On 21 January 1933 George Moore died.
George Moore was born into a landed Catholic family in Mayo in 1852. After inheriting the estate, he moved to Paris where he spent his time among writers and artists, a period later fictionalised in Confessions of a Young Man (1888). Back in England again, he wrote art and book reviews for newspapers and magazines.
His first novel, A Modern Lover (1883), and two of his later novels, were banned from major lending libraries which lead Moore to attack the dominating position of the libraries. Influenced by Flaubert and Zola, Moore’s naturalistic depictions of women’s sexuality, lesbianism, and single-motherhood in A Mummer’s Wife (1885), A Drama in Muslin (1886), and Esther Waters (1894) courted controversy.
Moore moved to Dublin in 1901 where he became involved in the Irish literary and language revival movements, but returned to London again in 1911. Three volumes of autobiography (Ave, Salve, and Vale) were followed by The Brook Kerith (1916), a rewriting of the gospels, and several other works of fiction and memoirs before his death in 1933.
As early as 1901, in ‘The Day of the Rabblement,’ Joyce was criticising Moore, claiming he was not a writer of much originality. Joyce added that, while Moore might have had a place of honour among English novelists some years ago, he was really struggling against the tide that had advanced European literature.
While reading The Untilled Field in 1904, Joyce complained to his brother that one of the characters, who lives on the railway line from Bray to Dublin, is made to look up a railway timetable to see what time the trains run. And yet this book seems to have influenced the structure and content of Joyce’s Dubliners. Moore, like his friend Édouard Dujardin, was influenced by Wagner’s musical techniques and in his novel The Lake he tried to recreate in writing Wagner’s ‘unending melody,’ something that also influenced Joyce’s technique of interior monologue. Joyce read The Lake in 1906 and savaged it in letters to his brother.
In 1916 Moore supported the case for Joyce’s Civil List grant, yet in April 1922, on a visit to Paris, Moore disparaged Joyce and Ulysses. In conversation with Barrett Clark, Moore called A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man “a book entirely without style or distinction,” adding that it was no better than his own Confessions of a Young Man. He told Clark that “Ulysses is hopeless; it is absurd to imagine that any good end can be served by trying to record every single thought and sensation of any human being. That’s not art, it’s like trying to copy the London Directory.”
Ellmann describes their first meeting in 1929 as a contest of politeness. When Joyce offered to send Moore a copy of the French translation of Ulysses, Moore replied that he would be happy to accept, but felt obliged to remind Joyce that he also read English! When Joyce sent him the French translation anyway, Moore replied with thanks, in French! They met again a couple of times in September 1931, but Moore found the dinners tedious as he felt he had to make all the conversation.
When Moore died in 1933 Joyce had a wreath sent, but the newspaper accounts of the funeral failed to mention it, something which peeved Joyce. Moore was cremated on 25 January and his ashes were buried on Castle Island on Lake Carra, overlooked by the ruins of the family home, Moore Hall, which was burned down during the Civil War.
In an ironic twist, when Joyce died, Lord Derwent, the British Minister in Bern, delivered an oration at the funeral service and referred to Moore’s importance, quoting the Latin words ‘ave, salve, vale’ (the titles of Moore’s autobiographies) as a final send-off to Joyce!
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised Edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vols. II & III, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.
– – – ‘The Day of the Rabblement’ , in Occasional, Critical, and Political Writing, edited with an Introduction and Notes by Kevin Barry, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000, pp. 50-52.