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George Moore and literary censorship : the textual and sexual history of John Norton and Hugh Monfert

Llewellyn, Mark and Heilmann, Ann (2007) George Moore and literary censorship : the textual and sexual history of John Norton and Hugh Monfert. English Literature in Transition, 50 (4). pp. 371-392.

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Abstract

In lieu of an abstract, here is a preview of the article. "Just as I believe that the worst of all sins is bad writing," George Moore is reported to have said when questioned about his habit of rewriting, "so I believe that the highest virtue is found in corrections, in an author's revisions. If you wish to estimate the true value of an author's art, study his revisions." 1 While this valorisation of the redrafting process could be seen as evidence of Moore's concern primarily with style, this essay suggests that, for Moore, rewriting or reworking an earlier version of a text constituted an attempt to reconcile his artistic vision with a form of self-imposed, though often unacknowledged, literary censorship. As Moore was an obsessive rewriter, to understand his art it is essential that the textual history of a particular work also be understood. For this reason, we will focus attention on Moore's rewritings, from the 1880s to the 1920s, of his psychological dissection of an ascetic Catholic aesthete, called John Norton in the early narratives, rechristened Hugh Monfert after the turn of the century. As a result of extensive processes of revision undertaken over the course of forty years, the original narrative undergoes a profound transformation in both its sexual and textual configurations. Presented as a naturalist case study of psychosexual aberration in the early novel A Mere Accident (1887) and in "John Norton" (1895), the central, novella-length story in Moore's collection Celibates, the text becomes a tale of expressly homosexual repression in the two versions of the story "Hugh Monfert" ( In Single Strictness, 1922; revised edition, 1923). Moore's revisions provide an illuminating insight not only into his writing practice, but also into his conflicted engagement with the concept of censorship. [End Page 371] By placing his rewriting of the Norton story into the context of his anticensorship polemic Literature at Nurse, Or Circulating