0541 | The Black Prince | Iris Murdoch
Context: was printing photographs for my first solo photography exhibition while reading this.
What a great read this was. I can also imagine that Murdoch had immense fun writing it too, because that comes across in the writing for too often to be coincidental.
Firstly, it messes with the structure of a novel and blurs the lines between fiction and non by initially presenting it as a kind of screen/play and then having characters comment afterwards on their impression of Bradley Pearson, the protagonist. This makes for an intriguing read as you are aware from the start that, as a novel, it shouldn’t be taken at face value.
Secondly, as with The Sea, the Sea, it’s downright farcical in its descriptions of Bradley’s experiences. The poor man is harried not only by his own thoughts (as any decent Murdoch protagonist should be) but also by a literary rival, his seductive wife, their attractive daughter, his suicidal sister, her estranged husband and (much)
younger lover, a down-at-heel doctor acquaintance, uncle Tom Cobley and all.
Once it gets going, the series of events simply carries you away with it and you start to wonder where it will all end as events build to a number of crises and Bradley ends up, quite unexpectedly, in a situation where you can’t help but feel for him despite passing desires to throttle him at several points in the story.
So what is Murdoch trying to tell us with this novel? The parallels with Hamlet are well-known and, in a similar vein, Murdoch is asking us to decide whether we feel Bradley is sane or not, the victim or the perpetrator of his destiny, friend or foe to those around him. Murdoch does as good a job as Shakespeare at providing ample evidence for both the defence and prosecution. This would make a great book club discussion.
For those new to Murdoch, I’d recommend starting with The Bell, moving to The Sea, the Sea and then coming to The Black Prince. You won’t be disappointed you did.
I am in more than one way responsible for the work that follows.
The world is perhaps ultimately to be defined as a place of suffering. Man is a suffering animal, subject to ceaseless anxiety and pain and fear, subject to the rule of what the Buddhists call dukha, the endless unsatisfied anguish of a being who passionately desires only illusory goods. However within this vale of misery there are many regions. We all suffer, but we suffer so appallingly differently. An enlightened one may, who knows, pity the fretful millionaire with as pure an energy as he pities the starving peasant. Possibly the lot of the millionaire is more genuinely pitiable, since he is deluded by the solace of false and fleeting pleasures, while there may be a compulsory wisdom contained in the destitution of the peasant. Such judgments however are reserved for the enlightened, and ordinary mortals who feigned to utter them would rightly be called frivolous. We properly think it a worse fate to starve in poverty than to yawn in the midst of luxury. If the suffering of the world were, as it could be imagined to be, less extreme, if boredom and simple worldly disappointments were our gravest trials, and if, which is harder to conceive, we grieved little at any bereavement and went to death as to sleep, our whole morality might be immensely, perhaps totally, different. That this world is a place of horror must affect every serious artist and thinker, darkening his reflection, ruining his system, sometimes actually driving him mad. Any seriousness avoids this fact at its peril, and the great ones who have seemed to neglect it have only done so in appearance. (This is a tautology.) This is the planet where cancer reigns, where people regularly and automatically and almost without comment die like flies from floods and famine and disease, where people fight each other with hideous weapons to whose effects even nightmares cannot do justice, where men terrify and torture each other and spend whole lifetimes telling lies out of fear. This is where we live.
This might reveal the ending. If you want to see the quote, click show
Key: Legacy | Plot / toPic | Characterisation / faCts | Readability | Achievement | Style
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