Benedict Kiely, ‘Moore of Moor Hall’, in The Irish Times (14 Jan. 1971), p.12.

Note: 'Moore of Moor Hall’, in “Reassessments” [column], The Irish Times (14 Jan. 1971), p.12; copied from editor’s scrapbook.

John Kelly, a craftsman in joinery who lived in Westport across the road from the gates of the Marquis of Sligo’s place, had known George Moore well and had found him a generous kindly gentleman. John had seen Moore Hall in flames, the lead from the gutters running, like rain water down the fine cut-stone walls. At least the knackers didn’t got, the lead as they did at Coole and , French Park, but the looters did get something and John could mention houses in three towns that had benefited by the patriotic burning of Moore Hall.

The outrage to the fine cut-stone agonised the soul of the craftsman. “The Moores, of Moore Hall”, he said to me,’ “could never stand the sight of concrete”. That resentment of, the spurious, the makeshift, the ersatz, was notable in the Moore that spent his life mainly in the making of novels; he turned it on against plate glass; against the best-selling, mass-production lust that siezed Zola when he was writing his trilogy on Paris, Rome and Lourdes; on the mummer-worship, that a more corrupt time was to know as the star-system. Moore on mummer-worship and Henry James on the future of the novel wrote, without meaning to, very gloomy prophecies indeed.

But Irish critical opinion re-accepted the Moores of Moore Hall, or some of .them, and the local I.R.A., of some vintage or other, put up, a plaque on the wall of the blackened burnt-out shell above Lough Cerra to commemorate that hapless John Moore who, under Humbert, was the first President of the republic of of Connaught and who died sadly in jail from the effect of his presidential dignity. That plaque, those words of John Kelly, some serious and valuable comment and tribute from Austin Clarke, and Susan Mitchell’s little book, which on a fifth or so reading seems a lot more wise and a lot less catty, than it did on a first, add up to about all we have had to say about our second-greatest novelist. There is, of course, the standard biography by J. M. Hone. There are the jokes about Moore, that mostly seem to have .been made up by himself; and there were the words of an old lady of the Fitzgerald Kenny family who, when asked what she thought of George Moore, replied that he was no better and no worse than any other man she had ever met.

A Stock Response
The dismissive attitudes of the old lady, would seem for some time, to have also been of that of the shufflers on the carpet of standard criticism elsewhere: “All know the man the neighbour knows”. It seems long time since Geraint Goodwin and John Freeman gave their attention, and Charles Morgan was planning, but never did do, the definitive book; and since Arnold Bennett, and the much lesser Somerset Maugham, made tracks in Moore’s snow.

To a greater extent even than Meredith he dropped out of the run-of-the-mill talk. After all, it isn’t so long since Jack Lindsay, going mainly on the evidence of “’Beauchamp’s Career”, made a good socialist at least out of Meredith, and V. S. Pritchett, whose name really counts, has now come forward with his Clark lectures on “George Meredith and English comedy”. There have been few signs, except one book by an American, professor, Malcolm Brown, that Moore is even so much remembered and the trouble about academic books is that they prove often, and only, that a theme must be found but but need not necessarily be loved, or even found, or made, interesting.

As far as Moore is concerned the aesthetic legend is faded - Oscar Wilde’s was preserved by tragedy - and Dublin jokes don’t any more make Dublin laugh. Too many other characters, staggering or steady, have walked down Sackville street where the fronts of today’s ice-cream shops would, give the the spirit of George, Moore the creepingg horrors. Students, serious ones, I have encountered, here and there across the Atlantic, have found Esther Waters insufferably dull, and so it may be, in relation, say, to the way the young feel today and Exit to Brooklyn, although not in relation to The Naked Lunch where the presence of the dullness is as evident as the absence of the melodic line. It is It is dull unless you are actually interested in the novel and not just in paper-back journalism, and interested in the development of the novel in English, and how and why, at various times, it got to be that way.

What exactly does one say, to these students? That George Moore, educated in his father’s racing stables, with a brief period at Oscolt [sic] where, in a way that was to foreshadow many later tales, he liked to think,that he had been making making ground with a servant maid, attained his majority and his father’s money and went to Paris to paint, went on with his education among the best people in the Nouvelles Athènes, met Manet (as somebody said to Susan Mitchell) before he met Christ, and became one of the first people to write in English about the Impressionists.

That he enthused about Balzac and Gauter’s [sic for Gautier] Madamoiselle de Maupin’ and the brothers Goncourt and Dujardin (to whom Joyce was to be indebted), and stumbled upon Zola and by slow degrees came to his true calling. Joyce was to talk about the English novel as the laughing-stock of Europe. Moore’s method was to insult the living and the dead and and to get enough truth into the insult to make it really telling. He talked of Hardy as the Villager and the slight drew from Hardy on his dead-bed an angry poem which his second wife unfortunately destroyed. When, he said that most of Hardy’s novels were George Eliot’s miscarriages, he was being vile but not absolutely inaccurate. He praised the prose of Landor and Pater but as his friend, the painter Hear Tonks, pointed out they could be praise because they were not novelists and so were not in competition with George Moore. Even the wide net of the novel cannot include Imaginary Conversations and scarcely Marius the Epicurean.

His admirations were mostly painters, and among writers and with, the exception of Turgenev, mainly French and Turgenev was, at times, as much French as he was Russian. But it was Zola who, until the writing of A Visit to Medan carried the day and Moore came back to England with the realist novel in his baggage and wrote, among what are still among the best examples of the genre in English: Esther Waters and The Mummer’s Wife.

Source Books
Frank O’Connor maintained that the Irish short-story began in Moore’s collection The Untilled Field and lamented that Irish novelists (that is, if he allowed that any existed) had not followed the path marked by Moore in The Lake. The first statement is fairly accurate. Working, out his own or his later style in The Untilled Field and Celibate Lives, Moore schieved something as distinctive as the Fays in their own way did in the theatre: his unperturbed smoothness, his melodic line in prose that did, though, as Yeats argued, in a much provoked fit of anger, ran a serious risk of becoming monotonous: “And . and . and .” The second remark, the one about, The Lake which is really a part of The Unfilled Field, as merely perverse has been now, at any rate, more than answered by Richard Power’s The Hungry Grass. For while The Lake is a good novel and at moments a beautiful one, the blood of life is not there. It is all too much like George Moore wlaking round and round Lough Carra and looking for something to do.

He found it or, as he himself might have said, it was vouchsafed to him. Life could find better stories and better endings to stories than art could ever invent. He instanced the stories of the last day of Napoleon, Tolstoy, and Beau Brummel: the conqueror of nations in futile isolation on sea-grit rock; the aged moralist dying in a railway station after a wrangle with his wife; the pomaded, perfumed, corsetted leader of fashion and crony of a king dying in poverty and obscurity in a French resort.

Moore had already sensed that in what was happening in Ireland life was handing him a gift; as Ulick Deane, the poet in Yeats had already made his bow in Evelyn Innes, Moore in a childish way that makes one feel for him, was delighted with that novel as: “A love story, the first written in English for three hundred years”. He was in a similar way delighted with the epic qualities of The Brook Kerith which can, I fear, seem at moments to be tame and tedious now that Robert Graves, the author of “King Jesus” is reviewing under the, heading “Jesus as Toadstool”, John M. Allegro’s book, The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross. Yet The Brook Kerith has its current popular appeal: along with Esther Waters and Confessions of a Young Man it has been penguinised. The three volumes of Hail and Farewell have been promised a similar treatment but have not yet received it.

He was to change his mind about Evelyn Innes, make about it one of the best jokes against himself, exclude it from his definitive Moore canon. Yet the book could be a model forever, to, the aspiring novelist because of the way he did his home work in medieval music as, in the case of A Mummer’s Wife he had done his homework on the background of the English potteries and the experiences of strolling players. In Ireland as he built up the extraordinary edifice of Hail and Farewell the homework was largely done for him by the characters. When he called the priest in The Lake Oliver Gogarty, and when, the owner of the name protested, Moore in bland melodic line asked Gogarty where he could get a better name. Susan Mitchell said the use of the name was a trial run in nomenclature.

He was helped in his homework, too, by the “acoustic qualities” of Dublin - which we have all enjoyed and from which we have all suffered. In spite of his much repeated wish to detach himself from the land of his birth, in spite of his play-acting pretence of ignorance of the background of his rearing, a playacting of which his comic Ptotestantism was a provocative part, he was very much part of the scene. Those who were indignant at has portraiture of other people, even of his friends and of his relation, dear cousin Edward, forgot that Hail and Farewell was also a portrait, deliberate and critical, of himself, That is what autobiography, even touched-up a autobiography, is about, and, in those three volumes and Memoirs of My Dead Life he did that sort of thing as well as anybody has ever done it anywhere. Even his criticism in Avowals and in Conversation in Ebury Street can be an excellent exercise in self portraiture.

Susan Mitchell said that nature never intended him to write droll tales like Balzac. She was wrong, of course, and he was right when he quoted Balzac as saying that every considerable writer should write at. least one joyous look. The cavorting monks, and nuns of A Story-Teller’s Holiday might not have been pleasing to Miss Mitchell, who did dionestly admit to certain pruderies. Yet Moore’s narrative method was never better than when he swapped tales with Alec Trusselby, or borrowed them from Kuno Meyer in a western wood.

Ireland revived him, helped him to perfect the prose that desired. He brought it with him to the Paris of Abelard, to the desert of the time of Christ and in the dying fall of Aphrodite in Aulis, to the Greece of Pericles.

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