The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Author: Brian Moore

First published: 1955, in Canada and Great Britain as Judith Hearne (U.S. edition, 1956)

Genre: Novel

Locale: Belfast, Northern Ireland

Plot: Social realism

Time: The early 1950's

Judith Hearne, a forty-year-old, unmarried, poor, and plain woman without family. She lives at Mrs. Henry (May) Rice's boardinghouse, the latest in a series of increasingly shabby residences in Belfast. Her meager income as a piano teacher is steadily dwindling as suspicion about her secret bouts of drinking increases. Judith's façade of middle-class gentility, imposed by an aunt tyrannical even in death and by her Roman Catholic training, is beginning to show cracks. Lonely and without the experience of love—familial, romantic, or religious—Judith is unable to assess the feelings of others toward her; hence, her disastrous misreading of James Madden's motives and her imposition on her pitying friend Moira O'Neill. The dashing of her hopes for marriage marks the beginning of her final descent into uncontrolled alcoholism, a descent speeded by the loss of her religious faith and by her ejection from Mrs. Rice's after a noisy two-day binge. Committed to Earnscliffe Home, a place she has always instinctively loathed, Judith is nursed by nuns of the church that has failed her. Their care is professional and largely impersonal, though kind enough. In her bare white room, Judith is consigned to a living death, a victim of Irish society, in which, despite strong middle-class morality and the dominance of the church, a single woman without family, friends, or faith can slip through the cracks, unmourned.

James Madden, the fiftyish brother of Mrs. Rice and an unpaying tenant in her boardinghouse. Recently returned to Ireland after thirty undistinguished years in the United States, Madden fits into neither the New World nor the Old. A big talker and drinker, Madden has a flashy façade that masks his sense of failure. Lamed in a tram accident in New York, he is currently frittering on drink the ten thousand dollars in compensation he received, despite confident talk of investing it in a business. Madden, a widower, is alienated from his one daughter, Sheila, because she is a middle-class American married to a man Madden detests and fears. Prompted by loneliness and a sense of injury, he rapes Mary, the lush sixteen-year-old maid in the Rice household. His flattering attention to Judith is at first prompted by her willingness to soothe his bruised ego, then by his misperception that she has money he could invest in a vaguely defined restaurant venture. He does not realize the devastation he precipitates in her when he incredulously rejects her suggestion that they marry.

Moira O'Neill, the middle-aged wife of Professor Owen O'Neill, a mother of four. She has a happy and materially very comfortable family life. Moira has always had support and luck, which have enabled her to rise above her humble beginnings. Perhaps out of guilt and certainly out of pity, Moira sustains Judith's acquaintance since youth with her husband's family, tolerating Judith's weekly visits, her boring conversations, and her inroads into the family's sherry and food. Perhaps she does not realize that the golden circle of O'Neill family life cruelly points up Judith's solitude. Ironically, the O'Neills' sense of charity propels Judith, after her breakdown, into Earnscliffe, the place she most fears.

Bernard Rice, the son of landlady May Rice. Nearing thirty, he is a talented poet of intelligence and spiteful wit. Indolent and obese, he allows himself to be kept and babied by his doting mother. His self-indulgence extends to a sexual dalliance with the helpless servant Mary. To avenge himself on his uncle, James Madden, and to keep from his mother the guilty secret he and James share in their mutual violation of Mary, Bernard lays the way for Judith's slide into overt alcoholism when he leads her to believe that James admires and wishes to marry her. Bernard, a cynic, is fully aware of the purposelessness of his own life.

Father Francis Xavier Quigley, the parish priest of St. Malabar Church. An imposing figure, he has a keen sense of the power he wields over his parishioners but no real compassion for them. Despite Judith's repeated pleas for his help as her faith wavers, he recoils from her and comes nowhere near to understanding the despair and anguish behind her attack on the tabernacle in the church. Even after her breakdown and confinement at Earnscliffe, his concern for her rises only out of his reluctant sense of his priestly duty.

Categories: Characters