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News Release — October 5, 2000

Ransom Center Acquires Archive of Artful Novelist Brian Moore

The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin has acquired the archive of the Irish-born Canadian novelist Brian Moore (1921-1999). Until his recent death, Moore was widely regarded as one of Canada's greatest living authors. His novels The Doctor's Wife (1976), Black Robe (1985), and Lies of Silence (1990) were each shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Moore later penned the screenplay for the highly successful film adaptation of Black Robe.

"Brian Moore is one of the most artful novelists of the past thirty years. We're thrilled to be home to his literary archive," said Thomas F. Staley, Director of the Ransom Center. "While he may have been under-appreciated by the American public, Moore's critical reputation was hardly surpassed. We feel his work will be of growing interest to scholars in the years to come."

Included in the Moore papers now at the Ransom Center are working notes; early, intermediate, and final drafts; and, corrected proofs for much of his published work. The archive includes various versions of ten novels, including The Doctor's Wife, Lies of Silence, Cold Heaven (1983), and The Color of Blood (1987). Also present are drafts and typescripts of several published screenplays and playscripts, including fourteen drafts of Black Robe. The successive drafts provide excellent insight into Mooreƕs creative process.

In addition to these drafts, the archive also contains the author's original journal, in 42 volumes, dating from 1957 to 1998; a large collection of correspondence, with letters from publishers, editors, fans, critics, and fellow writers such as Joan Didion, Julian Barnes, Seamus Heaney, and Brian Friel; and various original documents and personal effects relating to Moore's life.

Known for his succinct prose, insight into human failings, and engaging, unpredictable plots, Moore was hailed by the New York Times as "one of the most intelligent and accessible contemporary novelists." He was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1921 and grew up as a member of the strife torn city's Catholic minority. At a young age, Moore rejected his religious upbringing, and after completing military service during World War II, emigrated to Canada. Moore's experience as an expatriate is readily apparent in his protagonists, who are often restless failures eager to escape the tedium of lower middle-class life. According to Time magazine, Moore's expatriation "produced a special talent for pungent portraiture of those Irish men and women who are, as James Joyce put it, 'outcast from life's feast': desperate spinsters, failed priests, drunken poets." This is especially evident in Moore's early novels, Judith Hearne (1955), The Feast of Lupercal (1957), The Luck of Ginger Coffey (1960), and The Emperor of Ice-Cream (1965), all tales of downtrodden characters rebelling against the closed society of Northern Ireland.

Moore's disavowal of Catholicism, and his subsequent fascination with it, also played a large role in shaping his fiction. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Moore said, "I am not a religious person, but I come from a very religious background. Always in the back of my mind I've wondered what if all this stuff was true and you didn't want it to be true and it was happening in the worst possible way?" In many of Moore's novels, particularly later works such as Cold Heaven (1983), Black Robe (1985), and The Color of Blood (1987), characters are forced to reconsider the strengths and deficiencies of their religious views. Often, they experience a desolate nothingness, though just as frequently non-believers find themselves comforted by a priest's counseling.

The frequent thematic shifts in Moore's novels earned him a deserving reputation for being a writer whose work often transcends genre classification. As Moore once said, "I find it interesting to lull the reader into a sense that he's reading a certain kind of book and then jolt the reader about halfway through to make him realize it's a different kind of book. That is not a recipe for best-sellerdom; it's just the opposite." Such dramatic shifts work to full effect in Black Robe and The Color of Blood, novels that begin as straightforward action-thrillers before developing into complex examinations of politics and theology.

Through these shifts, Moore deftly develops the plot, always managing to ratchet up the readers' interest. As Joyce Carol Oates observed, Moore's novels are "prized for their storytelling qualities and for a wonderfully graceful synthesis of the funny, the sardonic, and the near tragic; his reputation as a supremely entertaining 'serious' writer is secure."

Though his readership remained modest in the United States, Moore maintained a substantial following in Canada and Great Britain. In addition to being shortlisted for three Booker Prizes, Moore received a "ten best books of 1983" citation from Newsweek for Cold Heaven; a Sunday Express Book of the Year Prize in 1988 for The Color of Blood; and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Times in 1994. Moore died in 1999. His final book, published in 1998, was The Magician's Wife.

 

 

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