I don’t know much about Olive Moore. She was a woman in her mid-20s from England who wrote four short books (three novels and one nonfiction) and then stopped writing. These books all came out in the late 1920s through the mid-1930s. I found her via a Goodreads post on an alternative Modernist canon.
Book 1: Celestial Seraglio 4/5 stars
This novel takes place in a Belgian convent school and the primary actors in the book are the children in the school and the nuns. There is no real appreciable plot to the book other than the general comings and goings, the friendships and heartbreaks, the weird religious lessons, and the various injustices of girlhood. It’s a really funny book too. The book starts with a lesson on faith but actually is about venality being punished in harsh and direct terms. There’s also a lot going on in the book about how sets of rules that one doesn’t really have a lot of choice in following or not have deep and grave impact on your life. You could chalk this up to a general, well life ain’t fair kind of attitude, but the book, through the eyes of the girls doesn’t agree. The general sentiment is, if you didn’t have a choice in adhering to the rules or creating them, why is it fair that you are forced to follow them? As a teacher, this principle, in general, is both familiar and fair. Students and children should have a clear understanding of the purpose and origin of rules (and by their nature rules should have an actual purpose) so they understand their importance, but like most things in childhood, rules are not understandable limits on daily living, but a series of arbitrary controls with consequences for not following but none for following.
Book 2: Spleen 4/5
This is a novel about a young British woman who gives birth to a deformed child and then goes on a self-imposed exile. She spends this exile in a kind of relative amount of guilt, shame, and distance. She feel strongly that she owes her crime/sin a certain amount of penance, but sees this almost as an exchange compared to a kind of sentence. Essentially, because she didn’t want to have the child, that she wasn’t given a lot of options regarding it once it was here, “running away” comes at a cost, but does not require her to constantly live in her own shame. In a way, she inverts the expectations of motherhood by refusing to punish herself for her own selfish choice. Selfish it is, but it’s no worse than so many men who have been forgiven for this and so she figures she’s just got to ride it out.
In that sense, this is a kind of shocking book because it clearly goes against our sense of right and wrong, but the book and perhaps the reader resists the urge to overly punish her for her choice simply because she is the easiest to punish. It becomes a mirror on our own sense of fairplay….do we punish the least powerful person guilty of a crime simply because she lacks the power to ignore our judgment? In any event, this is an interesting book because it challenges those notions.
“She had not always felt this about going up to see him and say goodnight. In the beginning it had been a comparatively easy, almost a natural task. Even when Uller was there her attitude had not changed. She had always been somewhat afraid of the darkness which fails with such remorseless certainty. Only recently had it become a menace. ”
Book 3: Fugue 3/5
Fugue reads really quickly and in a lot of ways it. A young writer is living in the border between Germany and France and her man, who has gotten her pregnant is trying to leave and she is holding on. In this novel, we again have a reversal of expectations. It’s not that our lead character works against type or character but that the narrative actually focuses on her, not as a bundle of need, not as an anchor that is dragging a good man down, and not even as an unfortunate but understandable obstacle that a man must deal with on his way out. So many novels more readily cast men as lovable scamps. Or, they give them a huge moral issue that they can grow by dealing with correctly or failing, but then redeeming.
Here’s a sampling:
“O men were gay and filled with a bright nonsense! They saw things as children saw them: for the first time; where women saw them with the old old eyes of women, nothing escaping them. It was as though men were born with new eyes, and women with women’s eyes.
Particularly at this hour the Wynstrub was loud masculine good-humour, drink, argument, and laughter. Not what she said, nor how wise, nor how foolish, but a zest that gave to the hour its charm and emphasis. Here and thus men had argued, laughed, drunk the centuries away; and would again. Inevitably at this evening hour it would be alive with such sounds; the same arguments would break, the same complaints be made, the same conclusions reached; as serious, as ribald, and as ephemeral.”
Book 5: The Apple is Bitten Again 5/5
In a book that could very easily turn out to be an annoying collection of aphorisms and musing, this collection of aphorisms and musings is actually pretty interesting and clever. Though most of the various collected thoughts are clever but youthful. You can really see the piercing wit and mind of someone who was on top of her game. It also becomes a kind sad lament on her later disappearance. She has brash opinions on art, race, men and women, and various other ideas. In addition to these different aphorisms, there are a couple of interesting essays, especially regarding her fascination with DH Lawrence, which seems like such a clear obvious choice for a precocious writer.
Here’s what it’s like:
“Civilization is the distance man has placed between himself and his excrement.”
“Selective Spirit: The same soil produces potatoes, sun-flowers, grapes. The potato root knows only how to find nourishment for being a potato. It is the selective spirit of the root which makes the artist.”
“Bitterness: To be saying now truths which one day they must come to. To know that it is a matter of days multiplied through intolerant years. To know that what they blame you for now they will not thank you for then. That is despair.”
“Distinction: Men are cunning in their works. Women in their lives.
Further distinction: Man opens his arms: women her thighs.”
“Good Clean Fun: Woman has (supposedly) so many temptations to resist. It is a pity she does not realise that Art is the most insatiable of all the vices, and resist its assault on her dishonour.”