Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Birthday: "A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it."

Moore in Paris, by Edouard Manet

George Augustus Moore (1852-1933)
Author, playwright, critic

“He conducted his education in public,” Oscar Wilde said of his rambunctious childhood friend. A weedy ginger, Moore referred to his visage, self-mockingly, as “the great books.” Friends were less charitable: ‘one former lover in a roman à clef had him with ''narrow chest and sloping shoulders'' and ''boneless, fat, soft and white hands.'' Another woman described him as possessing ''a long colorless face that looked like a codfish crossed by a satyr.'' ...Wilde noted his ''vague, formless, obscene face,'' while the Irish poetaster James Cousins saw a ''pasty face and vague eyes . . . straw-colored hair that looked as if it had been pitchforked on.''’

George Moore was born into the landed Catholic gentry of County Mayo in Ireland. His father bred racehorses and sat in Parliament. Moore was, in his own words, “the pupil no headmaster wanted,” and his headmaster despaired of finding anything good to say about the boy he considered comprehensively idle and worthless.

When Moore’s father died in 1870, he left a substantial estate for George, who, when he turned 21, left it to his brother to run and went to Paris to become a painter. He followed the prescribed course of study, palling about with the budding French impressionist artists’ group and reading French realist novels. He inhaled Zola and published a book of very derivative poems in 1877.

In 1880, Moore was called home to rescue the estate, which falling crop prices and tenants unable to make their rents had plunged into debt. He was considered a liberal landlord for the time, which meant he didn’t evict tenants wholesale, and he didn’t ride his holdings armed to the teeth.

The situation stabilized, Moore determined he had no future as an artist and moved to London to become a writer. His second collection of verse was not as bad as the first, but has not stood the test of time. He turned to the three-volume novel, then the royal road to fame and fortune via the great subscription libraries like Mudie’s and W.H. Smith.

His first three outings were of the succes de scandale variety. A Modern Lover (1883), A Mummer’s Wife (1885) and A Drama in Muslin (1886) were all banned by the circulating libraries, whose managers deemed accounts of promiscuity, prostitution and lesbianism unwholesome. Moore’s publisher- the Maurice Girodias of his day- took up the translation of Zola for the English market, leading the circulating libraries to seek legislation banning this importation of “demoralizing” works.

Moore took up the cause, issuing several polemical pamphlets against Mudie’s and Smith’s for their hypocrisies in title preferences, while his publisher went to jail. The denunciations of his work, and his talent for invective gave Moore’s books a substantial boost in sales despite the circulating libraries being closed to them. He followed up with a gossipy memoir of his time in Paris, Confessions of a Young Man, in 1886. Abandoning his place in British letters as “Zola’s ricochet”, in the 1890s he enjoyed a vogue as an art critic, championing Impressionism to a skeptical British audience.

In 1901, Moore returned to Ireland, and spent a decade in the “Celtic Revival.” He wrote a well-received play on a bet, and played a significant role in the revival of Irish drama. His novels and short stories are credited with bringing Irish fiction into the modernist era; his short stories about everyday Irish life influenced Joyce’s Dubliners.

Moore’s successes fueled a twelve-cylinder ego. He quarreled with his brother over the education of his nephews, and, in 1903, left the Catholic Church in a published, public spat with Maurice. He moved back to London in 1911 and settled up scores in a 1914, three-volume memoir that Moore said divided Dublin in half: the half fearing they’d be in it, and and the half fearing they wouldn’t.

He got into new hot water with a 1916 novel that had Jesus surviving the crucifixion, being nursed back to health, and making his way to India. His brother Maurice was an anti-treaty partisan in the Irish Civil War, which provoked local opposition forces to burn down the Moore manor- where Maurice lived with his family on George's sufferance- in 1923.

Moore had a long, unconsummated affair with the mother of the British socialite Nancy Cunard (“he told, but didn’t kiss”, one wag tittered; others maintained he was impotent, or homosexual), who threw him over for the conductor Thomas Beecham,and found himself increasingly friendless as his decades of arrogance, ingratitude to friends and general beastliness caught up to him. A prolific writer, with 47 books to his credit, he died at 81. His estate was proved at over $4 million, not a penny of which he left to his brother. His reputation fell off a cliff, having been sustained largely by what a reviewer of a 2000 biography called the

''life-long project of constructing . . . 'George Moore' as his chief creation,'' which involved studiously elaborating ''a complex and developing identity for public consumption'' and not only the publication of books but a self-advertising campaign in the newspapers and ''public enactment of a studied role.''

As a champion of the modern and new, and author of works designed to shock, there was not much to keep Moore in the headlines once he himself was stilled. A couple of his books, and some of the Irish short stories, are his legacy.

#LiteraryBirthdays #GeorgeMoore #HenryBemisBooks #Charlotte

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