has spent years caring for her aunt, a selfish, domineering woman whose life, like that of Eveline’s mother in the Dubliners tale, lays a crazy spell on her. In dour, drab, and dreadful Belfast, spinster Hearne has been evicted from a series of boarding homes because of her drinking. She ends up in a house run by a malicious, slimy-voiced woman whose son is a Machiavellian lout. The landlady’s vulgar brother, James Patrick Madden, has returned from New York and is rumored to be rich; it turns out that the only fortune he ever made was a small sum compensating him for having been run down by a city bus. His American occupation was that of a doorman.

Madden is equally deluded about Hearne: Her air of high breeding and an expensive wristwatch given her by her aunt lead him to hope that she is wealthy and might finance his scheme to open a hamburger joint for Yankee tourists. As their mutual illusions crumble, Hearne locks herself in her room and opens her secreted cache of whiskey. Later, she beseeches God in a dark, empty church; God gives her no sign. In despair, Hearne withdraws her meager savings from the bank, checks into Belfast’s best hotel, and goes on a bitter binge.

Moore skillfully balanced Hearne’s understandable drive to fulfill her sexual and social needs with the repressive institutional forces in Belfast that deny and taunt, humiliate and defeat her. He superbly chronicled her movement from hope to despair to nihilism. Knowing the grim truth leaves her emotionally and spiritually bankrupt, hopelessly tangled in the net of her lace-curtain destiny. Hearne’s passion mounts to unrelieved suffering, too pathetic even for tragedy.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 858

Judith Hearne takes a room at a boardinghouse run by Mrs. Henry Rice, a widow. It is located on Camden Street, a rundown Belfast neighborhood that was once middle class, tidy, and secure. Judith places a photograph of the dead aunt who raised her on the mantelpiece and prepares to hang a print of the Sacred Heart above the bed to make the room seem homier.

Judith visits Mrs. Rice’s quarters. There, she meets Bernard, Mrs. Rice’s adult son. Bernard is an only child, as well as an unemployed university graduate and aspiring poet. Tirelessly pampered by his seemingly devout mother, Bernard nonetheless holds subversive religious views. Judith finds him and his ideas both intriguing and repulsive. They...

(The entire section contains 1365 words.)

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