We first meet the eponymous heroine of Brian Moore’s novel The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (1955) shortly after she has moved into her new lodgings. As she carefully unpacks a silver-framed photograph of her Aunt D’Arcy and a religious image of the Sacred Heart, we sense her misgivings about ‘the condition of the bed-springs, the shabbiness of the furniture and the run-down part of Belfast in which the room was situated’.
Judith Hearne is an unmarried, middle-aged woman living on precarious means in the 1950s. Both Miss Hearne (as she is always known) and the boarding-house have seen better days, but she does not dwell on her reduced circumstances for long. She takes pride in her neat appearance, devout Roman Catholicism and grammar-school education. The sparse furniture in her rented room can be moved to hide the stains, and her two pictures are comforting talismans: ‘When they’re with me, watching over me, a new place becomes home.’
Belfast is the setting for this modern classic about self-delusion, spiritual crisis and an awakening to a new truth. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne made its author famous and put the city on the world literary map. For the latter part of the twentieth century, however, Northern Ireland was a place associated with bitter conflict, not bleak social comedy. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a peaceful seaside town there, but when I first read Moore’s novel in the 1980s, Belfast had long been ravaged by the Troubles. Perhaps it was because of this that Bruce Beresford’s 1987 film of the book relocated the story to Dublin. Maggie Smith and Bob Hoskins are excellent actors, but the book’s essential Northern Irish geography is missing.
Brian Moore was born in 1921 and grew up in Clifton Street, then an affluent part of Belfast close to busy Royal Avenue. His father was a prominent surgeon and the first Catholic to be appointed to the Senate of Queen’s University; hi
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