Brian Moore, novelist and screenwriter who is acclaimed for the descriptions in his novels of life in Northern Ireland after World War II, is born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on August 25, 1921. He has been described as “one of the few genuine masters of the contemporary novel.”
Moore is born into a large Roman Catholic family. His father, James Bernard Moore, is a prominent surgeon and the first Catholic to sit on the senate of Queen’s University Belfast. His mother, Eileen McFadden Moore, a farmer’s daughter from County Donegal, is a nurse. His uncle is the prominent Irish nationalist, Eoin MacNeill, founder of Conradh na Gaeilge and Professor of Irish at University College Dublin. He is educated at St. Malachy’s College, Belfast. He leaves the college in 1939, having failed his senior exams.
Moore is a volunteer air raid warden during World War II and serves during the Belfast Blitz in April and May 1941. He goes on to serve as a civilian with the British Army in North Africa, Italy and France. After the war ends he works in Eastern Europe for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration.
In 1948 Moore emigrates to Canada to work as a reporter for the Montreal Gazette, and becomes a Canadian citizen. While eventually making his primary residence in California, he continues to live part of each year in Canada up to his death.
Moore lives in Canada from 1948 to 1958, where he meets his first wife, Jacqueline (“Jackie”) Sirois, a French Canadian and fellow-journalist. They marry in 1952. He moves to New York City in 1959 to take up a Guggenheim Fellowship and remains there until his divorce in October 1967. He then moves to the west coast of the United States, settling in Malibu, California, with his new wife Jean Denney, a former commentator on Canadian TV. There he teaches creative writing at UCLA.
Moore writes his first novels in Canada. His earliest novels are thrillers, published under his own name or using the pseudonyms Bernard Mara or Michael Bryan. His first novel outside the genre, Judith Hearne, remains among his most highly regarded. The book is rejected by ten American publishers before being accepted by a British publisher. It is made into a film, with British actress Maggie Smith playing the lonely spinster who is the book/film’s title character.
Other novels by Moore are adapted for the screen, including Intent to Kill, The Luck of Ginger Coffey, Catholics, Black Robe, Cold Heaven, and The Statement. He co-writes the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock‘s Torn Curtain, and writes the screenplay for The Blood of Others, based on the novel Le Sang des autres by Simone de Beauvoir.
Some of Moore’s novels feature staunchly anti-doctrinaire and anti-clerical themes, and in particular he speaks strongly about the effect of the Church on life in Ireland. A recurring theme in his novels is the concept of the Catholic priesthood. On several occasions he explores the idea of a priest losing his faith. At the same time, several of his novels are deeply sympathetic and affirming portrayals of the struggles of faith and religious commitment, Black Robe most prominently.
Moore dies at his Malibu home, which is celebrated in Seamus Heaney‘s poem Remembering Malibu, on January 11, 1999 from pulmonary fibrosis. His widow, Jean, lives on in the house until it is destroyed in 2018 in the Woolsey Fire.
At the time of his death, Moore is working on a novel about the 19th-century French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud. His last published work before his death is an essay entitled “Going Home.” It is a reflection inspired by a visit he made to the grave in Connemara of his family friend, the Irish nationalist Bulmer Hobson. The essay is commissioned by Granta and published in The New York Times on February 7, 1999.
In 1996, the Brian Moore Short Story Awards is launched by the Creative Writers Network in Northern Ireland and is open to all authors of Irish descent. Previous judges have included Glenn Patterson, Lionel Shriver, Carlo Gébler and Maeve Binchy.
In 1975 Moore arranges for his literary materials, letters and documents to be deposited in the Special Collections Division of the University of Calgary Library, an inventory of which is published by the University of Calgary Press in 1987. His archives, which include unfilmed screenplays, drafts of various novels, working notes, a 42-volume journal (1957–1998), and his correspondence, are housed at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.