“There is an unchanging, silent life within every man that none knows but himself.”
I was introduced to this story as part of the Irish Writers in London Summer School at London Metropolitan University. George Moore (1852–1933) was himself an Irish writer in London for much of his life and this story deals with the eternal topics of leaving home, exile, ageing and the idea of return. It is also about love.
The story is structured like a road movie. At the beginning, James Bryden is in New York, where he has been for 13 years. He works at a bar in the Bowery but he is ill and his colleague suggests he take a break, go back to his native Ireland for few weeks.
When he returns, Bryden lodges with tenants he used to know on the demesne of a big house. He is troubled by his home place’s decline into poverty and dereliction, and the resignation and banal talk of his neighbours. He misses the vibrant life he had in New York, albeit cold, albeit in a slum, often recalling the smell of the barroom where he worked.
His health improves as he begins to settle into the life of his old townland, rowing on the lake and fishing. He happens to strike up a relationship with a local woman and they get along well. He encourages and finances parties in people’s houses because he wants to be with her.
Word reaches the local priest who takes a dim view and intervenes to stop this American “moral contagion”. The woman says she will have to marry Bryden if they are to continue, and he agrees. Then a letter comes from New York asking when he will come back. What will he do?
You can read the story and my intro at Scratch Books – Classic Stories.
Photo: George Moore by Edouard Manet (ref: public domain)