George Moore

George Augustus Moore (Ballyglass, Co. Mayo, 1852 - London, 1933) was a negligent landlord, a shauneen, a cad, and had an uncanny ability to rub people up the wrong way. While he appears to have held a low opinion of virtually all of his artistic contemporaries, many of these contemporaries willing to expend the effort were able to give as good as they got. Oliver St. John Gogarty, for example, called Moore "practically illiterate". Albert Nobbs, a film based on a George Moore short story of the same name, came out in 2012 to some critical acclaim, but most of Moore's prose is little read today—perhaps because, as Nora Joyce proclaimed, “that man doesn't know how to finish a story.”


 The Passage Feydeau
Moore came to Paris in 1873 at the age of 21, with his own personal valet in tow and with revenues from the substantial properties surrounding Moore Hall in County Mayo that he inherited from his father (James Joyce described Moore as a "Genuine gent / that lives on his property's ten per cent"). He came to study painting but then switched to writing. Unfortunately, he only figured out he wasn't made for painting.


Moore's first address in spring 1873 was the Hôtel du Quai Voltaire, where Oscar Wilde was to stay a few years later. But by June 1873, Moore had moved to the Hôtel de Russie at the corner of the Boulevard des Italiens and rue Drouot in the 9th arrondissement (the hotel fell victim to the eastward extension of the Boulevard Haussmann in the 1920s).This address was handy for Moore, for it was just a stone's throw from the Julian Art Academy in the Passage des Panoramas (2nd arrondissement), where he had enrolled after an unhappy experience at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.


 61, rue Condorcet
Between 1873 and 1875, Moore went to and fro between London and Paris. During this time, he rented out a studio in the passage Feydeau, a rather run-down corner of the Passage des Panoramas, which he shared with fellow painting student, Englishman Lewis Hawkins. But by 1875, he had rented an apartment at 61, rue Condorcet (9th arrondissement).
From rue Condorcet, it was a short stroll up to place Pigalle, where Moore progressively ingratiated himself with the rowdy intellectuals who congregated in Le Rat Mort (the counter-cultural retort to Le Chat Noir, just a few metres away, which had become far too famous and mainstream for its own good) and, just across the street, La Nouvelle Athènes. Situated in an area still noted today for seedy bars and various forms of prostitution, La Nouvelle Athènes became Moore's ‘academy of arts’, where he was introduced to such luminaries as Camille Pissarro, Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas (whose famous paintings, L'Absinthe, is from a scene in  La Nouvelle Athènes). Manet's studio was not far from place Pigalle, at 77, rue Amsterdam (8th arrondissement, building no longer exists). Manet frequently invited Moore there and did several paintings and sketches of the Irishman. Moore does not appear to have been always happy with the results and sometimes asked Manet to touch up some details. But Manet refused, asking "Is it my fault if Moore looks like a squashed egg yolk and if his face is all lopsided?"


Moore regularly attended soirées at the home of Stéphane Mallarmé at 87, rue de Rome (17th arrondissement). While Moore was later to write that "with the exception of his early verses, I cannot say I ever frankly enjoyed his poetry", Moore at least got to know the great symbolist poet, whereas WB Yeats missed him when he called at rue de Rome almost 20 years later. Moore also met the likes of Léon Daudet, Claude Monet and the Russian writer Ivan Turgenev. And through his friendship with a journalist called Paul Alexis, Moore came to know Emile Zola and visited him at his home in Medan. Moore met at least once the old Fenian and fellow resident of Paris, John O'Leary, who had been an acquaintance of his father's. But one can imagine that the two men were like chalk and cheese, and neither seems to have cultivated the other’s friendship.


Moore was forced to leave Paris in 1879, as the Land War back in Ireland meant that the rents from Moore Hall tenants to pay for his Parisian frolics were no longer forthcoming. Moore retreated to London and Dublin, where he became an early propagator of French naturalism, of which Zola was the main exponent.


 Site of Le Rat Mort (left) and La Nouvelle Athènes (right)
Moore's bohemian lifestyle in Paris in the 1870s is chronicled in books such as 'Confessions of a Young Man’, a fictionalized account of Moore's youth that deliberately sets out to provoke readers. The protagonist in the book lives a dissolute life, and is attracted as much by his fellow painter and room mate (based on Lewis Hawkins) as by the latter's own girlfriend. More provocative still are the literary pronunciamentos of George Moore's alter ego in Confessions and of George Moore himself in later life. "Edmond Goncourt is not an artist, notwithstanding all his affection and outcries", he writes. Zola? "What I reproach Zola is that he has no style." Hugo? "Reading him was like being in church with a strident-voiced preacher shouting from out of a terribly sonorous pulpit." Flaubert? "That odious pessimism! How sick I am of it, it never ceases, it is lugged in a toute droops (sic.), and the little lyrical phrase with which he winds up every paragraph, how boring it is." Proust? "He writes like a man trying to plough a field with a pair of knitting needles." And his acquaintance, Léon Daudet? "Oh, Daudet, c’est de la bouillabaisse." In spite of his close association with French painters, Moore also had a generally negative impression of their output. Of Monet's Water Lilies, Moore commented that "It is difficult to discriminate between these paintings and wallpaper...A little time is required.”


Of course, Moore treated his own work more generously. While he told the American playwright Barrett Clark that James Joyce's Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man was “entirely without style or distinction", he himself had "done the same things, but much better in The Confessions of a Young Man” (No he hadn't). Of Ulysses, Moore said “I was told I should read it, but how can one plough through such stuff? I read a little here and there but, oh my God, how bored I got.” “That’s not art”, he said on another occasion of Ulysses. “It’s like trying to copy the London Directory”.


While Moore is credited with introducing Joyce to the ‘ínterior monologue' technique—which Moore had borrowed from French writer and friend, Edouard Dujardin for his story collection The Untilled FieldJoyce and Moore had only a relatively distant relationship. As Joyce was a product, at best, of lower middle-class Dublin, Moore saw him as his social inferior and, as Adrian Frazier writes, Moore "would never associate with those whom he thought to be below his rank as an Irish landlord". Moore's support for a campaign to obtain a Civil List pension for Joyce from the British government was unenthusiastic, to say the least, while Joyce did not write any message to accompany the wreath he sent for Moore's funeral in London in 1933.


Although his brother, Maurice, described Moore's sexual exploits as "half imagination, half reality", Moore earned a reputation (which he earnestly cultivated) as the proverbial dirty old man, eager to exploit all the possibilities that Paris offered in this regard. Thus, Joyce was able to describe him in Ulysses as “a lecturer on French letters to the youth of Ireland".


 Extract from a Moore article in Le Figaro, August 1886
Moore's boorishness also seems to have worsened with the years. In 1886, he was commissioned to write a series of articles for Le Figaro, "explaining the Irish to the French". His portrayal of Ireland (a place he knew little about) caused uproar in his entourage and led to the severance of ties with Ireland for 12 years. "What shall we say of Mr. Moore, who exhibits his country's sores for the coppers of the Paris press?” lamented critic Susan Mitchell. Moore reiterated his hatred for his native land two years later in Confessions: "All the aspects of my native country are violently disagreeable to me, and I cannot think of the place I was born in without a sensation of nausea," he wrote. “I am instinctively averse to my countrymen, they are at once remote and repulsive, but with Frenchmen, I am conscious of a sense of nearness; I am one with them in their ideas and aspirations."


Almost to the end of his life, Moore travelled at least once a year to Paris from his homes in England and Dublin. For many years, he stayed at the Grand Hotel (rue Scribe, 9th arrondissement), where the Irish Race Congress was to be held in January 1922. But when he deemed that the Grand Hotel had become too noisy, he transferred his loyalties to the Hotel St James et Albany in the rue de Rivoli (1st arrondissement) and then to the Hotel Brighton in the same street (where Charles Stewart Parnell had stayed previously but where Moore complained that he was “plagued by the worst noise of all"). He called frequently on Nancy Cunard. She for a time lived at 2, rue Le Regrattier, at the corner of the Quai d’Orléans on the Ile Saint Louis (4th arrondissement), where Moore allegedly asked her to strip naked so that he could admire her body.


At the same time, George Moore kept producing books including, in 1916, The Brook Kenith, described as "an examination of Christianity" and "a novel about the origins of that faith in the life and death of Christ." He sent a copy of the book to fellow Irish littérateur George Russell with the message, "You'll like this better than any of my books". But Moore was mistaken. “On the contrary," replied Russell. "I like it less than any of your books. Jesus converted the world; your Jesus wouldn't convert an Irish County Council."




 Select Bibliography

Confessions of a Young Man (1886)

George Moore


George Moore, 1852-1933 (2000)

Adrian Frazier


George Moore (1965)

A. Norman Jeffares


GM – Memories of George Moore (1956)

Nancy Cunard


A Little Circle of Kindred Minds (2011)

Conor Fennell


“A Moore in Ulysses”, Albert J. Solomon in James Joyce Quarterly,  vol. 10, no. 2 (Winter 1973)


“George Moore and James Joyce: Story-teller Versus Stylist, Linda Bennett, in Studies, Winter 1977