Iris Murdoch

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"The Red and the Green"

(Reviewed by Mary Whipple JAN 23, 2005)

"What will Home Rule do for the woman begging in the streets?"

The Red and the Green by Iris Murdoch

An extended Anglo-Irish family living in the vicinity of Dublin on the eve of the Easter Rebellion of 1916 reflects the attitudes and pressures that lead eventually to the cataclysmic events at the Dublin Post Office. Andrew Chase-White, a young officer in the British Cavalry, has been assigned to Dublin, where he has often spent holidays and where he has an almost-fiancee. His idolized cousin Patrick Dumay, "the iron man," is secretly a member of the Irish Volunteers and an admirer of Padraig Pearse. His teenaged cousin, hot-headed Cathal, supports the Citizen's Army under James Connolly.

As the action unfolds throughout the week leading to the uprising, the family interacts on several levels, revealing their mores, their dreams for the future of Ireland, their occasional tendency to look for religious significance in political destiny, and their personal hopes and failings. The story of Andrew's chaste courtship of Frances is thrown into sharp relief through the character of Millicent Kinnard, his aunt, a flamboyant and overtly sexual woman. Millie has tempted one relative into abandoning his priestly calling, persuaded another to propose marriage to her as a way out of her financial problems, and worked her wiles on her chaste young nephews, a generation or more younger than she is. Since she has a peripheral role in the rebellion, Millie connects the older and younger generations both socially and politically, acting as a linchpin of the action, though she is not the main character.

Murdoch's stunning ability to choose precisely the right word or phrase leads to memorable descriptions which enliven the story and bring the large cast of characters to life. Andrew, for example, possesses "plodding conscientiousness," in place of courage. An elderly man's legs are like "solidified paste, rigidly tubular yet without significant shape or color." Physical love is regarded by one person as "the triumph of his will over his fastidious mind." Murdoch's eccentric characters combine with her sense of irony to create absurdities that are filled with dark humor, and in one memorable scene, the procession in and out of Millie's boudoir (which also serves as a shooting gallery) resembles a slapstick film. Less philosophical, perhaps, than some of Murdoch's later novels, this is the only one which uses Murdoch's native Ireland as the setting.

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"The Philosopher's Pupil"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark FEB 10 1998)

The Philosopher's Pupil by Iris Murdoch

In the spa village of Ennistone, John Robert Rozanov, a famous anti-social genius of a philosopher, is coming  back to his birthplace and almost everyone in town is obsessed with him.  Or with his middle-aged former pupil George McCaffrey, a self-conscious drunken failure. While driving home from a party George and his wife Stella have a terrific fight and the car with only Stella in it plunges into a canal, nearly drowning her. We don't know if the car plunged in on its own or if George pushed it. But we do know what Rozanov is hinting to George. We meet lots of folks in this village including Father Bernard, a homosexual Anglican priest, Rozanov's innocent and estranged grand-daughter, whom he also happens to lust, and George's mistress Diane. This is a book about delusion, falling in love or being under the spell of individuals who appear to be special or extraordinarily powerful. This book is not a fast read but it moves along very well, is humorous and it is intellectually satisfying. I especially enjoyed the image of all the town's people ritualistic visits to the baths.

This book was passed on to me by a British couple (on a beautiful catamaran) whom we met while moored in Ft. Lauderdale. As they put it, I couldn't consider myself a well read individual if I'd never even heard of Iris Murdoch, never mind, read any of her work. Those Brits sure have a way with words.

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About the Author:

Iris MurdochDame Jean Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin in 1919, the only child of Anglo-Irish parents. The family moved to London in her childhood and she grew up in the western suburbs of Hamersmith and Chiswich. 

From 1938-42, Murdoch studied classics, ancient history and philosophy at Somerville College, Oxford. During the 1940s , she briefly become a member of the Communist Party (from which she resigned in disappointment), work in Belgian and Austrian refugee camps for the United Nations Rehabilitation and Relief Program, and befriend Jean-Paul Sartre, on whom she wrote what was to be her first published work, a critical study entitled Sartre: Romantic Rationalist (1953). In 1947 she took up a postgraduate studentship at Cambridge, studying philosophy under none other than Ludwig Wittgenstein. The fruits of these philosophical encounters went on to form an important part of her fertile talent as a novelist.

Murdoch made her debut as a novelist in 1954, publishing a total of 26 novels before her death in 1999. (She was diagnosed with with Alzheimer's disease in 1994.) She won the Booker Prize for The Sea, The Sea, the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for The Black Prince, and the Whitbread Prize for The Sacred and Profane Love Machine. She has also published works of philosophy, plays and poetry.

She was married to English literary critic John Bayley since the 1950s. About Us | Subscribe | Review Team | History | ©1998-2014