Moore is born in Moore Hall, near Lough Carra, County Mayo on February 24, 1852. He comes from a distinguished Catholic family of Irish landholders. When he is 21, he leaves Ireland for Paris to become a painter. His Reminiscences of the Impressionist Painters (1906) vividly describes the Café Nouvelle-Athènes and the circle of Impressionist painters who frequent it. He is particularly friendly with Édouard Manet, who sketches three portraits of him. Another account of the years in Paris, in which he introduces the younger generation in England to his version of fin de siècle decadence, is his first autobiography, Confessions of a Young Man (1888).
Deciding that he has no talent for painting, Moore returns to London in 1882 to write. His first novels, A Modern Lover (1883) and A Mummer’s Wife (1885), introduce a new note of French Naturalism into the English scene, and he later adopts the realistic techniques of Gustave Flaubert and Honoré de Balzac. Esther Waters (1894), his best novel, deals with the plight of a servant girl who has a baby out of wedlock. It is a story of hardship and humiliation illumined by the novelist’s compassion. It is an immediate success, and he follows it with works in a similar vein: Evelyn Innes (1898) and Sister Teresa (1901).
In 1901 Moore moves to Dublin, partly because of his loathing for the South African War and partly because of the Irish Literary Revival spearheaded by his friend, the poet William Butler Yeats. In Dublin he contributes notably to the planning of the Abbey Theatre. He also produces The Untilled Field (1903), a volume of fine short stories reminiscent of Ivan Turgenev’s writing that focuses on the drudgery of Irish rural life, and a short poetic novel, The Lake (1905). The real fruits of his life in Ireland, however, come with the trilogy Hail and Farewell (Ave, 1911; Salve, 1912; Vale, 1914). Discursive, affectionate, and satirical by turns, it reads like a sustained monologue that is both a carefully studied piece of self-revelation and an acute, though not always reliable, portrait gallery of his Irish acquaintance, which included Yeats, George William Russell, and Lady Gregory. Above all it is a perfectly modulated display of the comic spirit.
The increasing narrowness of the Irish mind, politics, and clericalism sends Moore back to England in 1911. After Hail and Farewell, he makes another literary departure. Aiming at epic effect he produces The Brook Kerith (1916), an elaborate and stylish retelling of the Gospel story that is surprisingly effective despite some dull patches. He continues his attempts to find a prose style worthy of epic theme in Héloïse and Abélard (1921). His other works include A Story-Teller’s Holiday (1918), a blend of autobiography, anecdote, Irish legend, and satire, Conversations in Ebury Street (1924), autobiography, The Pastoral Loves of Daphnis and Chloe (1924) and Ulick and Soracha (1926), an Irish legendary romance.
George Moore dies at his home at Ebury Street in the London district of Belgravia on January 21, 1933, leaving a fortune of £70,000. He is cremated in London at a service attended by Ramsay MacDonald among others. An urn containing his ashes is interred on Castle Island in Lough Carra in view of the ruins of Moore Hall, which had been burned by anti-treaty forces in 1923, during the final months of the Irish Civil War.