Moore's Oeuvre: The Record of a Temperament
Nietzsche's thesis that the type and degree of a man's sexuality is manifest even in the highest productions of his mind is verified in the work of George Moore. His oeuvre projects a distinctive sexual profile, and to bring this profile into clear focus is a key to the full appreciation of it. Probably dyslexic (Grey, 41), Moore created his persona by dint of an endless struggle with the written word. He brought into being `the self on whose creation I was enthusiastically determined' (quoted, Grey 51). As in the case of Andr* Gide, this self-creation was conceived as a contribution to wider social liberation. A rhetoric of liberation was central to his work: the early novels denounce the injustices on which his own landlord class throve; Esther Waters, 1894, strikes a blow for single mothers; disgust at the Boer War prompted his move to Ireland; indignation at Ireland's oppressive puritanism animates The Untilled Field, 1903, and The Lake, 1905, while Hail and Farewell, 1911-14, aims to rescue the Irish Literary Renaissance from its own retrograde tendencies.
Moore battled against the constraints placed on what could be published by the influential booksellers, Smith and Mudie. He writes to Zola in 1882: `You can't realise how we stand, you are unaware of the combinations which force us to be sentimental, to write flat and conventional novels and which prohibit all observation and analysis' (Hone, 94). It is thus unfair to contrast Moore with the much-censored Joyce as `the sort of stable and safe writer that any publisher in financial difficulties would be thrilled to represent' (Leonard, 321). Moore's writings frequently verged on the scandalous. In his `extraordinarily immature fantasies about every known aspect of sex' (Grey, 7), Moore was at the cutting edge not only of naturalist psychological analysis, but of the confessional recit which the Wilde scandal curtailed in England but which flourished in France with Gide. In this period Moore stands out by the relative daring of his self-revelation, especially in the frank sexual comedy of Memoirs of My Dead Life, 1906. Usually chary of the scabrous (he is no Frank Harris), he nonetheless sometimes slips in remarks on such taboo topics as coprophagia (HF, 501).
More startling is the psychological frankness of his self-exposure: he was `scarifyingly honest... about his innermost feelings' (Grey, 51). His self-exposure is leavened with irony and suggestions of fabulation - `Some men kiss and tell, Mr. Moore tells but doesn't kiss' (Mitchell, 47). `It seems possible that even at this early period of his life such sensuality as he experienced was very readily assuaged, and perhaps even more easily, and from his viewpoint much more conveniently sublimated into verse, or his own peculiar form of what in these days is known as faction' (Grey, 74). His amours are `curiously unconvincing' (Grey, 72); `Mr. Moore, who desires to pose before the world as the passionate lover, is quite unconvincing in this part' (Mitchell, 50). Ned Carmody in `The Wild Goose' coldly registers the decline of passion for his wife, in a scene reminiscent of his break-up with `Stella' in Hail and Farewell (the wife, like Stella, says `I will conquer this'):
He was sorry that she was the one to suffer, of course, but he could not disguise from himself that he looked forward to the enjoyment of a bed to himself, and when she asked him if his resolution never to come into her room again was irrevocable, he answered: `I cannot tell you. I am engaged upon my work and have no thought for anything but it'. (The Untilled Field, 187)
She diagnoses: `you could not live with anyone, at least not always'. Such honesty in revealing the defects of his own temperament is a chief source of the interest of Moore's work. It is a plaint of Job against heaven, which had made him an `almoster' - almost seeing the Grail, almost painting, almost having style, talent, genius, almost writing the great English novel, the great Irish novel, almost being a devout Christian, almost being an Irish Voltaire, emotion failing at the crunch in every department - in religion and art, love and sex. Every expression of feeling in his work is self-consciously mounted as an artistic exhibit, yet the range of real feeling that he is able to express is slight: a few elegiac impulses, a few spurts of indignation.
Moore was ardently attracted to women, but in a double way: male desire was accompanied with a passionate identification with the feminine: `Never previously had the soul of a man been so intermingled with that of woman; and to explain the abnormality of this sexual sympathy, I can only imagine that before my birth there had been some hesitation as to my sex' (French edition of Confessions of Young Man, 1889, quoted in Grubgeld, 87). That is one of the overtones in the following statement: `I am penetrated through and through by an intelligent, passionate, dreamy interest in sex, going much deeper than the mere rutting instinct; and turn to women as a plant does to the light, as unconsciously, breathing them through every pore, and my writings are but the exhalation that follows this inspiration' (HF, 182). Such a relation to women was too contemplative, too sisterly, to converge decisively on sexual performance. He loved company, and his quest for a male boon companion is described near the beginning of Hail and Farewell:
What I am seeking in London at the present time is a boon companion. In many respects he must resemble your amant de coeur. He must like my company... My boon companion must be between thirty and fifty. Until a man reaches the age of thirty he is but a boy, without experience of life. (HF, 86)
Analysts attempting to pin down Moore's sexual profile dabble in terms such as `impotence' and `voyeurism'. There is no need to suppose `organic impotence' (see Grey, 11), for Moore's psychological temperament sufficiently explains the diversion of his sexual interest from the genital to the polymorphous perverse. The margins of his sexual identity were as fluid as his entire style and personality, allowing a sympathetic interest in homosexuality (both male and female). Recalling the publication problems of Maurice and The Well of Loneliness one wonders what negotiations with threatened censorship presided over Moore's handling of homosexuality. One story on the topic he wrote three times: first as a novel, A Mere Accident, 1887, then as `John Norton', one of the three stories in Celibates, 1895, and finally as `Hugh Monfert' in In Single Strictness, 1922, which is replaced by `Albert Nobbs', another homosexual tale, in Celibate Lives, 1927. No瑛 surmises that a reading of Havelock Ellis may have helped Moore, and notes that Moore was in tune with homosexuality already in 1895; but A Mere Accident and especially the remarkable portrait of the lesbian Cecilia in the Austenesque masterpiece, A Drama in Muslin, 1886, show that Moore was good on the topic from the start.
That the constraints of censorship were particularly irksome here is suggested by a plot outline Moore proposed to William Heinemann, in which a man discovers on the bridal night his unsuspected impotency, and departs on a world cruise:
he meets a plump little sailor-boy, and lives happily ever afterwards. `There', exclaimed Moore, `is a plot for you!' Heinemann protested that no such book could be printed and published in England. But Moore contended: `Why not! it is simply a modernizing of the Greek practice which pleased and thrilled the male and in addition gave protection to the innocence of Grecian women'. (quoted in Grubgeld, 89)
This sounds like a satire `aimed at many targets: then-current "Greek" apologias for male homosexuality, the standard of feminine sexual innocence' (Grubgeld, 89). Yet the plot is that of the John Norton/Hugh Monfert stories, in which what Moore advances here under the camouflage of provocation is handled with an attempt at psychological subtlety and moral probing.
A Mere Accident (1887)
John Norton, the protagonist of A Mere Accident, exhibits a misogyny laced with Nietzschean sadism: `the unspeakable feminality of those maid-servants... I should like to scourge them out of the place... I believe there is much to be said in favour of whipping' (MA, 62), and intensified by a Schopenhauerian horror of sex: `Ignorance of the material laws of existence had extended even into his sixteenth year, and when, bit by bit, the veil fell, and he understood, he was filled with loathing of life' (MA, 135-6; C, 367). His pessimism and obsession with purity are rooted in homosexuality: `the blood-stained heavenly breasts, the loin-linen hanging over orbs of light... Listen! ah! the voices of chanting boys, and out of the cloud of incense come Latin terminations, and the organ still is swelling' (MA, 133). In the later version the last phrase becomes `the Latin hymn afloat on the tumult of the organ' (C, 365). The passage echoes Verlaine's `Parsifal': `Et * ces voix d'enfants chantant dans la coupole'. His inner moral drama is enveloped by a certain dreaminess: `Once there had been a sharp struggle, but Christ, not Apollo, had been the victor, and the great cross in the bedroom of Stanton College overshadowed the beautiful slim body in which Divinity seemed to circulate like blood; and this photograph was all that now remained of much youthful anguish and much temptation... His sense of reality had always remained in a rudimentary state; it was, as it were, diffused over the world and mankind' (MA, 134-5; C, 366-7);
At a certain point, however, his misogyny is overcome by a rise of heterosexual passion: `the dark dawn of a late nubility quickened into manhood' (MA, 178); `this sudden and singular obsession of his spiritual nature by a lower and grosser nature' (MA, 180) destroys the plausibility of the character. The homosexual theme is muffled. In the melodramatic second half Moore has lost an essential thread of his story. `Peut-etre ne s'est-il pas cru capable de decrire ce mariage manque... Il n'a trouve d'autre solution que romanesque' (Noel, 143). Norton's marriage is averted by the `mere accident' of the fiance's molestation by a sexual prowler in the woods which leads to her falling from the window as she withdraws from Norton. The final catastrophe has no psychological justification.
`John Norton' (1895)
Moore wrote to Dujardin in 1887 that A Mere Accident `has not been understood either in England or in France as I would have liked, I must have blundered somewhere... I shall change the end, or perhaps extend the book a little in the new edition' (Hone, 136). Could it be that the homosexual theme is what is referred to here? Even the second version of the story met imperceptive responses in this regard: `John Norton is the voyager who hugs the shores of life; who has no confidence in his own nature; who is austere rather from timidity of temperament than from any moral self-consciousness' (Mitchell, 49).
The novel's execrescences are pruned in `John Norton'. The Huysmanesque disquisitions on Christian Latin (MA, 78-99) are dropped; the list of impressionist paintings is replaced with a more functional discussion of Wagner's Kundry. The protagonist becomes a more normal young man, no longer subduing `an intense and ever pulsatory horror of death' (MA, 28) by Schopenhauerian cynicism: `"Bad enough that I should exist! Why precipitate another into the gulf of being?" "Consort with men whose ideal hovers between a stable boy and a veterinary surgeon"' (MA, 31). The Balzacian descriptions of his dwelling and physiognomy and the Zolaesque theories of hereditary weakness also disappear. Above all, `La psychologie du personnage est presente sous un eclairage different... Il suffit de trois ou quatre reflexions ajoutees' (Noel, 260). His attitude to women is no longer a violent misogyny suggesting repressed heterosexual sensuality, but an indifference correlated with homosexual feeling: `The boyish slightness of her figure led John to think of a statuette done in a period of Greek decadence. "Others", he thought, "would only see her as a somewhat too thin example of English maidenhood. I see her quite differently"'. (C, 354-5).
Much of this story recounts long quarreling dialogues between mother and son. Norton's mother:
spoke enthusiastically of the girl's beauty. `I could never see it. It never appealed to me in the least'. `But no woman does. You never think a woman good-looking'... `Her figure is slight even to boyishness. She's like a little antique statue done in a period of decadence. She has the far-away look in the eyes which we find in antique sculpture, and which is so attractive to me. But you don't understand'. `I understand very well. I understand you far better than you think', Mrs. Norton answered angrily. (C, 381-2).
Norton's sexual confusion and self-deception are skilfully analysed:
In his admiration for other women there had always been a sense of repulsion; this feeling of repulsion seemed to be absent from his admiration for Kitty... He hardly perceived any sex in her; she was sexless as a work of art, as the women of the first Italian painters, as some Greek statues.
Then by natural association of idea his mind was carried back to early youth, to struggles within himself, and to temptations which he had conquered, and the memory of which he was always careful to keep out of mind... He found himself asking if sufficient change had come into his nature to allow him to accept marriage. (C, 395-6)
This self-mystification culminates in the embarrassing comedy of the proposal scene, which is a considerable improvement on the earlier version. Prompted by a fortune teller's `story of a handsome young gentleman who would woo her' (C, 408), `he trembled, and the victim of an impulse which forced him toward her, he threw his arms about her and kissed her violently' (408-9). He explains his action: `I suppose it is natural desire to kiss what is beautiful' (409); the word `natural' is ironic here. His clumsiness bespeaks a forced gesture. The girl's forgiveness of it betrays but represses her awareness of a deeper deficiency in his love-making: `I forgive you, John, I know you didn't mean it, you meant nothing' (410). His intention to convert her to Catholicism supplements his lack of more solid reasons for marrying her; this topic is dealt with more heavily and less functionally in MA.
The violence of the rape scene, deplored by Walter Pater (the tramp says `What about those pretty eyes?' and `she broke her parasol across his face' (MA, 227), is toned down in the new version - it is refracted through Kitty's consciousness: `She grew conscious that these thoughts were fictitious thoughts, and that there was a thought, a real thought, lying in the background of her mind, which she dared not face' (C, 415). She sees her father's face and John's face as masks, concealing the monster -- in a fit of hysteria she throws herself out the window and dies. John is relieved to be absolved of the responsibilities his proposal so unwisely incurred (C, 438). He wonders: `Had she guessed that when it came to the point that he would not, that he might not have been able to marry her?' (445). He figures at her funeral as `a broken-hearted lover' (447):
He never could have married her - no, not when it came to the point. He thought of the wedding-breakfast, the cake, the speeches, the congratulations, and of the woman with whom he would have gone away, of the honeymoon, of the bridal chamber! He knew now that he could not have fulfilled the life of marriage. If those things had happened he would have had to tell her - ah! when it was too late - that he was mistaken, that he could not, in any real sense of the word, be her husband. (450-1)
The problem of his sexual insincerity is muddied by a more melodramatic theme: `he had kissed her by force! "My God! then the difference between us is only one of degree, and the vilest humanity claims kinship of instinct with me!"' (452). This element causes Moore to lose the thread of the plot; only in 1922 did he spin it out to its logical conclusion, drawing the drama from the protagonist's temperament rather than from `mere accidents'.
Hail and Farewell (1911-14)
Probably because of the Wilde scandal, homosexuality does not feature in Moore's writing in the decades after 1895. In Hail and Farewell, Moore draws a non-fictional portrait of the model for John Norton, his cousin and colleague Edward Martyn. The account of Martyn's play, with its pagan overtones of sublimated pederasty (161) and the innuendo about his interest in choirboys (see 696, n. 164) and indifference to women (see 157-8) provide a lighter variant of the comic side of the Norton stories. The text falsifies Grey's claim that `no question of homosexuality was ever involved or even suspected; he was a natural-born Irish bachelor' (Grey, 183). `Norton is a mere stick of a celibate and remains dead on the page. In Hail and Farewell Martyn comes alive under his own name in all his pure foolishness' (William F. Blissett, in Owens, 72); the allusion is to Wagner's Parsifal, der reine Tor. `A story would be necessary to bring Edward into literature, and it would be impossible to devise an action of which he should be a part. The sex of a woman is odious to him' (HF, 596). Is Moore here implicitly criticizing the melodramatic story-line of `John Norton'? The most striking point of contact with the Norton stories is the portrayal of Martyn's bullying mother (HF, 157-8). Moore's Schadenfreude at her disillusionment and defeat resonates with the resentment he felt at the castratory role played by his own mother (see HF, 197; Grey, 7-8, 40-1).
The Brook Kerith (1916)
Innately attracted to men, the young Joseph of Arimathea, in The Brook Kerith, feels for his teacher Azariah `an almost uncontrollable desire to go and sit on his knee' (16). Azariah initiates him into Greek culture (coded for homsexuality) and talks to him of David and Jonathan: `It had come into his mind to ask his father how it was that he had never read the story of Jonathan and David to him' (31). The father's unease about Azariah's hellenizing influence signals early anxiety about his son's sexual orientation. A Greek sculptor is interested in the boy: `My very model! a bearded man cried out one morning... the sculptor's eyes lighted up, for he had accepted Joseph's answer as tryst' (33). Admiring his son's `slim loins and great shoulders', Dan suddenly feels `a new disquietude': `very often men like Joseph did not marry' (51). Joseph reflects: `The Essenes would at least free him from the necessity of telling his father that there was no heart in him for a wife; and if he did not take a wife he might become - ' (66). What does this unfinished sentence hint at? Perhaps at a conscious level Joseph would wish to conclude it in heterosexual terms, but the unconscious and repressed conclusion would be a homosexual one. In his rather blurry self-awareness, Joseph is a placid John Norton in Palestinian clothing: `With the view to discovering the turn of his sex instinct he called to mind all the women he had seen, asking himself as each rose up before him if he could marry her... He had seen some Greek women, and been attracted in a way, for they were not too like their sex' (161). He has a self-deceiving account of his sexual feelings: `Joseph could not help thinking that it were better to put women out of his mind altogether than to become inflamed by the sight of every woman. he believed that was why he had always kept all thoughts of women out of his mind.' (160). But Joseph never needs to develop beyond this point; his psychology is not a central concern of this novel. Moore's ability to portray a homosexual temperament serenely and non-problematically indicates a certain ripeness of vision.
`Hugh Monfert' (1922)
The same confident handling is evinced in `Hugh Monfert'. One gay reader was appreciative: `Our dead friend was much struck by this reconstruction of the story, and he complimented me on my divination of a side of life alien to me' (letter to Gosse, 17 December, 1918, quoted, Noel, 261). Hugh is farther than Joseph from the Martyn persona, whose possibilities had been exhausted in Hail and Farewell; he is more sensual, less intellectual (no `mere stick'); his desires lead to a revolt unthinkable in Martyn.
`Hugh Monfert' seems at first a prosy, mealy-mouthed yarn, which toys around with suggestions of homosexual love, but loses its thread again and again in rambling discussions. `L'auteur et ses personnages ont un peu l'air de faire ecole buissonniere' despite the clearer psychology of the story (Noel, 506). The constant deferral of the homosexual theme causes the `melodic line' to peter out indecisively. The drama of incapacity interests Moore more than its obverse, a positive homosexual thrust. But this time the tale's conclusion is thoroughly logical and the entire story is perfectly contained within the bounds of credibility. As Hugh edges toward awareness of his sexual feelings impatient readers may feel they are being teased by a timorous author; but the vagueness and meandering are a good reflection of Hugh's imperfect self-awareness.
Dr. Knight, Hugh's beloved mentor, the widowed father of Beatrice and Percy, has become a Catholic priest. This rather unusual situation is essential to the story's tight web of relationships. Knight is the paternal embodiment of all the values of Catholicism, balanced by the mercenary, manipulating mother, who stands for social constraints, above all the imperative to marry and beget. Hugh's pious trust in the Church, his cult of chastity, and his relatively tender years (he is 22) explain the sexual mystification that leads him to the marriage-bed. His devotion to Knight is stressed (`You were my one friend', ISS 60) in order to point up the disillusionment he will experience when this reasonable and tolerant father-figure eventually fails him. He asks Knight to mediate between him and his mother: `Every woman who comes here is considered by her as a possible wife and mother, and it's getting upon my nerves; it's driving me out of my wits' (47). Casually understated here, the maternal oppression gathers weight as the tale proceeds. Her devotion to the family residence has already cheated him of higher education: `He had had to give up Oxford, and he and his mother had spent fifteen thousand pounds rebuilding Wotton Hall' (51). Her worry about the continuation of life at Wotton Hall screens a deeper anxiety: `he sought the cause of his mother's anxiety to see him married - Married to anybody, for it is not my happiness she seeks but her own ends' (48). Despite a strategic obtuseness, she is evidently aware of her son's orientation and seeks to suppress it. She is shown as a prompt and skilful liar, not least when it comes to lying to herself.
Moore again explores the procedures of self-mystification in the mother's brooding: `if she could convince Dr. Knight that marriage was the only safeguard in certain cases (she need not speak of her husband - it would be enough to say that though some young men might not like ladies they might like common women)... And so convincing did the story that she had prepared seem to her that she slept quietly that night' (65). Knight's assurance, `I don't think that you have any need to fear that he will contract any of the highly reprehensible relations to which you allude' (68), leaves her unsatisfied: `Feeling that Mrs. Monfert was about to say that she would sooner Hugh sinned and repented that that he should remain a chaste man, the prelate coughed, thereby saving her from the end of her sentence' (69).
Hugh's ramblings with the seventeen-year-old Percy are mostly in the spirit of boon companionship. But a quickening of intimacy, and on Hugh's side a note of passion, comes when Hugh tends to Percy who has been knocked unconscious by a blow: `To put Percy to bed was Hugh's task evidently... He fell upon his knees to pray that God might not take his friend from him... I pray thee, O my God, to spare his life, for I need him and cannot live without him.' (87-9). When Percy recovers, he says: `Hugh give me your hand; and the hand-clasp was not relaxed till Mrs. Jones brought in Percy's breakfast' (92). Another moment of intimacy is the scene in which the two sleep under the stars. The naturalness of homosexual instinct is lightly sketched: `A fish is happy in the water, a bird in the air, he said, and I have come into the circumstance in which I can be, perhaps, as happy as they' (123). Hugh admires Percy as he bathes: `so beautiful in his slimness that Hugh bethought himself of some early Italian sculpture imbued with the Greek spirit' (127).
When Hugh meets Percy's sister `he was not carried away at first sight, and missed a great many of the wonders he had been told he would find in her' (145). Nor is she convinced of his heterosexual ardour: `You don't like tapestry, Beatrice asked. Yes, I do, he answered, in a way. But only in a way, she said, as you like women'; `We shouldn't have got on so well as we did, at least not so quickly, if you hadn't known Percy first, or if you had not found a great deal of Percy in me' (154-5). His fantasy is ignited by Beatrice but drifts to Percy: `he sought to keep forbidden thoughts from his mind, thoughts of Beatrice and Percy - very often he could not tell of which he was thinking, and in his dreams they were often by him, singly and together' (163). The mother precipitates a proposal of marriage by spreading a rumour of their engagement. Hugh goes through with it: `he took her in his arms and kissed her on the cheek', then runs off to write some letters, leaving the two women `wearing, it seemed to him, a triumphant air' (165). A letter to Percy betrays self-alienation as painful as the scene in Gotterdammerung in which Siegfried disguised as Gunther betrays Brunnhilde:
Not believing myself to be an artist, as you are, I do not feel justified in withholding myself from the natural life of marriage. I might have done so if I hadn't met Beatrice, but I was fortunate enough to meet her, the only woman that I could have married, of that I am sure. (172)
Similar self-misunderstanding is worked through in the epistolary exchanges in The Lake (see Grubgeld 176, 220-1; O'Leary 1982). Like Fr Gogarty, Hugh is `searching for a vocabulary by which to interpret his life' (Grubgeld, 223).
Beatrice expresses her doubts: `He kissed me, Beatrice replied, as he might -- well, as he might have kissed you, Mrs. Monfert. I can't get it out of my head that there is something wrong' (ISS, 167). After the marriage Mrs Monfert is still uneasy: `Once a man is married, however, his whole nature changes, she thought' (174). She is summoned to Calais by a telegram, and the disappointed wife explains: `when he took me in his arms a change came over him and he almost put me away... He said he could never be any woman's husband... I think he said he could love me as a sister but not as a wife... For one moment it seems to Mrs. Monfert that she hated her son, and looking at the stricken girl she asked herself how it was that it befell her to bring such a man into the world' (177-8).
Hugh rushes to see Knight, and explains: `her womanly body was no help, only a hindrance, and the moments I spent with her were the most dreadful of my life' (182-3). Knight offers hollow reassurance; `every man,... who is not a brute, is seized with an excessive timidity on entering his wife's room for the first time... Go back to your wife and put your trust in Nature' (183). As Hugh proclaims the unalterability of his sexual desires (he has discovered he is in love with Percy), Knight urges chastity. Hugh replies:
how can one hate and abhor that which is part of oneself? ... You know I am not the first man who discovered himself to be as I am, averse from women. In the Bible --
It is always condemned, the prelate interjected. (187)
Knight has suppressed his own homosexual feelings: `I loved my wife deeply, and in telling me your story you are only telling me my own, with this difference - that I did not run away' (183). Hugh dreams that Knight is travelling in North Africa: `But what brought the prelate to Laghouat? What instinct had tempted Dr. Knight into the desert?' (194). Knight leads him to a cafe in which an appointment has been made. The influence of Gide's L'immoraliste, another tale of an unquiet honeymoon, is detectable in the ensuing lines:
Are you seeking Osman Tahar, the Kurd's mignon? an attendant asked them. Before the prelate could reply a young Arab rose, graceful and indolent, out of the gloom in which he was seated and began to tell them of the difficulties he had had to overcome and the danger of coming to the cafe. He spoke French fluently, and stopping suddenly in his narrative he took Hugh's hand, saying: Amenez moi a Paris, je serai votre domestique et je vous aimerai bien. (195)
The French here recalls the tourist Italian in the banter between the narrator and a Sicilian boy in L'immoraliste: `Anche tu sei bello ragazzo' (Gide, 462). The story ends with a recollection of this dream:
he recalled the tone of the Arab voice, which he would know again. He felt sure that the words had been spoken but when they were spoken and where they were spoken and by whom they were spoken, he could never know, nor by what magic they had come into his dream. (ISS, 197)
Compare the last page of L'immoraliste:
Cet enfant qui, devant les etrangers, se fait sauvage, est avec moi tendre et fidele comme un chien... Elle [the boy's sister] rit et plaisante de ce que je lui prefere l'enfant. Elle pretend que c'est lui qui surtout me retient ici. Peut-etre a-t-elle un peu raison... (Gide, 472)
But if Gide's protagonist is presented as a criminal, and his new life as haunted by fear and guilt, Hugh Monfert seems rather to relax naturally into his freedom, with scant regard for the distress of his abandoned bride. Indeed, there is a touch of comedy; Moore may be parodying Gide here as the scene of the embarrassing kiss parodies Parsifal (cf. HF, 159: `But would you have yelled as he did when Kundry tried to kiss him?').
Yet Hugh's declaration of revolt, worthy of Stephen Dedalus, is not undercut by this irony: `Ideas, principles, beliefs, he said, are lashed into us by our mothers, our fathers, by priests, schoolmasters, and our lives are spent going through our tricks, our antics, in fear and trembling, till the original wild instinct breaks out in us and we fall upon our trainers and rend them' (ISS, 197). The story could not have been continued beyond this point without turning Hugh into a different character, or showing how this assertion of anarchic desire is tempered by compromises with his old self. The priest in The Lake is conveniently abandoned at the same moment of transition.
The climax of `Hugh Monfert' does not redeem its longueurs by a retrospective revelation that Moore has not dropped a single stitch, but we are sent back to read it from the beginning and to appreciate its analysis of the conspiracy of self-deception generated by the taboo on homosexuality, so intense in post-Wilde England.
`Albert Nobbs' (1927) and the Question of Essentialism
`Albert Nobbs', 1927, plays fast and loose with gender-identity in a way that seems closer to Wilde's `constructionism' than to Gide's `essentialism', in that sexual desire seems less a matter of inborn instinct than of assumed mask. In contrast with the determinism Moore elsewhere borrows from Spinoza: `If the stone rolling down the hill were to become conscious, it would think it was rolling itself' (Memoirs of my Dead Life, 96), the carnival of `Albert Nobbs' reveals the conventionality of gender roles (see Grubgeld 97-102). Elizabeth Grubgeld claims that Moore:
exhibits considerable confusion as to the origins of what he can only call an `instinctual' rejection of heterosexual norms... In `Mildred Lawson' and `Hugh Monfert' he attributes to `instinct' a meaning inconsistent with his other writing and that, as an assertion of sexual essentialism, suppresses further analysis of the origins and nature of their sexuality. (Grubgeld, 92)
Her argument draws on Michel Foucault:
Moore's liberationist model of `natural love' follows exactly the line of argument Michel Foucault traces to a fundamental misapprehension of the relationship between power and sexuality... Foucault argues that the discourses of sexuality may themselves be created by the forces of power (power being here imagined as dispersed among many facets of a given society). In the light of such a critique, the role of transgressive hero, which Moore cultivated since his early years in Paris, would be very difficult to affirm. The definition of the self through repudiation of national origin depended upon his myth of autogeny, and in particular, the belief that his own discourse of nature was itself natural and unique. (Grubgeld, 224)
Against this, one should note that Foucault himself, when asked if he queries the `distinction between an innate predisposition to homosexuality and social conditioning', replies: `I have strictly nothing to say on that point. No comment... I do not think it useful to speak of things that are beyond my area of competence' (Foucault 1994, 321).
Grubgeld quotes a passage from Conversations in Ebury Street, 1930:
I submit that it is rare to approach life except through interpretative glosses: glosses learnt by heart before any attempt is made to read the text... The Dean of St. Paul's knows, too, that sodomy is essentially a Christian sin. He knows that the Greeks... married to continue the race but did not love their wives except in rare instances, yet modern conventions might compel him to advocate or at least to acquiesce in the persecution of those afflicted with abnormal love. (Grubgeld, 93)
The idea of culturally perpetuated `interpretative glosses' by which the body is read differently in various historical periods here opposes the notion that certain individuals are `afflicted' with various forms of desire; typically, we find Moore straddling a middle ground between explanations. (Grubgeld, 93)
But there is no deep inconsistency here. In claiming that homosexual love flourished while heterosexual love languished under the social conditions of Greek culture, Moore is not abandoning the idea that sexual orientation is an instinctual given. The `text' is the given sexual disposition, the `gloss' is the ideology that occludes it. Moore's studies of how homophobic taboo blocks access to sexual self-understanding (as when Hugh's mother instils in him the fear of Hell, ISS, 138-40) echo theorists who `argued for the congenital rather than the environmental origins of sexual orientation'. To call this `deterministic essentialism' (Grubgeld, 93) commits one to the implausible alternative that Norton's or Monfert's homosexuality is a product of their environment. Postmodernist fashion could easily slide into homophobia, ascribing to their sexuality rather than society's view of it the status of an interpretative gloss. (On `sodomy' as a `Christian sin' see Jordan, 1997.)
Joseph S. O'Leary
Works of George Moore:
The Brook Kerith: A Syrian Story. Penguin Books, 1952.
C = Celibates. London: Walter Scott, 1895.
HF = Hail and Farewell, ed. Richard Cave. Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1985.
ISS = In Single Strictness. Carra Edition. New York: Boni and Liveright, 1923; repr. Kyoto: Rinsen, 1983.
MA = A Mere Accident. London: Vizetelly, 1887.
Memoirs of My Dead Life. Carra Edition, 1923.
The Untilled Field. Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1990.
Foucault, Michel (1994)
Dits et Ecrits 1954-1988, IV. Ed. Daniel Defert and Francois Ewald.
Gide, Andre (1958)
Romans. Paris: Gallimard, Bibliotheque de la Pleiade.
Grey, Tony (1996)
A Peculiar Man: A Life of George Moore. London: Sinclair-Stevenson.
Grubgeld, Elizabeth (1994)
George Moore and the Autogenous Self. Syracuse University Press.
Hone, Joseph (1936)
The Life of George Moore. New York: Macmillan.
Jordan, Mark (1997)
The Invention of Sodomy in Christian Theology. University of Chicago Press.
Leonard, Garry M. (1993)
Reading `Dubliners' Again: A Lacanian Perspective. Syracuse University
Mitchell, Susan L. (1916)
George Moore. Dublin and London: Maunsel.
Noel, Jean C. (1966)
George Moore: l'homme et l'oeuvre. Paris: Marcel Didier.
O'Leary, Joseph S. (1982)
`Father Bovary', in The Way Back: George Moore's `The Untilled Field'
and `The Lake', ed. Robert Welch. Dublin: Wolfhound; Totowa, NJ: Barnes
and Noble, pp. 105-18.
Owens, Graham, ed. (1968)
George Moore's Mind and Art. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd.
From The Harp 12 (1997)