A Modern Lover

I love George Moore.  And, one of the things I love most about him is how infuriating he is. I know if I met him in real life, I’d hate him.  Like, really hate him.  But mediated by print, his bluster and contradictions and self-promotions are fascinating and his ideas, because of their imperfections, point to something truly interesting even, at times, inspiring.  I think it’s because I long for stable structures that I don’t want to blow up, and Moore just blows up everything.

Re-reading Moore’s first novel, A Modern Lover, I’m struck by how much Lewis Seymour is a type.  He’s decidedly second-rate, but women (some that are decidedly first-rate) work hard, often invisibly, always unacknowledged to make him successful. Like Nino from the Ferrante novels, he networks entirely through women who remain unaware (until they’re not) of the networks in which they’re entrapped.

I resist the urge to read biographically because Moore’s biography–although important–is unstable and shifting and, like his novels, often fiction.  But (prob. because I’m not-so-secretly cataloguing hilarious descriptions of Irish men’s bodies) I’m struck by his descriptions of Lewis Seymour’s body and how it parallels descriptions of Moore’s body. As Moore puts it: “the weak but delicately featured face was beautiful: the too developed hips gave a feminine swing to his walk” (87).  Each description of Lewis Seymour works this way–it marks him as beautiful but also weak and effeminate. And, in the novel, women love it (until they don’t).

Descriptions of Moore’s body also emphasize how womanly it is (but not his beauty.  Lady Gregory called him a “boiled ghost!”).  Yeats juxtaposes him with J. F. Taylor’s clean, logical lines, declaring that “Moore’s body was insinuating, upflowing, circulative, curvicular, pop-eyed” (283). Elsewhere, someone (I don’t remember the location), talked of Moore’s feminine shoulders and, I think, his hands (don’t quote me on this, and maybe it was Moore’s description of his own body).

This highlights a central contradiction in Moore’s work.  He’s so good at describing and drawing attention to women’s constrained social roles, but he also relentlessly reproduces these constraints by doubling down on patriarchy (see the end of the wonderful “Albert Nobbs”) by having womanly men get ahead by using women. In his novels, androgyny and gender play usually only work one way: men can be womanly, but women are women and, ultimately, should stay women.  Being ‘womanly’ can be another way to exploit women.


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