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A Reassessment of George Moore's Achievement in The Brook Kerith HAROLD OREL University of Kansas IF EVER a novel renounced the techniques or tricks of the Victorian novel, The Brook Kerith surely did, with its long blocks of unindented text, its refusal to use quotations marks, and its "melodic line." George Moore hated what he considered to be the failures of Charles Dickens and most of his contemporaries (though he excepted George Eliot for having written The Mill on the Floss). He whimsically imagined Tolstoy, after having completed War and Peace, waking in the middle of the night and remembering that he had not included a yacht race, "and another night when he awoke screaming: Ί forgot high Mass'." Moore believed in the story, and rejected ideas as "worthless" and "pernicious." "Things," he wrote to John Eglinton in 1927, "are the only good."1 This new style, which began with surprising self-assurance in The Unfilled Field (1903) and was further developed in the texts οι The Lake, Heloïse andAbélard, andAphrodite inAulis as well as The Brook Kerith, has evoked a mixed reaction among critics. Janet Egleson Dunleavy likes it: "In his last works Moore showed that he had learned to combine the perceptions of composer, painter, and writer as he painted with words; he had found ways to make the idea of the interrelationship of the arts serve his own artistic purpose."2 A. Norman Jeffares, speaking of The Brook Kerith specifically but obviously relishing the late development in Moore's career as a whole, writes: The Biblical imagery and rhythms add to the epic quality of the story; it is simple and the narrative unfolds effectively, action, description, thought and speech blending in a pattern which provides variation and tension as well as information and reflection. It is easy to read, and it reads aloud superbly; it is spacious, dignified and captivating, an example of the supreme flexibility of the art of a story-teller whose essential seriousness of artistic purpose is enlivened 167 ELT: VOLUME 34:2, 1991 by the subtle humour and by the inconsequential trivia which give to the novel its feeling of concrete detail. . . .3 Jeffares continues by quoting an excerpt from a single paragraph that runs on for some eight hundred words, an act which seems to be an obligatory exercise for hterary critics attempting to convince readers that Moore's prose must be read in bulk before its virtues will fully manifest themselves. But Moore's contemporaries expressed reservations, even witheringIy negative judgments. George Bernard Shaw complained, "I read about thirty pages of The Brook Kerith. It then began to dawn on me that there was no mortal reason why Moore should not keep going on like that for fifty thousand pages, or fifty milhon for that matter. .. ."4 Shaw may not have reached page thirty-one. Even so, it is unfair to suggest that Moore, like Tolstoy, had little or no sense of necessity of discriminating between major and inessential data within a fiction. Shaw, however, was not alone in his disdain. William Butler Yeats believed that Moore in his later years misunderstood his powers; that charm and rhythm had been denied him; that Moore had "pumice-stoned every surface because will had to do the work of nature."6 This development, Yeats believed, led to a barren style. To such charges an explanation of Moore's intentions will not serve as adequate rebuttal, but some consideration of where the melodic line originated seems desirable. Moore identified several originals. He recalled a long sentence that he had written in French in his dedicatory epistle to The Lake (1905), describing the Seine and the poplars and the swallows "flying low over the water," and he admired its suitability (despite its length) for later books: "And so it was to come about that I was to find an Enghsh style in French." He also acknowledged Wagner's musical pattern, after hearing Tristan a third time. Was it possible, he asked himself, to weave a story from start to finish out of one set of ideas, each chapter rising out of the preceding chapter in suspended cadence always, never a full close?6...


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pp. 167-180
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