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Masculinity, Materialism and the Introjected Self in George Moore's Mike Fletcher: "I'm weary of playing at Faust"

From: English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920
Volume 48, Number 2, 2005
pp. 131-146 | 10.2487/YL6T-W758-10Q2-2L35

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Masculinity, Materialism and the Introjected Self in George Moore's Mike Fletcher. I'm weary of playing at Faust" UtJ Mark Llewellyn Swansea University, Wales IN 1889 GEORGE MOORE published Mike Fletcher, the third and final instalment of his "Don Juan trilogy" exploring fin-de-siècle masculinity .1 Although most critics of the period dismissed the novel,2 and Moore himself "became convinced of the badness of Mike Fletcher quite soon after publication,"3 it does offer an insight into Moore's views of the crisis of masculinity during the 1880s and 1890s. Through an examination of the fluctuating fortunes and interrelationships between the characters of John Norton, Frank Escott and Mike Fletcher, Moore analyses what he sees as the three main subject-positions available to the modern man—the celibate and melancholic aesthete; the husband and father; and the artist and debauchee. That none of these routes in itself provides satisfaction has been taken as self-evident by many critics of the novel, particularly those adopting a straight-forward approach based upon Moore's (limited) knowledge of Schopenhauer and his theories of the world as will and the world as idea.4 As David Alvarez has commented, if "Schopenhauer's philosophy oversimplifies Kant's" then "Moore oversimplifies Schopenhauer."5 In this essay I propose to direct attention away from an analysis of the text based upon the principle that Mike Fletcher is Moore's "most Schopenhauerian novel"6 and instead offer a psychological, rather than philosophical, reading of the text. This reading therefore studies the unstable relationship in Fletcher's psyche between the alternative views of the world and masculinity that Norton and Escott represent, and also offers a psychoanalytic interpretation of Fletcher's relationship to his love-object, Lily Young, and his final, fatal depressive state. 131 ELT 48 : 2 2005 Mike Fletcher, Frank Escott and John Norton all belong to the homosocial environment of Temple Gardens, which, like the club-land described by Elaine Showalter, is "aggressively and urbanely heterosexual , even rakish" in its atmosphere.7 Escott is the editor of the "Pilgrim, a weekly newspaper devoted to young men, their doings, their amusements , their literature, and their art,"8 a journal for which Fletcher works as a columnist, and to which Norton contributes occasional articles . Norton, with his lifestyle of reserved and repressed asceticism, has formulated his own ideal of life based upon his dictum, "The world shall be my monastery."9 Escott, at the start of the novel, is a central figure in the social life of club-land, but Moore soon develops him into a character representative of the life of the family man. In contradistinction to these two men, Fletcher, from the outset, is not the embodiment of an ideal so much as an example of a vacillating personality, who, while originally secure in his long-held position as a rake, corrupter of women, and emissary of vice, during the course of the novel gradually finds himself torn between the contrary ideals represented by the two other men. It is this psychological conflict that causes Fletcher's depression and breakdown and which eventually leads him to commit suicide, figured as the only possible escape from his internal battle for mastery over his insecure and fatally divided self. The narrator introduces Fletcher by stating that "We meet Mike in his prime—in his twenty-ninth year—a man of various capabilities, which an inveterate restlessness of temperament had left undeveloped —a man of genius, diswrought with passion, occasionally stricken with ambition."10 Born to (in his own words) "an Irish peasant.. . grazier " father and "a governess" mother,11 Fletcher has left Ireland for London in search of artistic greatness and material wealth. As a journalist and columnist on the Pilgrim he has had moderate success but this is counterbalanced by his intense insecurity about his background, his talent and, as the story develops, the nature of life itself. As a means to placate these insecurities Fletcher seeks solace in women and in the gratification of all his desires. Like Lord Henry in Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray (published only a year after Moore's novel), Fletcher is a follower of the...