In the novel The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, Brian Moore closely examines the theme of alcoholism and its effect on the protagonist Judith Hearne. Moore highlights Hearne’s loneliness in the novel, which appears to be the source of her alcoholism. Although Moore seems to address Hearne’s addiction to alcohol as a psychological problem, he hints that her alcoholism is also a physiological disease. Although Hearne starts drinking in order to sooth her cough, she uses alcohol to escape from her emotional problems afterward, as alcohol can cheer her up and make her feel better. It seems that her drinking problem is merely a mental problem, but we then see her suffering from withdrawal symptoms, which shows that she cannot function normally without alcohol (Milam and Ketcham 66). Since Moore presents Hearne’s alcohol problem as both physiological and psychological, he creates a feeling of realism in the novel. Thus, the depiction of alcoholism in The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is complete and realistic. In the beginning, Hearne starts drinking because alcohol can relieve the pain that she suffers from bronchitis. The role of alcohol for her, however, changes gradually; although she still thinks that her use of alcohol is medicinal (115), she uses it to escape from her problems in life. She says, “It made sad things seem funny, and if you were feeling down at the mouth, or a little lonely, there was nothing like it for cheering you up” (114). Without a family, friends, and a man, she feels lonely and dissatisfied with life. She thinks that the reasons for her unhappiness and loneliness are beyond her control, as her youth has already passed away and she will not be able to get married now. She feels sad because her dream in the past of getting married to Mr. Right has now proven to be unrealistic, and so she says, “I need something to cheer me up” (114). Since alcohol can alter her mood and make her see problems through another view, she overdoes her drinking so that she will be fully under its influence. Although Hearne still uses alcohol to ease her pain, she mainly uses it to solve her emotional problems and make her feel less lonely. Since alcohol can make Hearne feel better, she uses it excessively to cheer herself up when problems come along. When Mr. Madden appears in her life, she thinks that her dream of getting married will finally come true. Hearne thinks that Mr. Madden is the perfect man for her, as she thinks that he knows a lot about life since he owns a hotel in America. She starts dreaming that she will marry to him and they will live in New York City together. Yet, when she discovers that Mr. Madden is only a doorman from her landlady, Mrs. Rice, she feels insulted and ashamed, as she thinks that her deceased aunt would think that he is too common for her. Moore skillfully uses the third person limited narration in describing Hearne’s inner struggle. He describes the imaginary conversation between Hearne and her aunt, and that Hearne is trying to defend herself by saying, “Yes, and what’s wrong with that [marrying Mr. Madden even though he is only a doorman]” (97). She tries to convince herself that she is right; yet, the more she thinks about it, the more she feels confused and nervous. So she decides to use alcohol to calm herself down at the end. Moore ends up this scene with, “Warmed, relaxed, her own and only mistress, she reached for and poured a tumbler full of drink” (99). This description of Hearne’s feeling after she drinks clearly shows that she uses alcohol to solve her emotional problems. Another example is the scene when Hearne visits Moira after Mr. Madden rejects her. The first time Hearne gets rejected by Mr. Madden, she goes to talk to Moira and Moira offers her a Sherry. She says, “I need it, I’m upset, I’ve had a very upsetting day” (146). Also, after Mr. Madden turns her down the second time, she tells Moira, “You’ve got daydreams instead and you want to hold on to them. And you can’t. So you take a drink to help them along, to cheer you up” (200). These two scenes clearly show that Hearne drinks because it helps her to forget the reality that she is living in so that she would feel better about her life. Although Moore seems to highlight Hearne’s emotional problems as the main factor that is responsible for her drinking problem, he implies that she also suffers from alcoholism. In Under the Influence Dr. Milam says, “At every stage the disease itself prevents the alcoholic from realizing that he is addicted to alcohol” (95). Moore chooses to use the third person limited narration in describing Hearne’s inner thoughts about her use of alcohol. In this manner, he portrays Hearne as a victim of alcoholism, which implies that alcoholism is a physiological disease as well as a psychological problem. The excerpt presented below shows that Hearne denies the fact that she is an alcoholic. It also shows how Moore uses the narrative voice to elucidate Hearne’s inner thoughts about her alcoholism to the readers: She did not drink to put aside the dangers and disappointments of the moment. She drank to be able to see these trials more philosophically, to examine them more fully, fortified by the stimulant of unreason. (107) Besides excusing herself from drinking excessively, Hearne also thinks that she has control over alcohol with her willpower. For example, after she discovers that Mr. Madden was actually a doorman, she uses alcohol in order to help herself calm down. She says, “I must have something to stop it (the cough), something to stop it, to cut the phlegm. I must. Just a little one, it won’t be more, I promise Thee, O Scared Heart” (98). Despite the promise she makes, she finishes the whole bottle and gets very drunk. Again, this shows her denial of being an alcoholic and also implies that she thinks she can control her consumption of alcohol. As the events of the novel proceed, it becomes obvious that Hearne is indeed an alcoholic. Moore uses the third person narration to describe her different stages of alcoholism. After Hearne gets drunk the first time after she has stopped drinking excessively for six months, the narrator describes the scene when she first starts drinking tonic wine with Edie. This scene illustrates her consumption of alcohol increasing: she first drinks a bottle of tonic wine with someone, and then she starts drinking a big bottle of whiskey all by herself. According to Dr. Milam, tolerance of alcohol is caused by, “physiological changes which occur primarily in the liver and central nervous system” (Milam and Ketcham 56). In other words, Hearne’s improved ability to tolerate large amounts of alcohol is because she is responding to the physiological changes that are inside her (Milam and Ketcham 57). Later in the novel, she also suffers from the “withdrawal syndrome,” a disruption in the brain’s chemical and electrical activity of the alcoholic’s body after she stops drinking (Milam and Ketcham 64-65). After drinking for the whole day and then not for several hours, Hearne feels nauseated, weak, nervous, and she does not even know she was singing the whole time when she was drunk. These are all symptoms of the early and middle-stage alcoholic experiencing the “withdrawal syndrome,” which also shows that she now depends on alcohol in order to function. Her symptoms of withdrawal become more severe after she is forced to leave her room in Camden Street, as she drinks even more excessively since then. She experiences a hallucination in church, which according to Dr. Milam, is a later withdrawal symptom an alcoholic would suffer when drinking heavily for long periods of time and then stopping. Hearne’s behavior after she drinks excessively presents the reader the image of an alcoholic that is described by Dr. Milam. Although Moore suggests that she drinks mainly because of her emotional and mental problems, he also suggests views of alcoholism that are similar to Dr. Milam’s. For example, Hearne experiences different stages of alcoholism, such as only experiencing a hallucination at the later stage of alcoholism. Hence, Hearne’s cause of alcoholism is not only because she lacks the willpower to stop drinking, but also because the disease itself prevents her from stopping. Moore’s choice of depicting Hearne’s alcoholism as both emotional and physiological problems brings a more complete and realistic image of the nature of this disease, as opposed just presenting one or the other. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is an excellent example of illustrating how literature can present the devastation of a disease without directly telling the facts and the nature of the disease. While a factual book of alcoholism tells us the realities of the disease through scientific research and statistics, a piece of literature, just like The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, can convey the same message more powerfully. Literature can arouse our sentimental feelings toward the character, thus making us aware of the disease on an emotional level.Works Cited James R. Milam, Ph.D., and Katherine Ketcham. Under the Influence-A Guide to the Myths and Realities of Alcoholism. Bantam edition. New York City: Bantam Books, 1983. Brian Moore. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. 2nd American edition. Boston: An Atlantic Monthly Press Book, 1955.
Brian Moore’s novel was first published in 1955, first titled as Judith Hearne, after it had been denied by ten American publishers. They felt like “it was too depressing, and the woman was not attractive, and she was religious” (Hartill 136). Despite its reluctant initial welcome, the novel became extremely popular with its audience since they could identify with its unusual heroine. The story follows the protagonist, Judith Hearne’s journey, who tries to follow the strict rules of Catholicism while being a single, middle-aged woman. In addition, she has to struggle with alcoholism, which ruins her reputation, and she has to confront the fragility of her faith. The story is set in Belfast, following the end of the Second World War, in the 1950s. In the following, I explore the Catholic faith’s pressure on society and the lack of genuine belief in the mainly Protestant Northern Ireland through The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne.
To have a better understanding of the novel and the circumstances of its creation, it is essential to be aware of the author, Brian Moore’s view of Catholicism and Ireland in general. All of his family were Catholics, except his grandfather, who was originally Protestant. His father was the chief surgeon in Belfast’s biggest Catholic hospital, while his mother came from Donegal, from the Republic (Hartill 134). His childhood in Belfast in the 1920s and 1930s was not easy, the Great Depression left the city with poverty, unemployment, strict religion and class hatred (Hartill 131). He attended a Roman Catholic secondary school, which he used to call a “priest factory” (Hartill 131). Since the school was in a predominantly Protestant area, it was really important that their students performed better than the Protestant pupils. To achieve the required results, the children were constantly caned and beaten. Moore still remembers this treatment with anger, and says that they “weren’t really taught anything” (Hartill 132). When asked about the religious side of the school, he said that there are people who are simply naturally not religious, and he is one of them. He was in a state of ‘sin’ when he made his first communion, since he could not possibly tell his sins to a priest (Hartill 132). This made him question religion at a young age and when he started “fudging it in confession and [he] was told it was a mortal sin” he decided it was a lot of nonsense (Hartill 132). It is not surprising that many people are somewhat shocked when they learn that he is a ‘Catholic’ writer (Hartill 132). According to Jo O’Donoghue, the biggest difference between Moore and other ‘Catholic’ writers is that his focus is on Catholic society rather than spirituality (O’Donoghue 12). What is more, he also lacked two fundamental elements that are typical of these writers: “a very skeptical attitude towards free will” and “a sense of inevitability of sin” (O’Donoghue 12). In his very first novel, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, which he wrote “after years of struggle”, he expressed his “personal bitterness” towards Northern Ireland and Catholicism, and as Jo O’Donoghue says, he used this bitterness as a means of making a political statement (Kiberd 583; O’Donoghue 4).
Being a part of the Catholic minority in Belfast had its toils on its members. Being the world’s fifth largest industrial cities, Belfast was the centre of the industrial north, which meant it was strongly tied to Britain (Cleary 86; 87). The fact that the population’s great majority were Protestants meant that the hostility to Catholicism was quite severe. For this reason it was hard for Catholics to separate their political lives from their religious and the oppression only increased with the institutional Catholicism’s tendency to dominate the lives of it adherents in every possible way (Rafferty 99; 100). All of these factors serve as a base for The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. As Jo O’Donoghue says, it is a anti-Catholic novel, since “religion, far from liberating or empowering Judith Hearne, is the power that enslaves [her]” (O’Donoghue 3). Judith’s faith is not based on free will and her own personal belief; it is more the pressure of society and the following of her aunt’s attitude towards religion. When Miss Hearne and Mr Madden go to Mass together, both of their religious attitudes are described. She mentions that sometimes she was not a religious person, since she could not make interest in the Children of Mary or the decoration of altars (Moore 66). She avoided these since her aunt D’Arcy said that “[p]rayer and rigorous attention to one’s religious duties will contribute far more towards one’s personal salvation” and it was better to avoid the ladies who “devote themselves to God and His Blessed Mother” (Moore 66). This passage clearly indicates the insincerity of her faith with a mixture of snobbery, which her aunt passed on, even though it might have been good for Judith, who had no friends, to meet new people (O’Donoghue 18).
According to Jo O’Donoghue, the external look was crucial to the Catholic Church at the time as well. The church promoted people arriving to Sunday Mass in large numbers, praying on their knees (O’Donoghue 18; 19). Tom Inglis gives an explanation to this in his book Moral Monopoly: The Rise and Fall of the Catholic Church in Modern Ireland. He believes that Irish Catholics wanted to become equals with Protestants who had dominated them for a long time, so “worshipping in large, ornately furnished churches” was necessary for the growth of the Catholic Church in the first half of the twentieth century (Inglis 247). Several examples from the novel confirm the superficialness of the Catholic faith. During the first Mass Judith attends in the novel, Father Quigley scolds those who arrive late and leave early, and is mad that people do not come to church during the week. What is more, he is also mad that people spend their money on the cinema, clothes and cigarettes but do not have money for the church (Moore 71; 72). This clearly shows that the church wished to control every part of peoples’ lives, including what they spend their money on, where they go in their free time or even what they wear. There is also a slight threat in his speech, which is rather similar to the one the author heard as a child in connection with his confession. The priest says that if people do not have enough time for God, then God will not have enough time for them either. O’Donoghue also mentions that devotionalism also included the establishment of a personal relationship with a saint (O’Donoghue 19). In Judith’s case, it is the Sacred Heart, who she takes everywhere she goes and is her “guide and comforter” (Moore 66).
The character of Judith Hearne is a rather weak and uneducated one. Due to this, she would probably fail in any society, however Brian Moore created her as a product of the Catholic Irish society (O’Donoghue 6). She cannot express herself, cannot follow her free will since she lacks it, she does as she was taught and what is expected from a respectable Catholic woman: go to Mass every Sunday, do your Easter duty once a year, say your prayers and suppress every sexual desire. Jo O’Donoghue claims that Judith’s poverty and lack of knowledge of herself is the other reason why she cannot have real belief (O’Donoghue 15). When she says that “religion was there: it was not something you thought about”, it is clear that only a person shaped by society from their childhood can have this sort of thinking (Moore 67). A person with real belief and free will would have a closer and more profound relationship with God, a better understanding of their faith. Judith believed if she always said her prayers and did her duty just like she was taught to do, her prayers would be answered. This blind faith and her complete devotion to the Sacred Heart is what leads to her final failure. When her expectations towards Mr Madden are not met she turns to alcohol. Her outrageous behavior while intoxicated ruins her reputation and makes her the talk of the house where she stayed, and when the landlady, Mrs Henry Rice, could not stand her behavior any longer Judith had to leave. She demands a sign from God and expects the Sacred Heart to give her answers or some advise. Once she realizes that her demands will not be met and not even Father Quigley can help her, actually does not even pay attention to her confession, her faith in the Catholic religion completely crumbles.
Tom Inglis also mentions the importance of the mothers to the Catholic Church in Ireland. He believes that without the Irish mother the Church’s “rigorous moral discipline could not have been attained” (Inglis 249). She represented the Church at home, she was the embodiment of Our Lady, she had to oversee the “moral conduct of her husband and children” (Inglis 249). Inglis drew parallels between the mother figure and the Church: both maintained the power in their own environment, the mother at home while the Church in wider society. Both did the dirty work to take care of the members of their society, looked after the sick, the old, the young and the distraught (Inglis 249). The main mother character of the novel is Mrs Henry Rice. Even though most readers might find her personality rather annoying, she almost perfectly fits the typical Irish mother that has been previously described. Tom Inglis mentions that mothers slaved for their husband and son (Inglis 249). This is true of the relationship of Mrs Rice and her adult son, Bernard. She does everything for him, almost acts like he is incapable of doing basic things so that she has to do them for him. This includes washing his hair or bringing breakfast up to his room so he does not have to go down to the dining room. She also mentions on more than one occasion that his “Bernie’s a little delicate” and should not work hard and just take his time (Moore 12). By doing everything for him, he became dependent on his mother, she had control over him, just like the Catholic Church had control over their members. Even though Mrs Rice did not have more children, her behavior towards her residents bears similarities with the expected mother-child relationship. She always makes sure that her residents behave in a proper way, that their moral conduct is appropriate. Once she realizes that Miss Hearne is an alcoholic, and that her son was in a sexual relationship with Mary, the maid, she throws both women out, since she cannot have two sinful persons live under her roof. She also demands that Bernie goes to the confessions, and tells him that Holy Communion and Mass would do him good (Moore 208).
It was the mother figure who helped the Church with the segregation of the sexes as well: “the lack of physical contact between bodies, the denial of emotional expression, the ridicule and teasing about affection…partly accounts for the awkward distance between the sexes in Ireland” (Inglis 249). This embarrassment towards expressing any physical affection or creating contact with a man is part of Judith Herane’s personality. It seems like she feels extremely awkward around men, even around Bernard, especially when she thought he was staring at her. What is more, when she is out with Mr Madden at the pictures she feels like he is way too forward when he calls her Judy and puts his hand on hers. This repression of her sexuality was the expected behavior from her, and it was probably her aunt who taught her this, following the Church’s ‘instructions’. This type of social awkwardness made every human interaction very difficult, so it is not that surprising that Judith did not have a husband. Tom Inglis even says that this lead to formal and cold relationship between husband and wife in Ireland (Inglis 249).
Even though Judith Hearne’s character would be doomed to failure in every society, the Catholic community of Belfast, that Brian Moore was so familiar with, made sure she ends up defeated. The strict and oppressing rules and expectations of the Roman Catholic Church in Northern Ireland, their need to control every aspect of their adherents’ lives ruined Judith’s chances of a normal life. She was too weak and was robbed of her free will, so having real faith was impossible for her. The open ending of the novel gives a chance to the reader to create their own ending for Judith Hearne. However, I believe that even if she is able to heal from her nervous breakdown, their is nothing left for her, not even the fake belief that she had throughout her life.
Moore, Brian. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne. London: Harper Perennial, 2007.
O’Donoghue, Jo. Brian Moore: A Critical Study. London: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1991.
Tom, Inglis. Moral Monopoly: The Rise and Fall of the Catholic Church in Modern Ireland. Dublin: University College Dublin, 1998. http://www.anovasofie.net/vl/countries/ireland/docs/01/irl_01_01_moral.pdf. Accessed 3 April. 2018.
Kiberd. Declan. Inventing Ireland. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995. https://archive.org/stream/inventingireland00decl. Accessed 1 April. 2018.
Hartill, Rosemary. Writers Revealed: Eight Contemporary Novelists Talk about Faith, Religion and God. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1989. https://archive.org/stream/writersrevealed00hart#page/n5/mode/2up. Accessed 1 April. 2018.
Cleary, Joe. Outrageous Fortune: Capital and Culture in Modern Ireland. Dublin: Field Day Publications, 2007. https://books.google.hu/books. Accessed 4 April. 2018.
Rafferty, Oliver P.. “The Catholic Church and the Nationalist Community in Northern Ireland since 1960.” Éire-Ireland, Volume 43:1&2, Earrach/Samhradh / Spring/Summer 2008, pp. 99-125. Irish-American Cultural Institute. https://doi.org/10.1353/eir.0.0011. Accessed 3April. 2018.