A lasting impression: George Moore in France
The writer left the country he loathed when he was 18 to move to Paris, and became a key figure in the city’s artistic community
Moore’s appraisals of late 19th-century painters indelibly marked art criticism. He quoted Monet saying “How like Manet was to his painting.” What Manet saw, Moore wrote, “he stated candidly, almost innocently . . . The word ‘unashamed’ perhaps explains Manet’s art better than any other.”
“Still today, most writings about Degas quote George Moore,” said Isabelle Enaud-Lechien of the University of Lille: “For example, that he viewed nudes through the keyhole; that dancers were a pretext for drawing.”
In his keynote address on George Moore, Maud Gonne and the Dreyfus affair, Adrian Frazier recounted the ugly role played by the father of Gonne’s children, Lucien Millevoye, whom Frazier described as “a bizarre, detestable, larger-than-life human monster”.
A deputy in the national assembly and the owner of the anti-Semitic newspaper La Patrie, Millevoye actively campaigned against Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish French army captain who was falsely convicted of selling French military secrets to Germany.
Frazier called Zola’s “J’Accuse!”, in which the writer denounced the framing of Dreyfus, “The greatest headline and greatest piece of polemical journalism ever written”. Zola was found guilty of treason and went into hiding in England, where Moore visited him.
In Paris in the summer of 1898, Moore asked his friend, the painter Jacques-Émile Blanche, to organise a dinner with Maurice Barres, the right-wing writer who said he “deduced Dreyfus was guilty . . . from his race”. Moore got up during dinner, Frazier recounted, “grabbed Barres and threw a napkin in his face, then left the room. Monsieur and Madame Barres said they would never again accept an invitation to dine with George Moore.”
Frazier believes that Moore’s subsequent falling out with members of the Celtic Revival was rooted in his disgust with the anti-Semitic, conservative, Catholic nationalism espoused by Barres, Millevoye and Gonne – who sought to spread the same ideas in Ireland.
“George Moore’s explosive encounter at Blanche’s dinner table with a certain kind of French republicanism is a prelude to Moore’s experience when he came to Ireland,” Frazier said.
Moore was a lifelong, unabashed Francophile. “Everyone must go to France. France is the source of all the arts,” he wrote. “Inquire and you will find that whoever seems a little more distinguished than his fellows, whoever wears some passing air of distinction in the world of letters, has been to France.”
But as Frazier points out, Moore “was really recommending one France in place of another France; Zola’s France in place of the France of Barres and Millevoye.”