Although at present George Moore is mostly remembered for his masterpiece, Esther Waters, he was one of the most influential and versatile Anglo-Irish writers of the turn of the 19th century. Moore is known today as a leading propagator of Naturalism in English and Irish literature, but he was also a Modernist in his rebellion against Victorian mores and conventions. He contributed to the Irish Literary Renaissance and to the development of the Irish National Theatre. His novels and short stories provoked controversy due to their frank presentation of gender relations, sex, prostitution, adultery and homosexuality. Helmut E. Gerber wrote that as a critic “Moore played a significant role in preparing the way for T. S. Eliot, John Crowe Ransom, and in general, the position that has become associated with the label New Criticism.”(286)

Moore's literary career was most intense between 1883 and 1903. In this period he published eleven novels, two collections of short stories and art criticism. His early novels drew heavily on Flaubert, Zola, Huysmans and the Goncourts.


In 1883, Moore published his first novel, A Modern Lover, which was a major departure from the Victorian conventions of novel writing. It was a realistic portrayal of a second-rate painter's amoral life although the novel's erotic descriptions are tactfully confined to mere handclasps and kisses. The book was originally rejected by Bentley and Sons, but was eventually printed in three volumes by the publisher William Tinsley. Although the novel received positive reviews, it was soon removed from circulating libraries because it was accused of immorality. As Milton Chaikin observed:

A Modern Lover, on the whole, is a synthetic product, which gives evidence of ingenuity in joinery work and of unblushing derivativeness. It will not stand up under scrutiny. But it does have historical importance, in the fact that it introduced French methods of fiction to England: minute examination of detail, brilliant evocation of scene, contrived methods of development, attention to pattern, consciousness of language, psychological realism, and exposure of the obscure corners of man's being. [269]

His second novel,A Mummer's Wife (1884, dated 1885), which reveals the influence of Zola's novels, particularly, L'Assommoir, Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary, and Miss Braddon's The Doctor's Wife, is generally considered the first Naturalist novel in English literature. It recounts the fate of Kate Ede, a seamstress, who deserts her asthmatic husband Ralph, and elopes with the manager of a travelling opéra bouffe. She becomes his mistress and then wife, who plays lead roles in operas, but gradually deteriorates and dies as a miserable alcoholic in a London slum. The novel raised the topical issue of men’s victimisation of women. The circulating libraries also put the book on their black list because of its frank presentation of a woman's sexuality. In protest, Moore published a pamphlet, Literature At Nurse(1885), in which he ridiculed the prudery and self-imposed censorship of the circulating libraries. Moore objected to the belief that realist novels might exert a harmful influence on young female readers.

Published before George Gissing's Odd Women, A Drama in Muslin (1886) deals with the uncertain fates of Anglo-Irish upper-class young women during the period of agrarian agitation in rural Ireland in the 1880s, who, having no other prospects in sight, turn to marriage as the only feasible vocation for them. Mrs Barton, the mother of two unmarried daughters, represents traditional Victorian ideas about marriage and gender roles, which Moore, like New Woman writers, strongly criticises.

A woman is absolutely nothing without a husband: if she does not wish to pass for a failure she must get a husband: and upon this all her ideas should be set. (...) Keep on trying, that is my advice to all young ladies: try to make yourselves agreeable, try to learn how to amuse men. Flatter them; that is the great secret; nineteen out of twenty will believe you, and the one that doesn't can't but think it delightful. Don't waste your time thinking of your books, your painting, your accomplishments; if you were Jane Austens, George Eliots, and Rosa Bonheurs, it would be of no use if you weren’t married. A husband is better than talent, better even than fortune, without a husband a woman is nothing; with a husband she may rise to any height. Marriage gives a girl liberty, gives her admiration, gives her success; a woman's whole position depends upon it [137].

However, the elder daughter Alice rebels against her mother and decides to pursue a career of an artist outside of her native Ireland, which suffers from great poverty and social intertia. Moore describes persuasively the physical and intellectual awakening of the female protagonist, who has many affinities with the heroines of the New Woman fiction. The subordination of women to men in the patriarchal family and the anachronistic society draws on the novel by Olive Schreiner, The Story of an African Farm, which Moore read with a great appreciation. (Heywood 42-53)

A Drama in Muslin refracts Moore's firsthand observations of the Mayo community in which he grew up, and contains allusions to marriage, motherhood, and same-sex relationships among the unmarried daughters of the Anglo-Irish gentry. For a present-day reader, the most interesting theme in the novel is perhaps Moore's ambivalent view of gender identity, which he also presented in his short stories and autobiographies.

Moore's subsequent novels mark a gradual departure from Naturalism towards symbolism and mysticism. In 1886, Moore spent summer holidays in Southwick, a village outside Brighton, writing his new novel, A Mere Accident (1887), which recounts the story of an ascetic young man, strongly attracted to the church, modelled on his cousin Edward Martyn, who succumbs to a beautiful woman. Mike Fletcher (1889) deals with a Don Juan character, a writer and womanizer, who persuades a nun to leave a convent in order to become his lover. The novel has some autobiographical elements. Following Eduard Dujardin, Moore occasionally employs the interior monologue technique in the novel.

Published in 1894, Esther Waters is regarded as Moore's best and most successful novel. It had over twenty-five editions and was translated into several languages during Moore's life. Set in England, the novel recounts a young servant girl's seduction and her struggle to rear her son to decent manhood. The novel reveals Moore's awareness of the vulnerability of unprivileged Victorian women and his knowledge of the lifestyles of the lower classes. Although the novel draws chiefly on Zola and Flaubert, it is also indebted to the emerging New Woman fiction. Esther Waters portrays a rebellious lower-class heroine who defies Victorian double sexual standard which imposed repressive rules for women’s sexuality and allowed relative sexual freedom for men.

The later novels of George Moore, such as Evelyn Innes (1898) and its sequel, Sister Teresa (1901), are complex psychological studies which mark his departure from Naturalism to Symbolism, and also his growing interest in Wagner's music, which attracted many admirers in England at that time. In 1905, Moore published The Lake, which was another early experiment in the interior monologue technique in English fiction. Moore had learned it not only from the fiction of Edouard Dujardin, but also from Wagner's use of musical motifs. The novel recounts the story of Father Oliver Gogarthy, who lacks vocation and cherishes secretly an illicit love for a wayward woman.

Dujardin also turned Moore's attention to Biblical subjects. (Cordasco 246) In 1916, Moore published The Brook Kerith, a novel which rewrites the story of Jesus, who does not die on the cross, but goes into a coma and is restored to life by Joseph of Arimathea.

Short Stories

Moore's prodigious output includes a number of short stories which are no less significant than his major novels. In 1895, he published his first collection, Celibates, which deals with such themes such as repressed homosexuality, lesbianism, and transvestism. In 1903, Moore published The Untilled Field, which is now regarded as the first significant collection of Irish short fiction. The stories bear the influence of Ivan Turgenev's nostalgic and elegiac style and offer a realistic representation of Ireland. The vision of Ireland and the Irish presented in the book paved the way for James Joyce to write Dubliners. In 1918, Moore published A Story-Teller's Holiday, which included “The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs,” a curious cross-dressing story of a woman who passes herself off as a man working as a waiter in an opulent Dublin hotel for the upper classes in the 1890s. In 2011, the story was made into a film, starring Glenn Close, and directed by Rodrigo Garcia.

Moore constantly revised an rewrote his works. For example, Esther Waters was revised at least three times, in 1899, 1917 and 1920. (Gettmann 541)

Autobiographer and Iconoclast

George Moore contributed significantly to the development of autobiography. He published four fictionalised autobiographies, in which he blended “the essay, anecdote, poetry, straightforward factual narration, invented dialogue, and reverie to create a distinctive and original form of autobiography.” (Eakin and Gerber 48)

In 1886, he published Confessions of a Young Man, which was a successful experiment in self-conscious writing begun by Laurence Sterne in Tristram Shandy and developed in the 20th century by James Joyce and Vladimir Nabokov. Moore projects an image of himself that consists of self-parody and overt and sincere self-analysis. The book is also a parody of Victorian autobiography (Grubgeld xi) and presents the author as an avid reader who hides poems by Byron and Shelley from his stern Catholic teachers and tries to redefine the values of life and art for himself. His next autobiography, Memoirs of My Dead Life (1906), is a collection of amusing reminiscences. Hail and Farewell! (Ave, 1911, Salve, 1912, and Vale, 1914) is a trilogy about the Dublin years, described as “a mixture of inaccurate autobiography, malicious gossip, and prejudiced criticism,” but also “a work of unmistakable genius.” (Langaker and Bolles 205)

In 1887, Moore published Parnell And His Island (1887), a collection of satirical essays and reminiscences, originally written in French for Le Figaro, in which he presented his opinions about Ireland and the Irish. Conversations in Ebury Street (1924) is a collection of essays in which Moore analyses a number of English novels, including Anne Brontë, Elizabeth Gaskell, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy and Joseph Conrad. To the present-day reader the book offers an interesting and personal record of Moore's literary likes and dislikes.


Among his numerous artistic interests, Moore was also interested in the theatre and wrote several dramatic plays which are less significant than his novels, short stories and autobiographies. His first play, in verse, Martin Luther: A Tragedy in Five Acts (1879), was never produced. In 1893, he wrote The Strike at Arlingford, which was produced by the Independent Theatre, founded in London by Jakob T. Grein. Moore assisted William Butler Yeats, Lady Gregory and Edward Martyn in founding in 1899 the Irish Literary Theatre, whose tradition was later continued by the famous Abbey Theatre. He collaborated with Yeats in writing Diarmuid and Grania (1901), which contained “Wagnerian motifs accommodated to Irish legend.” (Blissett 65) Next he reworked Edward Martyn's The Tale of a Town into The Bending of the Bough(1900), but later after a quarrel with Yeats, he withdrew from the Irish National Theatre Society and the Abbey Theatre.

In his later years, Moore dramatised Esther Waters (1911) and wrote a comedy, Elizabeth Cooper (1913), and The Coming of Gabrielle (1920), but the effects were not satisfactory.

Artist and Art Critic

George Moore's father, apart from being an Irish landlord and politician, was an amateur painter, and he may have inspired his eldest son to become an artist. Moore, as he admitted in Hail and Farewell! was also motivated to become a painter by his voyeristic interest in women.

I am penetrated through and through by an intelligent, passionate, dreamy interest in sex, going much deeper than the mere rutting instinct; and turn to women as a plant does to the light, as unconsciously, breathing them through every pore, and my writings are but the exhalation that follows this inspiration. [182]

George Moore did not achieve any recognition as a painter, but in the 1890s, he became a well-known and influential art reviewer alongside Arthur Symons, Edmund Gosse and George Saintsbury. He contributed regularly art reviews, particularly to the Bat and later to the Speaker. A selection of these articles was published in Impressions And Opinions (1891) and in Modern Painting (1893), which was an early introduction to French impressionist painting.

References and Further Reading

Blissett, William F. “George Moore and Literary Wagnerism”, Comparative Literature, 13.1 (Winter 1961): 52-71.

Brown, Malcolm. George Moore: a Reconsideration. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1955.

Cave, Richard A. A Study of the Novels of George Moore. Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe; 1978.

Chaikin, Milton. “The Composition of George Moore's A Modern Lover,” Comparative Literature, 7.3 (Summer 1955): 259-264.

Cordasco, Francesco. “George Moore and Edouard Dujardin,” Modern Language Notes, 62.4 (April 1947): 244-251.

Cunard, Nancy. Memories of George Moore. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1956.

DiGaetani, John Louis. Richard Wagner and the Modern British Novel. Cranbury: New Jersey: Associated University Presses, Inc., 1978.

Dunleavy, Janet E. George Moore in Perspective. Naas: Malton, 1984.

Farrow, Anthony.George Moore. London: Prior, 1978.

Frazier, Adrian.George Moore, 1852-1933. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000.

Gerber, Helmut E. “George Moore: From Pure Poetry to Pure Criticism”, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Critic, 25.3 (Spring, 1967): 281-291.

Gettman, Royal, A.“George's Moore's Revisions of The Lake, “The Wild Goose,” and Esther Waters,” MLA, 59.2, (Jun., 1944): 54-555.

Grubgeld Elizabeth. George Moore and the Autogenous Self. The Autobiographies and Fiction. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1994.

Heywood, Christopher. “Olive Schreiner's Influence on George Moore and D. H. Lawrence, ” in Christopher Heywood, ed.,Aspects of South African Literature. London: Heinemann, 1976.

Hone, Joseph. The Life of George Moore. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1936.

____. The Moores of More Hall. London: Jonathan Cape, 1939.

Hughes, Douglas A., ed. The Man of Wax: Critical Essays on George Moore. New York: New York University Press, 1971.

Lagerfeld, Robert (compiler). George Moore, an Annotated Secondary Bibliography of Writings About Him. New York: AMS Press, 1987.

Owens, Graham, ed. George Moore's Mind and Art. New York: Barnes and Noble, 1968.

Mitchell, Susan L. George Moore. Dublin & London: Maunsel & Co. Ltd. 1916. Also available at

Moore, George. Esther Waters. 1894. Introduction by David Skilton. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

____. Confessions of a Young Man. (1916) London: William Heinemann, reprinted 1952; also available at

___. In Minor Keys: The Uncollected Short Stories of George Moore. Introduction by David B. Eakin and Helmut E. Gerber. New York: Syracuse University Press, 1985.

___. Literature at Nurse, Or Circulating Morals: A Polemic on Victorian Censorship. 1885. Ed. by Pierre Coustillas. Brighton: Harvester, 1976.

___. George Moore on Parnassus: Letters (1900-1933) to Secretaries, Publishers, Printers, Agents, Literati, Friends, and Acquaintances. Edited by Helmut E. Gerber and O. M. Brack, Jr. Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1988.

___. The Collected Short Stories of George Moore [5 vols.]. Ed. by Ann Heilmann and Mark Llewellyn. London: Pickering & Chatto, 2007.

Pierse, Mary, ed. George Moore: Artistic Visions and Literary Worlds. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2006.

Schwab, Arnold, T. “Irish Author and American Critic: George Moore and James Huneker.” Nineteenth-Century Fiction, 8.4 (Mar., 1954): 256-271.

Sessa, Anne Dzamba. Richard Wagner and the English. London: Associated University Presses, 1979.

Starkie, Enid. From Gautier to Eliot: The Influence of France on English Literature, 1851-1939. London: Hutchinson, 1960.

Last modified 5 July 2012