George Augustus Moore (1852-1933) was born at Moore Hall, County Mayo, the eldest son of a Nationalist MP, landowner and racehorse trainer. His education was hampered by poor health and a disinclination to study, and he was eventually expelled for “idleness and general worthlessness”. His love of literature was inspired by the novels of Sir Walter Scott and early exposure to Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret. His father’s death when he was eighteen gave him sufficient funds to enjoy a bohemian life in Paris, and he immersed himself in the new aesthetic doctrines of Impressionism and Naturalism.
After failing as an artist, Moore returned to England and turned his hand to literature. His first novel, A Modern Lover (1885), owed a clear debt to Zola and established Moore as an exciting new voice. Unfortunately, it was so exciting that the novel was actually banned by the all-powerful circulating libraries. Its successor, A Mummer’s Wife (1885), caused further controversy with its frank portrayal of a woman’s sexuality, and was also banned. This marked the beginning of a war of attrition with the libraries: Moore lambasted them in his pamphlet Literature at Nurse for stocking popular romantic fiction whilst ignoring serious fiction. A Drama in Muslin (1886) and A Mere Accident (1887) also proved popular with the reading public, but not with Mrs Grundy. Moore is perhaps best known for Esther Waters (1894), a moving story of a single mother whose love for her child helps her triumph over adversity.
At the turn of the century Moore moved back to Ireland, partly in protest against the Boer War. He worked with W B Yeats and Lady Gregory in the Irish Literary Revival and in founding the Abbey Theatre. Moore made a concerted effort to define himself as an Irish writer, revising some of his earlier fiction. However, he returned to London in 1911 after relations with his compatriots became strained. During the remaining 23 years of his life he became recognised as a Grand Old Man of Literature, although still retained his power to shock, especially with The Brook Kerith (1916), a novelisation of the Gospels.
Moore never married, but he had a long-standing affair with John Oliver Hobbes (Mrs Craigie), who he met when she was going through a divorce. He was also rumoured to be the father of the publisher and art patron Nancy Cunard, having been romantically linked with her mother, Lady Maud Cunard.
Moore died in London in 1933 after contracting uraeria. He left a fortune of £80,000, and his ashes were interred in the view of the ruins of his ancestral home, Moore Hall, destroyed during the Irish Civil War.
George Moore’s short story Albert Nobbs has recently been made into a major film, starring Glenn Close.
Victorian Secrets publishes A Mummer’s Wife.