The Untilled Field
With an Introduction by Richard Allen Cave
21.6 x 13.8 cm. xxxiv, 225 pp. 1903, and revised by Moore in 1926, and 1931.
This edition first published in 2000
Bubbling with enthusiasm for the revival of Gaelic in Ireland, George Moore suggested to the Gaelic League that it should publish a translation of a modern work that children might study in school and that artists might imitate and so begin a new tradition of Gaelic Literature. It was a sensible idea that was delayed at first for want of agreement within the League over a suitable text. Spurred on by his friends, Moore himself then set about writing some tales of Irish life for this end. They were translated by Taidgh O’Donohue and published in 1902 in the New Ireland Review. Later a collection of these and more stories appeared under the title An T-Úr-Gort, Sgéalta; a version of this, reworked by Moore in English as The Untilled Field, followed in 1903. It proved subsequently the one of his works that pleased Moore best for its affectionate portraits of Irish rural life.
Though modelled initially on Turgenev’s Tales of a Sportsman, the stories soon became original inspirations woven out of Moore’s memories of the peasants who lived and worked on his family estate in Mayo. Moore took as his theme the pathos of their existence: the bleakness; the imaginative, cultural and emotional austerity that compelled many, often whole parishes, to emigrate and leave their homes in ruins; the indefatigable resilience of those who stayed and endured; and the fragile consolations offered by their religion. The painfulness of his subjects he offset by the gentle humour of his treatment. Moore’s antipathy to the Catholic clergy was soon to become notorious but the tragi-comic plight of the parish priest who finds his power and moral authority undermined by the poverty of his parishioners and the cunning they develop in order to survive provokes in these tales some barbed satire but much compassion and amusement. The delicacy of discrimination, the emotional control that reveals Moore’s understanding and pity through a technique of powerful understatement is unusual in his work and unusual too in the tradition of Irish fiction.
Moore once wrote of The Untilled Field: ‘It is a dry book and does not claim the affections at once.’ But Moore was wrong: level and dispassionate in tone it may be, but the book is one of the richest and most perfectly written of his works and the depth of feeling that went into its composition is evident throughout.
This new printing of the text of the 1931 edition also contains the texts of ‘In the Clay’ and ‘The Way Back’ which Moore omitted from that edition. It has an Introduction by Richard Allen Cave.