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“A Tame Bird Escaped from Captivity”: Leaving Ireland in George Moore’s The Lake and Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

From: Joyce Studies Annual
2012
pp. 154-173

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The many echoes of George Moore’s novels and stories in Joyce’s writing before Ulysses have been recorded in considerable detail, yet the significance of these intertextual relationships is often overlooked, mostly because of a sense of Moore’s uneven quality. The usual, slightly embarrassed critical explanation for the “borrowings” from Moore’s The Untilled Field, Celibates, and Vain Fortune in Dubliners, and from Confessions of a Young Man and The Lake in A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, is that, as Ellmann puts it, Joyce “found [Moore] a good man to improve upon,” and was guilty of nothing more than “imaginative absorption” of his reading (JJ 234, 250). However, even though Moore’s lack of polish was subjected to considerable mockery by the young Joyce, it appears that, around 1907, his attitude to Moore changed. It is my argument that, at this crucial turning point, Joyce began to appreciate the older writer as an exemplary case of a cosmopolitan novelist from an Irish and Catholic background, and to study the trajectory of Moore’s career—from self-imposed exile to enthusiastic homecoming—through his semi-autobiographical fictions. Furthermore, I suggest that this engagement with Moore’s work significantly influenced Joyce’s revaluation of his own youthful cosmopolitanism in the years after 1907, which he dramatizes in “The Dead” and Portrait through the autobiographical characters—and cosmopolitans manqué—Gabriel Conroy and Stephen Dedalus. Joyce’s early excursions into Mooreland were not straightforward “borrowings” but richly meaningful meditations on the possibilities and perils of Irish cosmopolitanism, which helped to prepare the ground for Ulysses.

As Patrick McCarthy suggests, Joyce and Moore had much in common: Both were “Irish Catholics who rejected their religion and went into self-imposed exile,” and there were parallels in taste between these enthusiastic advocates of Wagner and Ibsen. Moore’s eclectic and well-traveled literary career had seen him write “French naturalism, English social comedy, stream-of-consciousness, an historical art-novel (á la Salammbô), [and] a Russian tale in the manner of Turgenev” by the time of his return to Ireland at the turn of the century for a phase of enthusiastic, if unsuccessful, participation in the Revival. These peregrinations made Moore an important conduit of European influence into the English-speaking literary world of the late nineteenth century, although the quality of his writing was unsteady and never brilliant, a fact that Moore was sometimes willing to acknowledge: “I tried to beat Balzac with my latest, but still you ‘can’t fart higher than your arse.’” Nevertheless, Moore had preceded Joyce in both his embrace of Flaubert and his flight from Ireland, and McCarthy argues that it was “professional jealousy, insecurity, and the memory of being ignored by Moore in Dublin” that fuelled Joyce’s early antagonism toward Moore. Five savage sentences in “The Day of the Rabblement” dismiss Moore’s past career and condemn his new Irish phase as having “no kind of relation to the future of art” (CW 70–1), and Joyce’s contempt reaches a focus in his letters to Stanislaus between 1904 and 1906, which are peppered with abuse of Moore’s texts, especially those from which he “borrows” in Dubliners and Portrait, such as The Untilled Field (“damned stupid” [LII 71]; “silly, wretched” [LII 111]), Celibates (“[Nora] said Moore didn’t know how to finish a story” [LII 78]), and The Lake (“I see nothing” [LII 162–3]).

McCarthy argues that Joyce retained this bitterness well into his career, with his attitude only softening in the 1920s when his reputation was assured, allowing him to make several respectful gestures toward the aging Moore (see JJ 617–18, 618n). However, it appears that Joyce’s attitude toward Moore had shifted considerably before this, as the 1907 Trieste lecture on Ireland compliments Moore as “an intellectual oasis in the Sahara” of the English novel (CW 114). As part of the reconsiderations of Ireland and the Irish that allowed him to write “The Dead,” Joyce realized that the basis of his envy toward Moore—that the older man had done it all before him—could be turned to his advantage if he treated Moore’s career as an...



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