Brian Moore’s Eponymous Heroines

Representations of Women and Authorial Boundaries

by Dorota Filipczak (Author)
©2018 Monographs 162 Pages
Series: Dis/Continuities, Volume 19


This feminist study is an innovative reassessment of Brian Moore’s five novels featuring eponymous heroines. The author reviews previous interpretations, exposing their sexist bias. Highlighting Moore’s empathetic insights, she also discusses the novelist’s limitations. She compares Moore’s heroines to Flaubert’s Emma Bovary, reinterpreted by Mieke Bal, Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina revisioned by Aritha van Herk, and to female characters created by Canadian women writers. Rejecting biocriticism, the study focuses on Moore’s biblical, Victorian and modernist inspirations, and his indebtedness to film. Ideas of female thinkers illuminate the condition of Moore’s female protagonists.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One “It’s only me:” Judith Hearne
  • Chapter Two “Under the naked man:” Mary Dunne
  • Chapter Three “L’avenir n’est interdit à personne:” Sheila Redden
  • Chapter Four “There’s no room for her:” Eileen Hughes
  • Chapter Five “The veiled female in the mirror:” Emmeline Lambert
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Series index

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Scholarly monographs, like people, have their stories. This one grew out of my project which was originally supposed to concern the portrayal of female characters in the fiction of Margaret Laurence and Brian Moore. The project was enthusiastically approved by Professor Nancy Burke (University of Warsaw), the late and much appreciated founder of Canadian Studies in Poland, and Professor Hildi Froese Tiessen (Conrad Grebel College, Waterloo, Ontario), whose kind support for my Canadianist interests was invaluable.

My project won one of the five research awards launched to celebrate 25 years of Canadian Studies programs at Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Canada, which allowed me to pursue my dreams without any further delay.

Significantly, the first of many conversations with Canadian scholars I was lucky to meet was the one with Professor John W. Lennox from York University, Toronto. Supportive and thoughtful, Professor Lennox began to address my ideas for the project, and finally stated I had two projects rather than one on my hands. Determined to stick to my original idea, I went on to collect materials at various universities (University of Toronto, York University, Trent University, McGill University, University of Alberta, University of Calgary). However, Professor Lennox’s advice gradually evolved into a conviction. I set out to write my postdoctoral book Unheroic Heroines: The Portrayal of Women in the Writings of Margaret Laurence, published in 2007 by Lodz University Press in Poland. It took me a decade to finally finish the monograph on Brian Moore’s Eponymous Heroines: Representations of Women and Authorial Boundaries.

I would like to thank the scholars who helped me hone my ideas. My warmest thanks go to Sherrill Grace from the University of British Columbia for her generously insightful and supportive appraisal of this work. I also wish to thank Kevin Magee from the University of South Dakota for proofreading the text. Also, I would like to thank Jerzy Jarniewicz from the University of Łódź for encouraging me to publish this book. I need to stress again how much I still appreciate the decision of Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Canada, whose emissaries made my dream reality. Finally, and most importantly, I am very grateful to my family for their unremitting support, patience and faith in my project. This book is for Witek, Konrad, my mother and Małgorzata.

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Allow me to begin with an incident on the opening page of The Temptation of Eileen Hughes. Faced with the Assistant Manager’s blank look, Eileen’s adorer and as yet unrecognized stalker Bernard McAuley says: “What do you mean there’s no room for her” (3)? The “room” which enhances Eileen’s liminal status could also refer to the space that can accommodate her as a literary character not necessarily favored by the critics. The reason for this beginning is that when a scholar is faced with Brian Moore’s undefined and insufficiently acknowledged status as a writer, she might just as well ask: What do you mean there is “no room” for him? And this is where I start.

Having gone the long way from the fiction of Malcolm Lowry, whose portrayal of women was schematic, to the fiction of Margaret Laurence who excelled at creating female characters, I began to wonder what it was that a male writer was able to notice about women. Where did he fail, and where did he excel? How was his portrayal different from that of female writers? The phenomenon begs for attention in light of the fiction from the second half of the twentieth century when women finally began to speak about the totality of their embodied experience, which was not possible for the female contemporaries of Flaubert, Tolstoy or Ibsen for the reasons connected with a taboo on the expression of female sexual experience, and with the general lack of social and discursive empowerment. Having been born in a country where cultural representations of women have long been fueled and circumscribed by the male imaginary in literature, culture and politics, I was drawn to Moore’s fiction because of his own troubled relationship with the Irish background, which, like the Polish imaginary, has brought forth many representations of women structured by men. The fact that he might have been at odds with his background on this aspect provided me with an incentive to read him by attending to his constructions of femininity in the novels that focus on his eponymous heroines.

Curiously enough, despite his nineteen novels and huge commercial success, this writer’s oeuvre has remained undervalued. Liam Gearon states that “Moore has never achieved any primacy within any national literary canon” (ix). Gearon’s contention conveys much about his own locatedness within that part of academia that is still attached to the concept of the canon. In the History of Canadian Literature in English Linda Hutcheon comments on “an increasing suspicion even about the value and authority of literary histories in their role as creators of the so-called canon” (73). Her analysis of Canadian fiction in English ← 9 | 10 → is based on the adherence of selected novels to “the dominant modes of writing” (73). Moore appears in her chapter in the context of domestic dramas “about the decline of modern marriage and sexual politics” e.g. in The Doctor’s Wife (84). He is also present in Hutcheon’s description of writers who embrace the historical mode out of “a late post-colonial need to reclaim the past” as in The Black Robe, one of his rare novels with a Canadian setting (90). Finally, Moore is referred to in the context of fantasy when Hutcheon mentions The Great Victorian Collection, whose protagonist is a Montreal history professor, and the relevance of this detail seems crucial because the novel is set in California (94). Yet the peripheral status of Moore within Canadian literature is aptly grasped by George Woodcock who says that Moore “fits just as elusively into the pattern of Canadian writing as Malcolm Lowry” (214).

Hermione Lee, a British writer and English literature professor at the University of Oxford, said after Moore’s death: “[t]he reason he wasn’t always given his due is because people couldn’t pigeonhole him” (Smith C26). This may have been connected with Moore’s nomadic status, and not only with what Lee termed as the desire to be an “invisible” writer in whose case only the books mattered. “I’m the most unplaceable person – Moore confessed – because nobody really knows my nationality” (“An Interview in London” 67). In an article based on a conversation with Hubert de Santana, Moore admitted to feeling dépaysé in every country where he lived: “When I go back to Ireland I am not really accepted as an Irish person, and I’ve never been really accepted as a Canadian, and certainly the minute I open my mouth in America, I’m a foreigner” (46).

The above is not the only proof that Brian Moore eludes classifications. His first biographer Denis Sampson called him a “chameleon novelist” for a reason. Brought up in the divisive atmosphere of Belfast, Moore refused to side with either of the political binaries, distancing himself from the repressive legacy of Northern Ireland at its most sectarian. And yet in his books he kept returning to his homeland even if the sole purpose was to grapple with demons of the past and castigate the hypocrisy of his Catholic milieu. The son of pious parents and the brother of a nun, he eventually declared that he had left his native island because he “could not believe in God or the IRA” (Llewellyn Smith 17). In this juxtaposition he drew attention to the politicized faiths and to politics enmeshed in the religious milieu. At the same time his novels can be scrutinized for dilemmas connected with belief, as Liam Gearon’s study (Landscapes of Encounter: The Portrayal of Catholicism in the Novels of Brian Moore) persuasively demonstrates.

Born into a respectable family of a doctor and a former nurse, Moore was aware of his father’s prestige as a challenge for the three sons in a family of nine ← 10 | 11 → children (Craig 28–30). Yet despite his immense intelligence Moore suffered a defeat when he failed the final exams in mathematics at St. Malachy’s College (Sampson 36). This closed many doors to him except the one through which he was able to flee his native country, much like James Joyce, and create his own space from the ground up. In one of the interviews Moore admits that World War Two was his deus ex machina: “I was hired – on a fluke – by the British government to go as a post official to Africa” (“The Expatriate Writer” 28). After first going to Algiers, and then to Naples and Paris, he landed his next commission in Warsaw behind the Iron Curtain (Sampson 52–58). Then Moore went to Montreal where he eventually began to work as a proofreader for the Montreal Gazette (Craig 106), and soon wrote his first potboiler under a pseudonym. His ability to produce successful potboilers allowed him to finally embark on serious writing (Craig 114–117), which brought him international recognition.

A man whose first serious book, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, was banned in Ireland on the grounds of “obscenity” (Fulford 13) or “general indecency” (Carlson 113, Craig 132), Moore found freedom from such dictates first in Canada, then in the USA. He became a Canadian citizen and lived a prosperous life in Westmount, Montreal, a party thrower and social mixer (Sampson 68–76); his distance from the graduates of the Irish education system is emphasized in The Feast of Lupercal, whose hero is isolated, sexually inept and afraid of women, a legacy from the repressive all-male school resembling the one that Moore had attended. Although Canada served the writer well, he moved to New York and then found a real home in Malibu on an isolated part of the Pacific coast. In the USA he was able to savor his spectacular achievements. The tribulations of his life and career were recorded in two distinctly different biographies: one by Denis Sampson, a graduate of McGill in Montreal; the other by Patricia Craig, who shared with Moore the most important defining element, Irish roots.

The discussion about Moore’s ambiguous national identity is reflected in his correspondence and the reception of his work. In a letter dated August 27, 1962, his Canadian publisher Jack McClelland sounds worried because of his anxiety that by moving to New York Moore would gradually lose his Canadian identity. McClelland held Moore in high esteem, as is evident from his other letters (cf. dated 8th November, 1963). He used Moore as a point of reference when he supported Margaret Laurence in her literary career. Then the fact that he compared her works to Moore’s was meant as an encouragement for other publishers to appreciate her fiction (dated June 11th 1963; August 21st 1963). In Canada Moore won several important awards including the Governor General’s Award for The Luck of Ginger Coffey (“An Interview in London” 69) in 1960. When he ← 11 | 12 → won the same award for The Great Victorian Collection in 1975, it sparked a controversy in “Toronto newspaper columns,” because of the author’s tenuous connection with the adopted country (Sampson 231). And yet, the writer faithfully stuck to his Canadian citizenship, which made him ineligible for the National Book Award in the USA despite several nominations (“An Interview in London” 69). Interviewed for the Los Angeles Times in 1983, Moore admitted that he was much better known in Canada and England, where his first book was published “after being turned down by 12 American publishers” (Garry Abrams 10). In Malibu Moore found himself “asked what an Irishman who publishes in England is doing in California” (Freedman 13). Reviewing Moore’s Lies of Silence Roy Foster states explicitly: “Brian Moore, like William Trevor or Jennifer Johnston, is an Irish novelist who occupies a plateau of eminence, but unlike them he continually transcends his genre” (H7). Paul Binding seems to have found the best formula, calling Moore “one of the most considerable novelists in English today” (49). What did the writer himself say to all this?

Moore invites scrutiny from different angles; the variety of his oeuvre has inspired quite a few critical analyses which I need to duly acknowledge as the predecessors of this book. Hallvard Dahlie from the University of Calgary published his first book on Moore’s six novels in 1969, and two of its chapters were devoted to the first two eponymous heroines, Judith and Mary. Commenting on Mary Dunne, Dahlie states: “here again he is occupied with the problems of a desperate and frightened woman” (Brian Moore, 104), thus drawing attention to the exploration of emotions in Moore’s texts. Dahlie sees continuity in Moore’s oeuvre; connections, especially psychological, or intertextual ones, which I am going to show in greater detail, are certainly most important despite the apparent differences between successive novels. At the same time Dahlie’s approach consists in adopting a biocritical perspective. The characters are “facet[s]” of Moore himself (Brian Moore, 111). This is where I part ways with the critic who set the tone for the Moore criticism. Dahlie returns to Moore in another book published more than a decade later, and this is how he characterizes chronologically analyzed novels:

A different perspective is adopted by John Foster Wilson who contends that regardless of the setting of his novels, Moore “is engaged in social criticism. Society is held responsible for allowing individuals to become isolated and for victimizing them” (154). While I would agree with Foster Wilson’s comment, what connects both critics is their failure to take note of sexual difference. Moore’s women have to contend with social obstacles of a different kind, hence their different dilemmas.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (December)
Canadian literature British literature Irish literature Comparative literature Feminist criticism Film
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 161 pp.

Biographical notes

Dorota Filipczak (Author)

Dorota Filipczak teaches at the University of Łódź, Poland and has published extensively on Canadian and British writers. She founded and runs Text Matters: A Journal of Literature, Theory and Culture. She is the author of seven books of poetry and a member of the Association of Polish Writers.


Title: Brian Moore’s Eponymous Heroines
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164 pages