- George Moore on Parnassus: Letters (1900-1933) to Secretaries, Publishers, Printers, Agents, Literati, Friends, and Acquaintances
First, a caveat: writing this review has been a saddening experience. Holding the book in my hands for the first time was a reminder of the sudden death on 29 April 1981 of Helmut E. Gerber. But those feelings were to some degree counteracted by the feelings of satisfaction in seeing the results of the years-long scholarly activity to which he had dedicated himself.
There are those volumes of letters by literary men and women that interest a wider audience than the biographers and literary historians obligated to search every source. This will not prove one of them. I certainly cannot fault either the scholarship or the methodology of Gerber or O M Brack. Hal, as he was known to his friends and hundreds of correspondents, was the kind of scholar to merit Brack's encomium: 'Gerber's attention to detail was legendary." The only scholarly flaw I note is a tantalizing footnote number in a letter to Ernest A. Boyd dated 10 January 1917. It refers to this sentence: 'I have just finished revising The Mummer's Wife [sic] and am inclined to think that it is perhaps my best novel after all." After "all" comes a raised "4" for which no note is given.
If there is a fault, it lies with the creator of this voluminous correspondence. I had hoped that Gerber's patient, sympathetic gathering, editing, and presentation of these letters would work to the rehabilitation of Moore's literary reputation. For me, at least, that is not the effect of studying these letters.
To put it bluntly, Moore's correspondence reveals even more clearly than the autobiographies, novels, stories, and dramas he wrote after 1901 the nature of the mental, personal, and artistic handicaps that afflicted him during these years. One reads page after page of smoothly written, mellifluous prose hoping in vain for evidence that either a man of mind or powerful feelings wrote these letters. Instead, evidence leads to a different conclusion: that Moore cared little about artistic excellence, the life of the mind, close observation, philosophy, or significant human relationships.
Let one example represent not Moore at his worst but above his average. This to Ernest A. Boyd:
Art is essentially urbane. The first artists were cave dwellers, the wandering tribes did not draw. A community of spirit is essential for the creation of art. In England a community of spirit gave birth to the only artistic movement England ever had, the Pre-Raphaelite movement. Man cannot create by himself alone; he must have a neighbor to urge him on and he must urge another neighbor. It was the same thing in Paris. The Parnassian movement met in a certain café. The Impressionist movement met in the Nouvelle Athènes. I went there and listened and talked and returned to England. . . .
Here Moore launches a provocative thesis, but then redundancy, unsupported generalization, over-simplification, lack of subordination—a few of the hallmarks of vintage Moorish epistolary style—so dilute and simultaneously muddy his expression as to make doubting Thomases of us all.
Many of these letters suggest a dark truth about Moore after his renunciation of London literary life about 1901. Filled with illusions about the nature and degree of his literary achievements and importance (George Moore on Parnassus, indeed! whose Parnassus?), Moore created a Palace of Art with Himself the only [End Page 794] person of importance, at least the only person worthy to dwell there. The failure of his many collaborations, which Gerber ably traces in his introduction and notes, may be taken as emblematic of Moore's failings at achieving true community or developing and maintaining significant personal relations.
But all that would of course be irrelevant if Moore had things to say, observations worth someone else's hearing and study, in his letters. Except for specialists able to extract...