The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne Characters

Brian Moore

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Judith Hearne

Judith Hearne, a forty-year-old, unmarried, poor, and plain woman without family. She lives at Mrs. Henry (May) Rice’s boardinghouse, the latest in a series of increasingly shabby residences in Belfast. Her meager income as a piano teacher is steadily dwindling as suspicion about her secret bouts of drinking increases. Judith’s façade of middle-class gentility, imposed by an aunt tyrannical even in death and by her Roman Catholic training, is beginning to show cracks. Lonely and without the experience of love—familial, romantic, or religious—Judith is unable to assess the feelings of others toward her; hence, her disastrous misreading of James Madden’s motives and her imposition on her pitying friend Moira O’Neill. The dashing of her hopes for marriage marks the beginning of her final descent into uncontrolled alcoholism, a descent speeded by the loss of her religious faith and by her ejection from Mrs. Rice’s after a noisy two-day binge. Committed to Earnscliffe Home, a place she has always instinctively loathed, Judith is nursed by nuns of the church that has failed her. Their care is professional and largely impersonal, though kind enough. In her bare white room, Judith is consigned to a living death, a victim of Irish society, in which, despite strong middle-class morality and the dominance of the church, a single woman without family, friends, or faith can slip through the cracks, unmourned.

James Madden

James Madden, the fiftyish brother of Mrs. Rice and an unpaying tenant in her boardinghouse. Recently returned to Ireland after thirty undistinguished years in the United States, Madden fits into neither the New World nor the Old. A big talker and drinker, Madden has a flashy façade that masks his sense of failure. Lamed in a tram accident in New...

(The entire section is 750 words.)

The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Throughout the novel, the focus is almost entirely on Judith Hearne, whether in her own interior monologues, in her conversations with other characters, or in the occasional observations of a few of them as they comment on the behavior of the woman whom no one really understands or likes. A counterpoint is provided by James Madden’s own thoughts and conversations with his drinking companions and the bartender.

These two characters, briefly drawn to each other by their common loneliness and unhappiness, are ultimately unable to move beyond their own misery to make a real connection. The similarities between them serve to bring out each one’s character while pointing up the hopelessness of their individual lives.

Doomed from childhood, when she was orphaned and then reared by a selfish, demanding aunt, Judith Hearne can find solace only in drink and in extraordinary fantasies. What meager resources she once had are now nearly used up. Madden takes characteristic comfort in bragging, daydreams, and drink. Both he and Judith are self-obsessed, unloved, and unlovable.

Brian Moore’s characterizations are totally believable, clear, and straight-forward. He makes no psychological or sociological explanations, there is no moralizing, and he does not overtly attempt to evoke aversion or pity. There is also, be it noted, no humor. This is a serious, truthful novel about ordinary people of little significance, yet they are presented in such a human, nonjudging fashion that the reader cannot deny them the pity and sympathy that Moore himself does not demand. As a poor, aging, sick, and weak woman, Miss Hearne is the more pitiable of the two; Madden has the advantage of being a man with some money.

The spare, lucid manner in which Moore delineates every character, not simply the major actors in the story, should be mentioned. The landlady and her son, the boarders, the one family that befriends Judith, the priest, the young housemaid—all are presented with an economy and naturalness that make them recognizable as distinct human beings, unimportant and uninteresting as they may appear to everyone but themselves, the author, and the reader.