In his short piece in The Guardian on James Joyce, Chris Power mentions in passing a certain George Moore: – here is the quote:
Between them [Chekhov and Joyce] their innovations – informed most discernibly, in Joyce’s case, by Ibsen, French symbolist poetry and the Irishman George Moore – have influenced nigh-on every short story writer of the last 100 years.
Innovations, of course, are another way of saying Joyce was “the first to do something” and are synonymous with that much praised quality, “originality”: – and from this quote, we must conclude this must be that peculiar kind of “originality” highly prevalent in literary criticism: – “originality that one’s borrowed from one’s predecessors”. For it is Joyce of course who is original and innovative here, and not George Moore; – it must be him because he is after all a great writer, and as we all know it is the main definition of a great writer that he is original.
Now I am a simple fellow: – I’m sure there is a good explanation for this, but I often find myself wondering why it is Joyce who is credited with this originality, and not George Moore; – and, more than that, why it is Joyce who is any longer read and studied in university courses, and not George Moore.
Let us make a few random observations about George Moore which might have relevance to Joyce. – George Moore spent a long time in Paris in the 1880s(?), hanging around with French symbolists and painters. When he came back to England, he brought back the principles of realism, which apparently were then unknown there (pace all those critics who constantly harp on about the evils of Victorian realism) – but I mean the realism of a Zola: – the kind of realism that’s likely to end you up in court and your books banned (which is pretty much what happened to Moore’s). – This is all recounted in Moore’s autobiographical work, Confessions of a Young Man, a very marvellous and entertaining read – about which Wikipedia has the nice quote: “one of the most significant documents of the passionate revolt of English literature against the Victorian tradition” – written in 1886.
So yes, he brought back realism and wrote some books in a realist style (Esther Waters is his most famous – but no, don’t read it, please! – read something – anything – else by Moore), and later Joyce wrote Dubliners in a realist style, with a bit of symbolism thrown in – and it’s meant to be a bit like Moore’s The Untilled Field – though I haven’t read it so I don’t know.
And then there’s the stream of consciousness! – As well we know, Joyce was very original in the field of the stream of consciousness – this is his greatest feat – and again, it seems to have been an example of that highest form of originality, “originality that one’s borrowed from one’s predecessors”. – Now ok, Moore wrote some realist novels early on in his career, and if he’s remembered for anything today it’s these; – but if you should read his autobiographical works (and perhaps his later novels, I’m not sure yet), you’d get quite a different impression of him.
All of which is to say that I’m currently reading and immensely enjoying Moore’s “gossipy” slice of autobiography, Ave, which recounts the time when he and Yeats brought culture to Ireland, and was written in 1911. Here’s a sample of the style: – Moore is here at a dinner with some scholastic and cultural luminaries:
At that moment the professor turned to me, and asked me to lunch the following day at Trinity, impressing upon me the necessity of coming down a little early, in time to have just a glass of wine before lunch. His doctor had forbidden all stimulants in the morning, and by stimulants he understood whisky. But a bottle of wine, he said, was a tenuous thing, and he would like to avail himself of my visit to Dublin to drink one with me. I could see that we had now struck upon his interest in life, and with a show of interest which he had not manifested in Virgil’s poetry, he said:
Just a glass of Marsala, the ancient Lilybaeum. You know, the grape is so abundant there that they never think of mixing it with bad brandy.
At that moment someone spoke to me, and when I had answered a few questions I heard the professor saying that he had gone down for lunch to some restaurant. Nothing much to-day, John. Just a dozen of oysters and a few cutlets, and a quart of that excellent ale.
Again my attention was distracted by a waiter pressing some ice-pudding upon me, and I lost a good deal of information regarding the professor’s arduous day. As soon, however, as I had helped myself I heard a story, whether it related to yesterday or some previous time I cannot say.
After that I had nothing at all, until something brought me to the cupboard, and there, behold! I found a bottle of lager. I said: Smith has been remiss. He has mixed the Bass and the lager. But no. They were all full, twelve bottles of Bass and only one of lager; so I took it, as it seemed a stray and lonely thing.
It appears that the professor then continued his annotations of Aristophanes until the light began to fade.
I thought of calling again on Lilybaeum. Really, the more I drink of it the more honest and excellent I find it. When the bottle was finished it was time to return home to dinner, and I learned that the professor’s abstinence was rewarded by the delight he took in the first whisky and soda after dinner.
An excellent old pagan he seems to be, Quintus Horatius Flaccus of Dublin, untroubled by any Messianic idea. Now Hyde – I’ve heard a good deal about him. Can you point him out to me?
As my neighbour was about to do so Gill rose up at the head of the table.
Now, Moore’s best friend while he was in France – a character who’s mentioned time and again in Ave, was a fellow called Édouard Dujardin. Dujardin is a mystery to me: – by the only true categorisation of greatness in literature, that of originality, he should be head and shoulders above everyone else in the last 200 years – yet oddly enough, no one ever reads his books, or speaks of him, or often’s ever heard of him.
Next up for Moore, I think: The Brook Kerith – a later novel.
Incidentally, Moore’s favourite book around the 1880s: Walter Pater’s Marius the Epicurean. A revealing choice!