Who was George Moore?
George Augustus Moore was an Irish writer, poet and dramatist who is credited for being the leading influence on naturalism in English and Irish writing during the late 19th century. A versatile writer who boldly broke away from the Victorian norms of his times, he often wrote about controversial topics like sex, adultery, prostitution, homosexuality, etc. During his younger days, Moore wanted to be a painter but later on his interest turned to writing. He began his writing career as a poet with ‘The Flowers of Passion’, a collection of lyrical poems. But he was forced to withdraw the book from the circulating libraries after some critics reviewed it negatively as the contents of the poems could offend moral puritans. His first novel, ‘A Modern Lover’, depicted the affairs and love life of a painter in a realistic manner. The novel received positive reviews, but also created much controversy due to its subject matter. Undaunted, he went on to publish another novel, ‘A Mummer's Wife’ which dealt with the issues of adultery and extramarital affairs. This book was also criticized for its explicit content, prompting Moore to raise his voice against the prudish censorship of the circulating libraries. The legendary poet and novelist, James Joyce regarded Moore as his greatest influence.
Childhood & Early Life
George Moore was born to Mary Blake and her politician husband, George Henry Moore who was also a founder of the Catholic Defence Association. He enjoyed reading as a child and loved to explore the outdoors with his brother and friends.
His father sent him to St. Mary’s College, a catholic boarding school to acquire formal education. But, he was unhappy with the school and spent his time reading novels and poems instead of concentrating on his studies. He was expelled from the school in 1867 for his laziness.
The family moved to London in 1868 due to his father’s job, and he was sent to attend the School of Art in the South Kensington Museum. There also his performance was unsatisfactory and his father was thoroughly disappointed with him.
His father died in 1870 and he inherited his vast property. After handing over the estate to his brother in 1873, he left for Paris to study art.
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At the age of 21 he moved to Paris and studied art at Academie Jullian. In Paris he met many important artists and writers like Degas, Renoir, Pissarro, Mallarme, and Emile Zola.
Gradually his interest shifted to writing from painting and he brought out his first collection of poems, ‘The Flowers of Passion’ in 1877.
Due to financial problems at home, he was forced to return to England in 1879.
The young George Moore was greatly influenced by the contribution of French writer Emile Zola to the literary movement of naturalism and introduced an element of naturalism into his first novel, ‘A Modern Lover’ published in1883.
His second novel, ‘A Mummer’s Wife’ was published in 1885, followed by ‘A Drama in Muslin’ in 1886 and ‘A Mere Accident’ in 1887.
He was a bold writer who unabashedly wrote about issues like sexuality, adultery, extra marital affairs and homosexuality in a realistic manner. Initially his work was met with much harsh criticism, but over a period of time people began to develop a taste for realism and his works became popular.
He also wrote many articles on literature and art for magazines along with poems and novels.
His memoir, ‘The Confessions of a Young Man’ was published in French in 1886 and in English in 1888. It told of his experiences as a young artist and writer in Paris.
His most celebrated novel, ‘Esther Waters’ came out in 1894. It revolved around the life of a young unwed mother and became an instant hit. The book brought him fame and financial security.
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He published a collection of short stories ‘Celibates’ in 1895 and followed it with a pair of musical novels, ‘Evelyn Innes’ (1898) and ‘Sister Teresa’ (1901).
He moved to Ireland in 1901 and worked with W.B.Yeats to establish an Irish National Theatre. Moore and Yeats co-wrote a poetic play, ‘Diarmuid and Grania’ which was staged by the theatre. The theatre also staged Moore’s play ‘The Strike at Arlingford’ which he had written in 1893.
Over the next few decades, he published numerous other novels and collections of short stories, these include: ‘The Untilled Field’ (1903), ‘Elizabeth Cooper’ (1913), ‘A Story-Teller's Holiday’ (1918), ‘Pure Poetry: An Anthology’ (1924) and ‘The Making of an Immortal’ (1927).
His memoir, ‘The Confessions of a Young Man’ is considered one of his notable works for its realistic depiction of life in Paris during the 1870’s and 80’s. Moore wrote about the emerging French impressionism and gave insightful literary criticisms of various authors.
His novel ‘Esther Waters’, published in 1894 is his most famous work. The novel is about a poor, unwed mother who faces various social challenges and difficulties as she attempts to bring up her child. The novel was a big success and acclaimed to be his finest work.
Personal Life & Legacy
Moore never married, but was in a relationship with Maud, Lady Cunard. It is rumoured that Moore was the father of her daughter, Nancy, though there is no documented proof to validate this claim.
He suffered from kidney problems during his old age and died in 1933 at the age of 80.
Born a Catholic, he converted into a Protestant over a family dispute.
He fared very poorly in school and his father was worried that he would grow up to be a failure in life.
He died a rich man, but left nothing for his brothers or their families.