The Untilled Field

…so to speak. Meaning, a beginning, a tabula rasa, signs on a white field. And, yes, George Moore’s 1903 collection of short stories, quite possibly the best thing he ever did, even including his amused and scurrilous memoirs Hail and Farewell (1911). Certainly it is hard to surpass the poignant dissection of nostalgia that is ‘Home Sickness’, a excoriating but finally forgiving examination of the contradictions of always living in one place and longing for another, cutting a sharp silhouette of American-Irish relations and opening an illumination into the appeal of the ‘Ireland’ formed in the mind’s eye. Following Bryden from the bar-room in New York’s the Bowery to the west of Ireland and back again, it is a testament to the illusory but irresistible powers of the imagination, here cast as restlessness. Bryden leaves New York for a place more vision than memory, makes a home in Cork and is on the point of marrying Margaret, who looks at him with ‘a woman’s soul’ out of ‘soft Irish eyes’. But anything of romantic cliche in the narrative is culled as he remembers the obedience and passivity of the country and its people, and simply abandons her for accents and trains and politics, the smell of the bar-room. Feeling in the city ‘the thrill of home’ Bryden marries; but we learn from two final surgical paragraphs that, on retirement, his children gone and wife dead, he returns, hopelessly, in mind, and can see only a memory of Margaret, and a persistent landscape of green hillside, bog lake and rushes, and ‘behind it the blue line of wandering hills’. The untetherable, capricious nature of human consciousness is nowhere better described.

The priests, spoiled priests, and farming families populating in these sensitive stories, with all their frustrations and glimpses of joy, were a huge source for Joyce’s Dubliners and for Frank O’Connor’s own scrupulous Corkmen, as O’Connor himself identified in his provoking analysis of the short story, The Lonely Voice (1963). Moore’s exquisite volume deserves to be better known: if it is an uneven patchwork, veering just occasionally towards an unconvincing Kiltartan dialect, at moments it reaches the heights of Turgenev and the best Russian short stories, and remains in the memory longer than most collections of the next hundred years. It is available in a recent cheap paperback edition from Colin Smythe, with a comprehensive introduction by Richard Allen Cave.

George Moore, The Untilled Field. 1903. Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 2000. intr. Richard Allen Cave. xxxiii + 224 pp. £7.99

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~ by thebicyclops on July 2, 2008.

2 Responses to “The Untilled Field”

  1. Hi, this is a comment.
    To delete a comment, just log in, and view the posts’ comments, there you will have the option to edit or delete them.

  2. hi adiran! it’s amy cutler and i’ve lost my phone and i’m sitting with shauna planning on going to the turf quiz tonight. some hardcore stalking of you led us to this webpage…if you’re imterested it’s at 8.30 but best to get there at 8. I bet having you on our team would make the difference between winning and losing

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