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George Moore's The Lake: Repetition, Narcissism, and Exile JEFFREY MALKAN The Lake is a novel about exile which not only celebrates the decision of its protagonist to leave the country of his birth, but one which supports his decision to leave the priesthood as well. The loss of nationality and vocation, paradoxically, is affirmed by Moore to be a rediscovery of commitment and faith. This mirror-like reversal, in which things are found to be the opposite of what they appear to be on the surface, is signified in the text by the novel's central image of the lake. The metaphor of the lake as a repeating and reversing mirror, in turn, represents the major psychological and political theme of the novel: the intimate relationship between narcissism and exile. The source of the novel's plot is the lake named by the title, Lough Carra, in a remote district of County Mayo. Father Oliver Gogarty pensively circles its shore in the book's opening chapters as he contemplates an error of judgment. After having driven the music teacher out of his parish by denouncing her from the pulpit for becoming pregnant out of wedlock, he is stricken with remorse, and now he fears that she has drowned herself. While questioning his motivations, he gradually comes to realize that his harshness originated in sexual jealousy. This in turn leads him to reexamine his vocation. What called him to the priesthood? In reviewing the beginnings of his career, he remembers only a naive spirituality conjoined with the desire to be original. Yet, looking at his present life, he finds his work and faith grounded now in dull routine rather than inspiration. The spiritual texts that he read in the seminary have given him a career bogged down in clerical politics-roofing churches, building bridges, administering sacraments to superstitious peasants. This might have been tolerable if there were any vestige of spirituality in his vocation to compensate for its lack of originality, but the religious texts that Gogarty so revered as a seminarian have themselves been contaminated, becoming more estimable for their monetary than their spiritual value.1 In short, Gogarty discovers to his dismay that his vocation is neither original nor inspired. When he receives a letter from an Irish priest in London informing him that the music teacher, Nora Glynn, has turned up safely, he is relieved of anxiety about her death.2 But he cannot put her out of his mind. He learns that she is now traveling with an English writer, Mr. 159 Malkan: 'The Lake': Repetition, Narcissism, Exile Ralph Poole, who has taken her with him to the Far East where he is researching a book of "higher criticism" about the historical origins of Christianity. Meanwhile Father Gogarty is growing increasingly discontent with his life as a priest, and estranged from his parish. At last, having realized that he cannot sustain the conflict between his manhood and his vocation, Gogarty finds a means of escape: he plunges into the lake at midnight and swims across, leaving his priest's garments on the shore. His people will think he drowned. When he emerges on the opposite shore, he will board a train and depart for the journey to New York to begin a new career as a writer. The novel's inward movement (and the hero's deepening sensibility) is represented by the inward plunge from surface to depth through which Gogarty imitates (repeats and reverses) the suicidal plunge into the lake which he suspected Nora had taken. At the beginning Gogarty feared that Nora had drowned herself-that she was in the lake literally . Later, when he is tempted by despair, he thinks of drowning himself in the lake, and finally at the end he escapes only by immersing himself in the lake's waters and swimming to freedom. But on the last page of the novel, after Gogarty has escaped from the lake, we are told that he still carries it within himself (in his heart). Paradoxically, he discovers the lake in his heart while he is surrounded by water on a steamer in mid-ocean, so the question of whether the lake is inside...


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pp. 159-169
Launched on MUSE
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Will Be Archived 2021
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