Friday, February 1, 2013

The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne; Brian Moore

Title: The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne
Author: Brian Moore
Publication Year: 1955 / 2010
Publisher: New York Books Review Classics
Edition:  Trade

Source: purchased
Setting: Belfast 
Date Completed: February - 2013 
Rating: 5/5 
Recommend: yes

Set in 1950's Belfast, The Lonely Passion of Miss Judith Hearne was originally published in 1922, and was even made into a movie in 1987.

Who is Judith Hearne and what's her story?  She's a lonely, 40-something never married woman who was raised to set her sites on wealthy men. However, her life circumstances, of having cared for her Aunt Darcy coupled with her rather plain looks finds her now living on a small annuity left to her by her aunt.  Judith's also a religious woman, who carries her fair share of guilt.  Her only friends are the O'Neil family who are never as anxious to see her as she is to see them - referring to her as the "great bore". In addition, Judith appears to have moved around a bit since her aunt died, and as the novel begins she has just moved into a room in lodging house. 

"After she had arranged the photograph so that her dear aunt could look at her from the exact centre of the mantelpiece,  Miss Hearne unwrapped the white tissue paper which covered the coloured oleograph of the Sacred Heart.  His place was at the head of the bed, His fingers raised in benediction, His eyes kindly yet accusing.  He was old and the painted halo around His head was beginning to slow little cracks.  He had looked down on Miss Hearne for a long time, almost half her lifetime." 

The landlady, Mrs. Rice  and her creepy, perverted adult son, Bernie, with his "long blond curls" are a couple of odd ducks. The mother washes her grown son's hair and waits on him hand and foot.  When Mrs Rice's brother, James Madden returns from the US and decides to stay with his sister at the lodging house a while, Judith has strange imaginings that he may be the man for her.  She reads much more into their interactions than is actually there, and soon she realizes things are not working out as she hoped. 
To assuage her guilt and fill her need for human contact she goes to church, and even there she's alone. She finds the church empty except for the priest. After confessing to Father Quigley,  he quickly dismisses her, leaving Judith to begin questioning her faith. Even sadder and lonelier than before, she starts drinking once again, and things quickly spiral out of control. 

"A drink would put things right,. Drink was not to help forget, but to help remember, to clarify and arrange untidy and unpleasant facts into a perfect pattern of reasonableness and beauty.  Alcoholic, she did not drink to put aside the dangers and disappointments of the moment.  She drank to be able to see these trials more philosophically, to examine them more fully, fortified by the stimulant of unreason."  

This was such a well-written book. It was just over 200 pages, however, I found myself reading this one very slowly.  Every detail was so easy to visualize, from descriptions of the rooms, the church, clothing, mannerisms, I felt like I was in each room with each character.  I couldn't help but feel sorry for Judith; she's one of those characters that will stay in my mind for a long while. 

Read this book. It's not only well done, the cover of the New York Review Books Classic Edition (2010)  is just fabulous.


  1. I find it interesting that this was written in the 1920s and set in the 1950s but doesn't have a sci-fi feel. It sounds excellent!

  2. Sorry Kathy -- sticky fingers here -- that should have been first published in 1955 not 1922.

  3. Diane, your review helped me to remember this classic book, at least in part. It sounds as if I should read it again!

  4. One of my all time favourites and it just happens to be set here in Belfast! If you haven't seen the film I would highly recommend it, Maggie Smith is fabulous as Judith.

  5. After your Tuesday Intro post last week, I had a feeling this one would be a winner!!

  6. I will look for it - I love books you just sit and savor.

  7. I have never heard of this title, it sounds interesting!

    Was this published in 1922, and set in the future (1950's)? I might see if the movie in on netflix!

  8. Hey, great review. You made it sound both realistic and unutterably creepy. Will definitely put this movie (Maggie Smith, really?) on my bucket list and will pick up the book as well, since it sounds lovely: slim and NY-Review-of- Books lovely.

  9. Ooh, I've got this one on my shelf! Have had it for a couple of years, actually - SO GLAD that when I do open it, it will be marvelous :-)

  10. This is the first I've seen of this one. It looks great, well, sad but good, I guess :)

  11. A rating of 5/5? Definitely adding it to my list. My library doesn't carry it, but I'll see about getting it from Barnes & Noble. I've added the movie to my Netflix queue, as well. Love that cover art!

  12. Oh, I love books I can savor while I visualize the settings and the characters. This one sounds like one I should read! Thanks for sharing....


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