Musing on Murdoch in General

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Musing on Murdoch in General

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dec 14, 2012, 12:07 pm

I don't know where to put this one feeble little reaction, so I thought I'd start a new thread.
I've now read enough of The Time of the Angels to get back my IM feeling that I'm in a parallel universe where the inhabitants are not quite human beings, but oh so close --- Homo Murdochis, I guess. Does anybody else feel this way or am I just perhaps a little dim?

dec 14, 2012, 1:55 pm

I think she does have a "world" - that's why so many people like ALL her books rather than have one of hers as a favourite, if you see what I mean. It's a parallel world where money makes itself, everyone has time to stand around and ruminte, you can't fancy B without them being in love with C who's in love with D who's in love with you ...

Redigeret: dec 15, 2012, 8:54 am

>1 LizzieD:. Peggy, I don't really have an intelligent reply for you post, possibly because I haven't encountered all that many "Homo Murdochis" characters, being only three-quarters of the way through my first read of her. I only know that I would flee any of these people in The Black Prince if I met them at a party. But then that might be my lack, not theirs.

Along with this book, I'm also reading (since JANUARY) Richardson's Clarissa, and this morning I came across a rant by someone about how his book is actually a very anti-feminist text (I won't bore you with the particulars). But halfway through the rant, this literature professor had something interesting to say:
Her discussion is about whether or not people are changed by what they read: "I am very pessimistic about this. . . . I think we take from books what we bring to them. I see this day after day in the classroom."
I've actually been moodling around this idea a lot lately, including wondering if I'm being fair to Murdoch's work. I wonder if I haven't fallen too much into the habit of judging a book through the prism of my own emotional reaction to it rather than evaluating what the author is trying to do. Not that the emotional reaction is irrelevant--but should it be primary? This idea would back up what the professor was saying about taking from books only what we bring to them. --Which is why I think forums like this one, or intelligent reading groups, or the like, are important to our reading.

So what do you think? Are we changed by what we read, or do we generally tend to cherry-pick the ideas, even from great books, that buttress our own opinions and life-view?

dec 15, 2012, 7:14 pm

Now that's quite an interesting question, Becky. I'm sure that I was changed by what I read as a child. Reading helped me decide what kind of person I wanted to be as well as giving me whatever sophistication I might still have. I'm not so sure about the present. Besides cherry-picking ideas, I'm sure that I cherry-pick my books. While my own insights about the great ones are the ones that are most important to me, I've certainly been broadened by hearing what other people have to say about the same books.
I'd like to write a brilliant defense of one's own emotional reaction being the essential element of what a good book provides. However satisfied it makes me to figure out what an author was trying to do and whether he succeeded on his own terms, in the end I evaluate a book by what it called from me. Surely if I didn't realize that whatever it was was in me or didn't know the depth before I read the book, taking from the book what I bring to it can't be a bad thing.
At this point I don't know what I'm arguing, so I'll stop.
I do know that I won't take much from The Time of the Angels. I lack about 20 pages of finishing - which I'm about to do - and while she writes a lot about the possibility and nature of The Good, it's all pretty much noise in my mind partly because the guy doing the philosophizing is such a Murdochian Monster.

Redigeret: dec 15, 2012, 11:20 pm

I just this minute finished The Time of the Angels, and I'm not about to try to write a thoughtful review tonight. I need to check to see when her earliest book Flight from the Enchanter? The Italian Girl? was written. This one was 1966, which I think is pretty early. ----- Nope, the first was Under the Net, but I haven't found a date for it easily and I'm sleepy, so I'll wait until tomorrow!

dec 16, 2012, 9:17 am

>4 LizzieD:. Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Peggy. I'm still trying to figure out what she meant. Maybe she was simply calling for a more knowledgeable and sophisticated approach to reading than what she normally sees in her classes--calling for her students to actually learn how to read--to understand that there is a more complex and sophisticated approach to reading than they are normally used to. Also, maybe without saying so, she was pushing back against Reader-response critical theory, which argues that literature be viewed as some sort of performance art where the reader "creates the text." Or against New Criticism, which argues that no mention of the author be allowed when discussing the book. Otherwise, I don't know what she means, except maybe wanting her students to be able to express themselves beyond "I loved (or "I hated") the book."

My goodness, good for you for finishing. I'm still only about 3/4 through.

dec 16, 2012, 6:36 pm

I LOVE this discussion! So happy to find it going on. A word that jumped out at me: pessimism and a phrase I think we take from books what we bring to them ... Hmmmmm Sounds like a professor who has read too many crap papers by uninspired students to me! The reasons why readers read are so various, it seems a bit arrogant to make that claim and add a judgement of pessimism about the outcome of it so peremptorily.

The deeper mystery, perhaps, is how minds are expanded and changed - all at once, little by little? I would say that people in crisis of any kind are open to all kinds of revelations which books can provide, from discovering that a genre previously scorned, provides a welcome refuge, to learning about some spiritual practice you knew nothing of that leads to an alteration in world view. Art does have an effect on some, not all, of course. And so on. History books have shifted my views, certainly, especially when I've read several around one topic and begin to formulate a more layered view of some event or person.

Reading has caused me, I know, to not be so sure about many things - Murdoch is a perfect choice for this discussion - the character I'm dealing with is both awful and also wonderful, in equal measure, really. I have no doubt that he is a person of enormous intellect and accomplishments who would awe me if I met him, so it's rather amazing to be inside his head and find out what a mess he is, but I do 'believe' it. And that changes how I look at other people.....

Homo Murdochis is an hilarious idea, Peggy!

dec 17, 2012, 7:00 pm

Lucy wrote, "The deeper mystery, perhaps, is how minds are expanded and changed..." That's it, isn't it? I never, ever figured out how children learn. I read a lot of research, but it remains a mystery. The longer I taught, the more structured I became and the less I felt I knew about teaching and learning. Since I am a random person, that was still not very structured. And yet they did learn back in the days when they were doing some work and were not so pleased with themselves as they seemed to be those last several years.

I did post a sort-of review of The Time of the Angels on the book page which you are welcome to look at if you feel like it. I guess it has to rank as my least favorite so far, but I need to reread everything I read 20 and 30 years ago. Happy 2013!

dec 17, 2012, 8:31 pm

I think I'm going to have to institute a ten pages a day rule.....with The Sea, the sea I'm bogging something awful.... I just know something ghastly is going to happen.

dec 18, 2012, 7:47 am

>9 sibylline:. Sib, I wish you'd start a thread here for The Sea, the Sea and discuss your reaction to the book as you read. I'm bogging on The Black Prince, but for different reasons, I think.

dec 18, 2012, 8:55 am

Will do! I was just wondering, earlier, if I had or hadn't started a thread for it.... vagueness reigns in Lucy-land.

jan 2, 2013, 6:19 pm

I just received in the mail Iris Murdoch for Beginners by Bran Nicol. This looks like it will be a very fun and useful book. I was paging through it and found this: Murdoch was asked how long she waits before finishing one novel and starting another. Her answer: "About half an hour."

You gotta love it.

jan 9, 2013, 8:06 am

>12 labwriter:: that looks interesting. Keep us posted as you read through it!

jan 10, 2013, 2:29 pm

Great group! I've been working my way through I.M.'s books over the past five years--I think I've read 12 or so, and I'm excited when I think of how many are still to be read. My library carries a few of her last books, which I've been hesitant to try as I know she was starting to show signs of Alzheimer's when they were written. Can anyone shed a little light on which Murdoch's may have been marred by her disease?

jan 11, 2013, 5:10 am

Hi Munro, in our close reading of the books in chronological order, my group found some evidence in The Green Knight but not enough to spoil it. However, Jackson's Dilemma was in our opinion marred.

Having said that, I went to a wonderful presentation about the animals in JD, particularly the horse, at the last IM Society Conference, and that did redeem it a bit for me ...

jan 11, 2013, 11:28 am

Thanks LyzzyBee, I'll give The Green Knight a whirl when I'm at the library again.

Redigeret: jan 11, 2013, 12:31 pm


This is looks quite useful - basic dates for her life and a chronology of her books. It will be interesting to read The Green Knight since it sounds as if it is essentially her 'last' book.

I swear I used to have The Severed Head around here someplace.

feb 8, 2013, 10:51 pm

I've just barely begun The Philosopher's Pupil. Early on, she has caused the narrator, N, to introduce himself. He says he has no part in the story, but on the occasions that the characters must refer to him, they'll call him "N."
I don't remember anything at all like that in her other books.

feb 9, 2013, 5:12 am

This is the only one that does this. Note the name of the town, though ... clever, eh?!

feb 9, 2013, 10:48 am

Oh yes, Liz! "Smart as paint" is what I think we say about it.

Redigeret: feb 9, 2013, 12:34 pm

LyzzyBee there you are - pop over to The Bell we are full of questions for you!!!!!!

Peggy - remember too that there is a thread for The Philosopher's Pupil all made up for you!

feb 10, 2013, 3:06 am

I'm sorry - I've had a few difficult things going on in my life recently and haven't been around as much as I am usually!

feb 10, 2013, 9:50 am

I hope things are better for you Liz. I understand and appreciate your visits here.

feb 12, 2013, 4:37 am

Thinking of you Liz. And don't worry about us. We will be here when it is convenient for you to join us. You just do what you need to do and take care of you.

feb 12, 2013, 5:06 am

Thanks, ladies. I'm OK, just had a few challenges and trials but plodding on through. And reading a lot!

feb 12, 2013, 7:24 pm

I have made A Severed Head thread here and I am posting there.

Redigeret: feb 16, 2013, 6:15 pm

Is this group an ongoing mission of reading Iris Murdoch? In other words will it continue on after year's end? I ask because of book acquisitions. Do I want to collect the physical books if we are ending on 12/31?

Edited to ask: If one desired to get one book to help with the reading and understanding of Iris Murdoch, her philosophy, her meanings, what would any of you advise please? I am looking at Iris Murdoch for Beginners but though it has a 5 star rating here on L.T. only 16 members have it and there are no reviews. The only username I recognized was labwriter. Anybody here with a suggestion or two? I would like to have a better and more serious grasp of I.M. as I read her works. Thank you.

feb 17, 2013, 8:28 am

I would suggest A.S. Byatt's Degrees of Freedom as a good introduction to Murdoch and her earlier works (if you get the 2nd edition it gets nearly to the end of them). I have drawn a lot from that book. Peter Conradi's The Saint and the Artist is also very good, as is his biography, Iris Murdoch A Life which slots the books in to her life story. I would avoid the John Bayley biogs to be honest with you, although that's personal preference!

feb 17, 2013, 1:03 pm

Belva, I intend to read a Murdoch novel per month until the end of the year, and then it is likely that I will move on - although it is equally likely that I will continue now and then to read her if I am still keen on her then. I would count a biography as one of the monthly books, and probably will choose one of the books listed above. I'm an Inclusivist and when I can be, a Completist! This group is here for good and I expect people will come and go and I expect I will keep it starred, so I can see what others are saying about books I've read.

Thanks for the list of suggestions Liz.

feb 18, 2013, 9:37 am

>27 rainpebble:. You mention Iris Murdoch for Beginners. This is part of a "for beginners" series, evidently; this is a graphic book--I don't want to really call it a biography. I've never read any graphic novels, so I don't have much experience with this format. However, the layout of the book is entertaining and somewhat informative. I don't exactly understand who the audience for this book is supposed to be--a beginning reader of IM? I guess so. I'd say it's for the high school or undergraduate set who is studying Murdoch. I'd say that, except that I don't think Murdoch is taught much--at least not here in the U.S. I might be wrong about that, but I never encountered her when I was in school. It's actually not a bad book and gives you some idea what IM was thinking and writing about.

I think I would go for Iris Murdoch A Life.

feb 18, 2013, 9:47 am

Me too.

feb 24, 2013, 12:21 pm

Only a few more days until March since this is such a short month..... I ordered a few Murdochs, and now I can't even remember what they were unless I go examine my order..... but I think I'll let them surprise me. Anyhow, I will pick my next Murdoch from one of those. At least one or two should turn up this coming week. I'm presently reading my monthly Virago - after tiptoeing around it for weeks, I plunged in, Winifred Holtby's The Land of Green Ginger. I'm always so impressed by this first generation of women writers in the 20th century, so occupied with trying to simply describe their lives and make some sense out of it. Something in the tone of it is not dissimilar to Bagnold's Happy Foreigner. Of course this has nothing to do with IM other than the fact that she probably read all of these novels......

feb 27, 2013, 8:32 pm

I, for one, am looking forward to what you have to say about The Land of Green Ginger. That one has been drawing me.

feb 27, 2013, 9:40 pm

I have posted my review, Belva. It's a bit scattered..... but some reviews just won't be tidied up and that seems to be one.

Redigeret: feb 27, 2013, 9:49 pm

Thank you Lucy. Heading over to read it now.

edited to say:
Excellent review. Sadly and strangely enough I saw so much of myself in that review & thusly I was gladdened by that last sentence. Thumb up young lady. Thank you.

mar 6, 2013, 7:02 pm

Two more Murdochs arrived at my house today:
The Book and the Brotherhood and
The Red and the Green.

My epitaph is imprinted on the cover art of The Red and the Green:


I would like to think that I.M. thought that one up herself.

mar 6, 2013, 10:46 pm


mar 10, 2013, 1:35 am

Oooh, please start a The red and the Green thread when you've started it. It's the only one I've bought that looks too dense to me--strange as it's a short one.

mar 10, 2013, 3:17 am

It's not too bad - it's a historical novel that she wrote before the Troubles started up again badly in the 1970s and she did revise her opinion of it, but it's not a difficult read in itself, full of the normal IM themes ...

mar 10, 2013, 4:01 am

>38 munro:: Will do.

mar 10, 2013, 9:12 am

It was so exciting this morning to come to LT and find that half the comments on my starred page were Iris related.

mar 10, 2013, 8:07 pm

You are training us up very well lady. :-)

Redigeret: mar 12, 2013, 10:09 pm

In the post today came:
The Time of the Angels,
The Nice and the Good,
The Message to the Planet, (which rather frightens me) and
The Black Prince.
My Murdoch library is filling in quite nicely. Nine to go and they should all be on their way. :-) :-(

mar 12, 2013, 11:39 pm

Finishing Nuns and Soldiers right now...I'm about 50 pages away from being Murdochless for awhile. It's a great one, but I have to admit, I'm waiting for THE SHOCKING THING to happen...seems like there's an event in each of her books, I've grown quite addicted to the suspense.

mar 13, 2013, 3:16 am

Isn't it something munro? I too wait for the shocking thing to occur and when it does, seems never to be what I saw coming. I am loving I.M.

mar 13, 2013, 7:04 am

Nice to see you here, Munro.... I know what you mean about the shocking thing.

Redigeret: mar 23, 2013, 2:04 pm

I am awaiting one more Murdoch to arrive (The Italian Girl) and then my I.M. library will be complete other than her three philosophy books and her one poetry book. I think she will be high on my radar for the next few years.
Liz, thank you so much for inviting me over to this group. I have already gained so much from my experience here.

mar 23, 2013, 7:08 pm

Wow Belva, I am impressed that you have collected all of her books. I think I will order The Philosopher's Pupil for my May read.....

Redigeret: mar 24, 2013, 2:48 am

The Philosopher's Pupil has averaged 4 stars from it's readers here on L.T. and sounds like a favorite amongst the I.M. fans. I know I am looking forward to reading it. And I got most of her books off PBS so that was a great help.

apr 1, 2013, 4:25 pm

Well --- my April read is not going to be the biography, it's too unwieldy a book for a month that will include a good bit of gadding about. So I took out the only book our humble library has: The Sandcastle and that is what I'll read. Off to make a Sandcastle thread.

apr 13, 2013, 1:49 pm

Do visit me at The Sandcastle thread here - I've been all alone. I'll finish the book today, I'm sure. I loved it, my favoritest one yet!

apr 19, 2013, 6:45 pm

I received in the post today, the last book of my I.M. collection, The Italian Girl. I feel complete now. I've been waiting quite some time for this one. All is right in the book world in belva's house now. Ahhhhhhh.............

apr 19, 2013, 8:42 pm

Very good! I'm soon going to have to think about what I will read next....

Redigeret: apr 19, 2013, 11:34 pm

It is to be Under the Net for me as I think I will read her in chronological order excepting the ones that I have already read. I am hoping to get it in this month yet, but don't know if I will be able to manage it. Between illness and day-caring the grands I seem to have lost a lot of my reading time.

apr 20, 2013, 11:28 am

Who hoo - a chronological read is a great way to do them. OOh I envy you your first go through in order!

apr 20, 2013, 10:13 pm

I am excited to be reading her this way and am hoping to see some changes and small nuances of difference in her works as I go. I am thrilled that this group is here, of course, to help me along. :-)

Redigeret: apr 26, 2013, 1:09 pm

Almost time to figure out what I'm going to read next. Wish I had Under the Net.

Redigeret: maj 1, 2013, 12:18 pm

I found A Severed Head at the Friends of the Library used book sale. I will be starting it soon.

maj 1, 2013, 10:20 am

Oh very good, Bonnie, I think I will tackle The Black Prince because, well, I have it!

Redigeret: maj 1, 2013, 11:07 am

Lucy, I checked on BookMooch and PBS with no luck but did find one at for $4.02 U.S. I placed an order just a few days ago with no shipping charges (don't know if they require a minimum purchase for this...mine was just twenty bucks) plus they arrive rather quickly. Just a thought.

maj 3, 2013, 8:27 am

I have good luck with finding inexpensive used copies of her books at Amazon.

Has anyone read The Sacred and Profane Love Machine? (LB, obviously you have.) This book is discussed in a 1970s chapter in On Rereading by Patricia Meyer Spacks. I haven't read the chapter yet--I was just skimming to see what book she decided on for the 1970s chapter, and this was the one.

maj 3, 2013, 11:14 am

I'll check that out Belva, thank you.

maj 4, 2013, 10:36 am

Ooh interesting. Yes, it's a good one with lots of classic IM characters and situations and loads of really cool doubling and mirroring - a very good one in my opinion.

Redigeret: maj 8, 2013, 9:00 pm

Out getting new flip flops (the fancier kind) for the little darling we just happened to go by The Crow Bookshop, mostly used books, on Church St. in Burlington and just had to step in to see if there were any Murdochs. Along with rather a lot of copies of The Black Prince (did a reading group tackle it?) were The Nice and the Good, a title I like the sound of and The Book and the Brotherhood. So I am all set!

maj 9, 2013, 1:19 am

Oh that's funny about the Black Prince! The Nice and the Good is an excellent read and THe Book and the Brotherhood is one of my top five, and has the best parrot in literature EVER in it ...

maj 9, 2013, 6:57 am

Have you read David Foster Wallace's The Broom of the System - THAT is currently my ultimate literary parrot. I await reading BatB eagerly!

maj 10, 2013, 12:20 pm

>65 LyzzyBee::
Liz, better even than the one in the Anne books?

maj 11, 2013, 10:55 pm

Way back to Becky for what it's worth: *Love Machine* is one of my favorites, and so is *B&B*. I seem not to be reading my IM biography, but I'm not reading a novel either. I'm not sure what gives......

Redigeret: jun 15, 2013, 10:38 pm

Major Murdoch splurge: The Book and the Brotherhood, Something Special, An Unofficial Rose, The Philosopher's Pupil, Bruno's Dream, and The Sandcastle (coming soon). Those will keep me for a while! An Unofficial Rose was great; didn't realize Something Special was a glorified short story, oh well.

>61 labwriter:--labwriter, The Sacred and Profane Love Machine was my third IM and the one that made me a real fan. Hope you enjoy/enjoyed/are enjoying it.

jun 16, 2013, 11:05 am

I really really really liked The Sandcastle my next fave after that is so far is The Good Apprentice.

Redigeret: okt 22, 2013, 7:04 pm

These are the Murdoch's I neither own nor will get to in 2013 during my Murdoch Year:
The Unicorn
A Fairly Honorable Defeat

Under the Net
A Word Child
The Sacred and Profane Love Machine
The Italian Girl
The Message to the Planet

Nuns and Soldiers
Bruno's Dream
An Accidental Man
The Red and the Green
The Flight From the Enchanter
An Unofficial Rose
Henry and Cato
The Time of the Angels

Feel free to weigh in if you have read any of these and especially loved them - I am debating keeping going in 2014.....

Redigeret: okt 22, 2013, 7:05 pm

Well, as of yesterday when my fave used bookstore had a LARGE sign hanging up outside it reading: ALL FICTION HALF PRICE I now possess seven more IM's which, I guess, means I'm a committed Murdochophile. She is an acquired taste, but once looking back.

An Unofficial Rose Iris Murdoch (A lovely Chatto and Windus 1st ed)
The Message to the Planet Iris Murdoch
The Time of the Angels Iris Murdoch
The Italian Girl Iris Murdoch
The Red and the Green Iris Murdoch
The Unicorn Iris Murdoch
A Fairly Honourable Defeat Iris Murdoch

Most of these are fine Viking first editions - all with intact covers. The only pbk is The Unicorn.

I've crossed out these ones on my 'do not have' yet list above. It appears I may have a third IM year ahead of me as there are seven more after that!

okt 23, 2013, 3:55 am

Wow - good haul!

Redigeret: okt 31, 2013, 10:35 am

Tomorrow is a decision day, which oh which IM will I choose to read next???
I'm thinking likely An Unofficial Rose as it is an early one.

okt 10, 2017, 5:33 am

Hello everyone, I will be hosting an Iris Murdoch readalong from next month, I've blogged about it here I'm not sure how active this group is now, but anyone interested can pop along to the blog post and register their interest. Hope it's OK to advertise this here, not trying to drag people away from this group. I am happy to post links to the blog as I go along so people can see how it's going, but it's wider than this group hence being done outside it. Happy reading!

okt 17, 2017, 5:58 pm

I love the question. I am trying to think of a book that has changed the way I viewed a problem, situation, or my outlook etc. I have read many over many years and many have added to my knowledge in incidental ways. IF any have changed the way that I think, they have been ones that were designed to inform and new information, if you let it, will change the way see the world. I really cannot answer this but it is worth thinking about.

okt 17, 2017, 6:08 pm

Your statement about people in crisis reminded me of the premise in Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein. The idea that populations in shock are easily led to bad cumulative decisions. Also, in times past when I have had problems, I turn first to books. Part of what changes people is finding new information and realizing that the old information was flawed.
And, of course, students could change in all sorts of ways -- so does the professor have a goal in mind?

A few years back I read all the Iris Murdoch books I could find. I loved her and agree that she created a world -- that was unique.