The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore (1955)

Poor Judith. That’s the only way I can think of her. I can’t remember the last time I pitied a character in a novel as much. And it’s not because she lives alone, it’s not because her looks lean toward the unfortunate, and it’s not because she spent years taking care of her sick aunt.

It’s because she doesn’t want to be alone. It’s because she tells herself stories that she is loved by the O’Neills, who she visits every Sunday afternoon, but really they call her “the Great Bore” and only put up with her because they pity her. It is because she tries too hard to put herself in the way of the only available bachelor in her boarding house. And it’s because she’s an alcoholic who tries to cover it up by telling lies to explain her hangovers and the raucous singing taking place in her room at night. (A habit she took up to comfort herself when she felt lonely.)

She lay back on the bed and the tears were in her eyes and her whole body was shaking. She mustn’t think of it, because if she started wanting it, she’d have to have it and feel awful afterword and be sick for days. No, no, she told herself, and looked up to the Sacred Heart for strength. He looked down, wise and stern and kindly, His fingers raised in warning. No, He said, you must not do it. It would be a mortal sin.

Throughout the book, Judith questions many things, including her faith, but above all this is a story about loneliness. How does one end up so lonely? What can the lonely do about their situation? And what happens to them; can you ever become unlonely? Alcohol becomes a comfort for Judith, but so does her denial of how lonely she is. I think she exhausts herself with all her moving from one place to another to cover up her alcoholism, and her efforts to act as though she is completely fine, thank you very much.

What will become of me, am I to grow old in a room, year by year, until they take me to a poorhouse? Am I to be a forgotten old woman, mumbling in a corner of a house run by nuns? What is to become of me, O Lord, alone in this city, with only drink, hateful drink that dulls me, disgraces me, lonely drink that leaves me more lonely, more despised? Why this cross? Give me another, great pain, great illness, anything, but let there be someone, someone to share it. Why do You torture me, alone and silent behind Your little door? Why?

Judith is not all pathetic; she’s independent; she has one good friend from school that she sees from time to time (the one who taught her how to drink); she may be desperate but she’s not stupid; and she likes to read.

The rain began to patter again on the windows, growing heavier, soft persistent Irish rain, coming up Belfast Lough, caught in the shadow of Cave Hill. It settled on the city, a night blanket of wetness. Miss Hearne ate her biscuits, cheese, and apple, found her spectacles and opened a library book by Mazo de la Roche.

I was surprised by how much I liked this book, despite the gloom. There is humour, even if it’s at the expense of poor Judith. I probably would have given this book 5 stars if it hadn’t been for the rape scene which I found upsetting, and which I think the book could have done without.

There is one chapter in the book that highlights the thoughts of the other people living in the boarding house with Judith – it gives us a little peek at what they’re like, as well as what they think about Judith and the man she’s set her cap for, the landlady’s brother who has come home after many years in the United States.

Ah, but you want to see the codology that’s goin’ on these days in my digs, yon big streel of a Yank I told you about and that ould blether of a Miss Hearne, the new one that just moved in, I tell you, you never seen the like of it, one ould fraud suckin’ up to the other and the pair of them canoodling, it would turn your stomach.

And then there’s the landlady and her despicable son, Bernard…

He was a horrid-looking fellow. Fat as a pig he was, and his face was the colour of cottage cheese. His collar was unbuttoned and his silk tie was spotted with egg stain. His stomach stuck out like a sagging pillow and his little thin legs fell away under it to end in torn felt slippers. He was all bristly blond jowls, tiny puffy hands and long blond curly hair, like some monstrous baby swelled to man size.

I greatly enjoyed Moore’s characters, be they lazy, miserable, grumpy, pathetic, or kind (yes, there’s a kind woman in this book!).  Happily, Brian Moore wrote quite a few books for me to explore.

What is your favourite Brian Moore book? Have you been reading anything Irish lately?


I read this for Reading Ireland Month, hosted by Cathy at 746 Books and Niall at The Fluff is Raging. They’ve been posting up a storm this month, so be sure to check them out!

Another review of The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne at JacquiWine’s Journal:The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne is an outstanding novel (probably one of my top three for the year), but it’s also a devastating read. The characterisation is truly excellent, from the nuanced portrait of Judith, complete with all her flaws and complexities, to the immoralities of James Madden and Bernard Rice.”

Cathy at 746 Books read another book by Brian Moore this month – I Am Mary Dunne:Brian Moore is regularly celebrated for his portrayal of complex women and I Am Mary Dunne cements that reputation.”


51 thoughts on “The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne by Brian Moore (1955)

  1. JacquiWine says:

    Many thanks for linking to my review, Naomi, that’s very kind of you.

    Heartbreaking stuff, isn’t it? I think you’ve captured the nuances in Judith’s character very accurately, all those delusions and shattered dreams….poor Judith, indeed.

    • Naomi says:

      My pleasure, Jacqui! Anyone looking for a more thorough review should definitely pop over to yours!
      Oh, I’m still thinking about poor, poor Judith…

  2. Alexandra says:

    Why does the title of this book ring a bell with me? But it does sound something of a depressing read. Drunk and lonely isn’t a great combination, indeed, poor Judith.

  3. Cathy746books says:

    Do you know, I have often thought about poor Judith for years now. It’s a devestating novel I think, but as Jacqui says, it’s a masterpiece. Thanks for taking part Naomi x

    • Naomi says:

      I can see that happening to me, too. I’ll be thinking “poor Judith” for the rest of my life. Which is a huge compliment to the writer!
      Thanks for hosting! 🙂

  4. whatmeread says:

    Hmm, you seem to really like books about alcoholics, or maybe that’s a coincidence? I just remember several others. Anyway, I was interested up until that part. I have enough alcoholism in my family.

  5. wadholloway says:

    I don’t understand women, I don’t understand people in general really. Very low on the EQ scale! But what I don’t understand here is why you would give any credence to a guy writer making fun of lonely women. I read ‘social’ books rather than action books because I would like to understand more, but leaving aside that I have to stop reading or watching when a main character gets into embarrassing situations, I would spend the whole of this book saying to myself “how would he, the author, know what a woman in this situation might be thinking?”

    • Naomi says:

      I can’t help but wonder that myself – whenever I read about women written by men or vice versa. But some writers seem to be good at it. And, being a woman myself, I didn’t ever feel like Judith was acting or feeling way off from what I would have expected. I think it’s very convincing. I also don’t feel as though the author is making fun of his character – there’s humour in it, but not a mocking type of humour.
      I do know what you mean about embarrassing situations, though – I really feel for characters in those situations. If you don’t like that, you might want to avoid this book!

  6. A.M.B. says:

    Great review. I thought I might try this one, despite the gloom, but I really don’t want to read an unnecessary rape scene. Thanks for the warning on that!

  7. kimbofo says:

    I’ve wanted to read this book for ever and a day but have never seen it in a bookstore. I’m trying not to buy books online, but maybe I’ll just have to order it. I read Moore’s Lies of Silence a few years ago and boy, did that one pack a punch!

  8. Michael says:

    Excellent review! I’ll be sure to add this to my list, as the characterization sounds strong and the prose is compelling – the author really seems to have a knack for vividly describing characters.

  9. buriedinprint says:

    This is one that’s on the shelves of my local branch library, so I pick it up periodically. It does appeal to me and I really enjoyed his book about the Luck of Ginger Coffey (poor Ginger gets picked at a little too). The humour in that one was a surprise as well, given that the summary sounds so grim. Good on you for squeezing in some Irish reading after all!

  10. Karissa says:

    Interesting that a male author decides to take on a female character to look at loneliness. Your review has me intrigued but it also sounds so bleak I’m not sure I’d want to delve into Judith’s life!

    • Naomi says:

      It depends on your taste in books, I guess. I quite enjoyed it!
      Somewhere I read that he wanted to write about his own loneliness without readers thinking it was a book all about him. So he went with a female character. Makes sense, eh?

  11. Bledwina Blighty says:

    I have never read any Brian Moore – I have a feeling his books have fallen a bit out of fashion these days – makes me want to read him all the more!

  12. Penny says:

    Added this one to the TBR!

    Have you read The Rain Before it Falls by Jonathan Coe? So good!! Something about this makes me think of it and maybe you’ll love it too.

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