Academic journal article DQR Studies in Literature

"No More Than a Sketch"

Academic journal article DQR Studies in Literature

"No More Than a Sketch"

Article excerpt

George Moore's comments on the nature of art appear, at times, to provide tempting keys to his literary philosophy and clues to his novelistic practice. Some of those opinions seem to be particularly relevant to specific periods and volumes. However, from amongst his many assertions at various junctures, one might choose three that could be identified as being part of a core recipe, and those are: "no more than a sketch"; "an instinctive desire to imitate nature"; and "I probed my fancy, I dabbled in psychology."1 Since all of those quotations come from Avowals, their pronouncement at a relatively late date (1919) in Moore's writings, combined with evidence of the author's earlier fidelity to such methodology, is indicative of their relative importance. This essay will argue for the centrality of those beliefs, in whatever degree of blending, in some of Moore's striking and memorable fictional constructs, both before and after their specific articulation in Avowals. It will be noted that Moore accords primacy to the sketch, and that his imitation of nature and "dabbling" in psychology are delivered within that literary framework and with the rapid pen strokes that correspond to the visual artist's esquisse or ébauche, or to impressionist technique.2

Diagnoses by Dr Moore

Proof of the literary complexity and artistry of George Moore can be located in many places, and it can certainly be found in A Flood,7 a short tale of under four thousand words. While the origins of this story go back to 1892, and it subsequently emerged in slightly different forms in 1901, and from 1911 to 1913, attention here will focus on the book version published in a limited edition in 1930. One might judge from the repeated appearances of this story that it is one with which Moore was particularly happy. Undoubtedly, his portraiture of Daddy Lupton furnishes an example of a character who exhibits obvious signs of the author's careful construction, and yet of whom it still can be said that he is "no more than a sketch".

Daddy Lupton is the grandfather in this story and, at the conclusion of the book, the sole survivor of a flood. His first appearance is described thus: "old Daddy Lupton, awful in his nightshirt, like Death himself coming to bid him good-morning." As flood waters rise, Daddy Lupton expresses the extraordinary sentiment that the situation "makes one feel young again". The apparent explanation for this opinion is that he views this flood as the biggest "we've had these sixty years". A line later he is "babbling his recollections of a great flood of eighty years ago, in which he had nearly lost his life". There is no discernible emotion in his short account of that inundation: "All my brothers and sisters were drowned, father and mother too, but my cradle floated right away as far as Harebridge, where it was picked up by a party in a boat."4 The spotlight then switches to other members of the family but, when his son says that he "never seed the river rise so quickly afore", Daddy is heard again, with all the urgency of the pupil with the right answer, "I did. I did". The response of his son to that excessively eager intervention is to say "Go and dress 'eeself, father" since Daddy is "still in his nightshirt, and his last tooth shook in his white beard".5 While he is off stage, the reader gleans a little more, gathering that Daddy's flood stories are often repeated: his son says "Grandfather will tell 'ee that this be nothing to the floods he knew when he was a little boy".6 In Daddy Lupton's next appearance, a cameo-type one, he is juxtaposed with a glimpse of the youngest person in the house: "The baby had been laid asleep on the bed, and Daddy sat by the baby softening his bread in his mug of tea, mumbling to himself, his fading brain full of incoherent recollections."7

At this point, the story is one third of the way through and the quotations provided here make up the sum total of what is seen and heard of Daddy Lupton up to that juncture. …

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