Academic journal article ARIEL

The Fourth Master: Reading Brian Moore Reading James Joyce

Academic journal article ARIEL

The Fourth Master: Reading Brian Moore Reading James Joyce

Article excerpt

In the opening chapter of James Joyce's masterpiece, Ulysses (1922), Stephen Dedalus speaks with Haines, that "ponderous Saxon," who is an ethnologist of the Irish language studying at Oxford (4). While standing atop Martello Tower, Dedalus muses, more to himself than to Haines, that he is the servant of three masters: the imperial British state, the holy Roman catholic and apostolic church, and colonial Ireland (17). For Dedalus, these three masters stifle his creativity and frustrate his understanding of what it means to be a writer. In a similar manner, Brian Moore deeply admired James Joyce but, like other writers of his generation who were grappling with Joyce's ghost, he also needed to escape from the long shadow of this powerful 'fourth master'. Much of Irish fiction in the latter twentieth-century echoes with Joyce, and this is particularly true of the early novels that Brian Moore wrote in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Moore, who grew up in Northern Ireland, wrote twenty novels before his sudden death in 1999, and he is best known for such work as The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1955), The Emperor of Ice-Cream (1965), Catholics (1972), Cold Heaven (1983), Black Robe (1985), and his final novel, The Magician's Wife (1997). An uncommonly prodigious writer, Moore also wrote a number of short stories, a brief documentary on Canada, and several screenplays, most notably Torn Curtain for Alfred Hitchcock. As a young man Moore served in the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) in Belfast during the Blitz and then he joined the British Ministry of War Transport. After VE Day he served in Poland with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Association until, in 1947, he was made redundant and moved to Canada. From the beginning of his career, Moore viewed Joyce as a hero not only for his literary genius but also for his ability to reinvent himself through peripatetic exile. It is, of course, perilous to state that one author categorically influenced another author because to do so is to ignore the miasma of experience that swirls around any writer's life. During the early years of World War II, for example, while Moore was still living in Belfast, he was reading Yeats, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dostoevsky, and a number of socialist broadsheets. While these influences are significant and should not be discounted, it was nevertheless Joyce who dominated Moore's imagination and influenced his early fiction in ways that other writers did not.

In a letter to his brother dated 18 September 1906, Joyce declared that, "I am not a literary Jesus Christ" (Ellmann 231). Indeed, yet on some level he does seem to have 'saved' Brian Moore from, as Moore saw it, the bigotry and hopelessness of the North. In fact, what Moore learned about the Joycean motif of exile and internationalism enabled him to undermine the expectations placed on him as a writer. It is even possible that Moore's passion for internationalism and the varied identities that are associated with a rootless writer may have been promoted by his early admiration for Joyce.

Admittedly, Moore's teenage interest in Ulysses was fueled by the salacious reputation of the text as well as his father's intractable opinion that "James Joyce is a sewer" (Carlson 112). In spite of these aesthetic pronouncements--or perhaps because of them--Moore was fascinated with Ulysses and it is worth quoting at length his first experience with the text because it illuminates his feelings at the time. In an article that Moore wrote entitled "Old Father, Old Artificer" he remembers his introduction to Ulysses:

    In 1939 when I was eighteen years old I was invited to spend the
    weekend at the house of parents of a boy I had known in school.
    Browsing through the bookshelves, I discovered, hidden behind some
    innocent titles, the two-volume Odyssey Press edition of Ulysses,
    published in Hamburg, Paris, Bologna, and bearing the warning: Not
    To Be Introduced Into the British Empire Or the U. … 
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