Olive Moore

For a long time, not much has been known of the personal life of Constance Vaughan, the acclaimed yet forgotten modernist author who published under the name Olive Moore. Though interest in her enigmatic life and masterful modernist work is only now growing in popularity among modernist scholars, Moore was deeply respected in her heyday within the Bloomsbury group. She is the author of three novels, including her best-known and most-studied work, Spleen (1930), and two others: Celestial Seraglio (1929), and Fugue (1932). All of these novels, particularly Spleen, were met with critical acclaim at the time of publication. Moore also worked as a journalist for much of her life, including at the London Daily Sketch. In 1934, her final literary work, a collection of short stories and aphorisms called The Apple is Bitten Again, was published.

Moore’s distinct writing style is dense and darkly witty. Her stream-of-consciousness prose flows with strange imagery and painful remembrances. Spleen, which appeared under the title Repentance at Leisure during its first print run in the United States, tells the story of a woman named Ruth who exiles herself on an island following the birth of her disabled son. In her aphoristic essays, Moore’s views are complicated and, at times, shocking; it is often unclear whether she herself holds the bluntly ableist and misogynistic views she writes about or if she is powerfully satirizing them. Many critics, including Maren T. Linett and Jane Garrity, have focused on the novel’s themes of disability and deformity as key to understanding Moore’s modernist aesthetics.

A first edition of Repentance at Leisure, which was later retitled, Spleen.

It has long been estimated that Moore was born in 1904 and died around 1970. According to literary critics and historians, Moore suddenly disappeared from the London literary scene in the mid-1930s. New research by Sophie Cavey suggests, however, that Moore’s professional writing career continued for decades beyond this time, and Cavey’s generous, meticulous archival work provides us with more definitive dates and a more detailed picture of Moore’s life, dating her birth in 1901 and her death in 1979.


Further reading:

Sophie Cavey (2021) Olive Moore: a new biography, Feminist Modernist Studies, DOI: 10.1080/24692921.2021.1964056

Linett, Maren Tova. “Deformity and Modernist Form.” Bodies of Modernism: Physical Disability in Transatlantic Modernist Literature. University of Michigan Press, 2017.

Garrity, Jane. “Olive Moore’s Headless Woman.” Modern Fiction Studies vol. 59, no. 2, 2013, pp 288-316.


ABOUT

Haley A. Larsen (she/her) received her PhD from Purdue University in 2021. Her research focuses on the intersections between modernist women’s fiction and the history of electrical technologies. Her work has been published in Configurations and Feminist Modernist Studies.

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