The Bell

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The Bell

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dec 23, 2012, 4:54 pm

I will be starting this in January.

dec 30, 2012, 7:26 pm

Since I have a little time, I'm starting it today - along with a lot of other stuff. In fact, I'm reading like Nero Wolfe read: ½ hour in one book; put it down and pick up the next book for ½ hour, and so on.

dec 30, 2012, 10:17 pm

I do that a lot - switching around -- when I am reading something that, for one reason or another, I can't concentrate on, or don't really enjoy or something - but have determined to finish.

dec 31, 2012, 10:39 am

I'm patting our collective back for choosing The Bell. I read four chapters last night, and we are in good Murdoch Territory. We have a troubled marriage, a beautiful boy, several religious figures - all living together in a lay community next door to a Benedictine Convent. I don't normally think of Murdoch as a stylist (I don't know why; her prose is certainly polished and right), but a sentence like this (with italics mine) melts my heart: "She shivered and drew her feet up beside her on the seat for company."
(My usual practice is to read only one or two things in one day, but the next day to read one or two other things or maybe get back to one of the first day's books. It works only when I like everything I'm reading.)

Redigeret: dec 31, 2012, 7:09 pm

Interesting styles of reading. I occasionally read one book during daytime reading hours and take a different one to bed with me but for the most part I read the same one through.
Anyway, I am very happy to be back in the group and to be joining you in the readiing of The Bell in January.
Thank you for the invite Peggy.

dec 31, 2012, 10:10 pm

Well, Belva, you are the old hand here, but I did want to let you know that things are happening.
I've read a little more today and am still charmed. I see that this was her 4th novel, following Under the Net and Flight from the Enchanter, which I've read and don't remember at all, and The Sandcastle. I think she really hit her stride on this one, and I'll be happy when somebody else gets to it and starts posting.

jan 1, 2013, 9:33 pm

Tonight I plan to put read a few pages of The Bell and put it in my bookbag which will make it official.

jan 2, 2013, 10:26 am

I did start last night - only a few pages - but what an interesting authorial 'position' Murdoch has taken up vis-a-vis Dora.

Redigeret: jan 2, 2013, 6:43 pm

Well, I have The Bell up on my shelf. However, I just don't think I'm quite ready to dive into another Iris Murdoch just yet. Today I received Iris Murdoch for Beginners in the mail. I think it's hilarious. For example, describing The Severed Head:
Martin is married to Antonia but having an affair with Georgie. When he finds out that Antonia's been having an affair with Palmer, her psychoanalyst, his world is so shattered that he falls in love with Palmer's sister, the mysterious and demonic Honor Klein. On his way to tell her this, he is stopped in his tracks as he finds her in bed with . . . Palmer (her brother). During the course of the novel he finds out that his own brother Alexander has had an affair with Antonia and is having one with Georgie. He seems to achieve happiness at the end with Honor, while Georgie ends up with . . . Palmer.
Really, this looks to be a very good book about IM and her writing, philosophy, etc.

jan 3, 2013, 10:09 am

Sounds wilder than Peyton Place!

Redigeret: jan 3, 2013, 8:58 pm

Another one that I don't think I've read! Becky, you remark that your book is hilarious. I've just been thinking about a throw-away comment I made about The Bell on my thread. Now I think it's true - not one character in the whole book with a sense of humor. I remember thinking that some of her stuff was funny, but I truly can't remember a funny character in any Murdoch ever. Help! Liz? Somebody? Who am I forgetting?

Redigeret: jan 4, 2013, 7:19 am

Uh oh - I've been finding The Bell to be much funnier than The Sea, the Sea mainly because of Dora. The minute she decides NOT to do something, she does it, and vice versa..... She's self-absorbed and self-conscious and all those things, but also somehow innocent and forgiveable - of course - Murdoch is masterful enough, I'm beginning to understand so that the tables could switch. Paul is such an ass and Dora does have his number even though she doesn't know it. The nun is hideous. Mrs Mark saying, "I'm Mrs. Mark, Get it?" (after her husband who is the leader is introduced) Even the setting is kind of funny so far - the house is worthy of Mr. Darcy and look what it's come to! Cheap mats in the best bedroom! And the lake with the story of the drowned nun, lover etc. - it's kind of a cliche. It's interesting to me that Dora cannot swim, obviously significant. Is Iris teasing or foreshadowing.... ? Maybe 'amusing' would be a better description than funny? There are resemblances, structurally, to The Sea, The Sea - the odd house by a body of water - where everyone is uncomfortable, where there are ghosts of a sort, and legends. Dora, like Charles, is also seeking some kind of authenticity - I'm reading a book on writing that mentioned both The Sea, the Sea and The Bell and Murdoch's fascinating with the painting in which Marsyas is skinned for competing musically with Orpheus - and that she saw that as a metaphor for 'peeling an onion' - the onion of character... I'll try to pare down what are longish sections for you all, later today.

jan 4, 2013, 4:21 pm

I don't disagree with a word you say, Lucy. I'm still looking for a character with a sense of humor. Dora may develop one, but she's not there beginning the second half of the book.
I'll look forward to your paring!

Redigeret: jan 4, 2013, 4:25 pm

Yes yes - you are absolutely right! The theatre people in The Sea, the Sea - several of them - had good senses of humor, and so did James, Charles' cousin. But so far here, not a one. Dora almost - she knows how contrary she is, for example. Or suspects.

jan 5, 2013, 7:16 am

Um ... I think the Mother Superior has a wry sense of humour ...

I've missed these posts because I had my view of the Talk section set up wrong so I only saw threads I'd commented on ... I just wanted to ask if it would be OK to quote people from this thread in my research, in the part where I collect together comments etc. on the book. Or may I post my questionnaire questions and ask people to complete them and send them back in to me if they fancy doing so?

Thank you! If you answer yea or nay on here, I will know what I can and cannot use. All will be anonymous!

Redigeret: jan 5, 2013, 8:04 am

Fine with me, questionnaires and quotes - though I would like to know if you use something of mine so I can gloat over it.

Ha - I haven't met the Mother Superior yet.

jan 5, 2013, 10:48 am

I've seen Mother Superior only in passing so far....
Liz, whatever you want is fine with me.
I've just been reading a sermon as James preached it followed by Michael's sermon that says exactly the opposite. As I understand it, James says that morality is set: no need to examine one's navel...just look around, appreciate innocence as it appears, and follow God's laws. Michael, on the other hand, says that God has made us all different, and we should start with what is inside us to reach whatever morality we are capable of. And - and this is a bit funny - Noel (who may be the norm for IM?) yells at Dora as she returns to the community, "...don't forget, what these people believe isn't true"......."Don't forget! No God!" Then Nora has her moment of affirmation in the National Gallery and goes back to stir the plot pot.
I don't know what to make of this, but I do have a Pelican Guide to English Lit that devotes a chapter to IM, so I'll be interested to read and report back.

Redigeret: jan 5, 2013, 9:19 pm

(Warning, may be a bit of spoiling here...... I'm trying to be careful). I am just about where you were this morning...... I loved the bit where Toby climbs the wall. And earlier when he finds the medieval barn and etc. (no spoiler from me). There are some more striking physical similarities here to The Sea,The Sea - the hot summer weather, the alluring but dangerous water which holds secrets, forbidden places which also are tantalizing (in The Sea it's the little house where Charles' childhood love lives with her husband). There is also a use of the snooping around and overhearing things you shouldn't have device.... This time we are not inside the head of anyone who is confident of him or herself, and that is a big difference. Here there is a kind of innocence around all three of the pov characters, Dora, Toby in particular, but Michael also, with his insane hopefulness that he can control his desires. I do 'feel' that Iris is dividing the characters in the book between those, in fact, who do not presume to 'know' everything, and therefore, are not 'fully adult' in some fundamental sense - or - more importantly and not necessarily justifiably (I'm conjecturing that Iris is setting this up) are not regarded by those who do presume to be fully adult. (Removed some stuff here that on reread seems too conjectural altogether.)

jan 5, 2013, 6:24 pm

>15 LyzzyBee:. Anything you want to do with my posts here is fine with me.

jan 6, 2013, 7:59 am

Thank you all so far for allowing me to mine your comments (I do have general LT permission from Tim, too) - I will keep it anonymous but it will be in a particular chapter / section which I'll be happy to share with anyone interested.

In about 100 years, I must add; not really at writing-up stage yet!

jan 6, 2013, 8:07 am

>20 LyzzyBee:. Is this for a paper you're writing for another conference?

jan 6, 2013, 8:40 am

Maybe we can all come and be your cheering section if it is. Wouldn't that be a hoot. If you take long enough perhaps I'll have read all her novels by then.....

Redigeret: jan 6, 2013, 8:46 am

Found myself looking at photos of some Palladian villas - Stourhead with the lake and bridge really grabbed me.......

Redigeret: jan 6, 2013, 8:47 am

And then this magnificent one:

jan 6, 2013, 9:24 am

Lovely pics! This is my actual whole research I'm writing up now. I have a section on my IM reading group and their reaction to the novels as a whole, then my study of 25 reading groups reading The Bell. As part of that, I'm collecting reactions to the book by "ordinary readers" and critics, as I'm following a theoretical school which says that the "ordinary" reader's response is as - or more - important and valid as the critic's. I have a few individual responses to the questionnaire, so it would be useful to gather a few more or I might just post the questions on it for discussion. If I do that, I'll post them in a new thread and then promise not to look at it for a specified amount of time, to reduce bias around you feeling I am reading it as you discuss!

jan 6, 2013, 9:30 am

I totally support your thesis! Of course, you have to look out for the 'one star' ratings and reviews for, say, The Tempest..... that crop up on Amazon.

jan 6, 2013, 12:11 pm

Amazon actually don't let you use their reviews for even private academic work! Grrrr. Anyway, enough grist for the old mill here!

jan 6, 2013, 6:20 pm

Well, I finished, and this takes its place as one of my favorite ones. I can follow her philosophy better when it's couched in theological terms as it is in this book. I'm still thinking about what, if anything, I want to say about it. So far about the only thing that I can come up with is that a middle way between James's injunction to live on faith without thinking about it and Michael's interminable navel-gazing would seem ideal. Anyway, I'm ready to talk!

jan 8, 2013, 6:52 am

Here is a thing that happened - suddenly the voice of Hayley Mills burst into my head as the way Dora talks. There's a couple of scenes with Noel that seem to especially bring the voice out. And I am loving the absolute scene of mayhem that Iris has engineered here at the end - I'm quite close.

jan 8, 2013, 10:03 am

Dora does have Hayley Mills's voice! Thanks, Lucy.

jan 8, 2013, 10:22 am

Oh Noel, please DO go, at once, you'll ruin everything. I'm right back watching 'That Darn Cat'! Iris is so sly, she might have even had Hayley in mind.

Redigeret: jan 8, 2013, 2:13 pm

I couldn't stop reading the last 75 pages or so! HERE is my review. Read with Peggy's it should give a complete picture.

(SPOILISH) What else I have else to discuss is Nick's motivation. Why is he so bent on destroying Michael's life? I cannot think of anything Michael did, initially, that Nick could have seen as a betrayal of his own love..... if they really both loved each other so much, it becomes kind of histrionic, a bit Catherine and Heathcliffish. -Are the betrayals meant as a Judas kind of betrayals, the motivation both obvious and not, ultimately mysterious but somehow inevitable?

I love 'the amphibious nun'. What a marvelous image.

jan 8, 2013, 8:22 pm

(MORE SPOILISH IN REPLY TO LUCY'S)***********************************************************************************
This is my second recent IM with an insufficiently motivated suicide. My main complaint about the book is that we (or I) saw so little into Nick and Saint Catherine. I thought that they should have been the most interesting characters in the book, but they weren't.
Lucy, I was sure that you'd love the description (because I did) of Dora learning to swim as "naturally buoyant." As it turns out, she really was.
End SPOIL**************************************************************************

jan 9, 2013, 1:53 am

Ha - I am not sure which IM *doesn't* have one of those. Not said entirely seriously, but there is a death theme in many of the books ...

I do love Dora in a funny way!

jan 9, 2013, 12:01 pm

Ah yes, naturally buoyant. And some people truly are too.

jan 9, 2013, 5:06 pm

Here's Lucy's answer to my hunt for a norm in The Bell: "What about Toby, ultimately, being a kind of norm in The Bell? - Toby and Noel (with limits). I thought Noel was pretty normal though, and that he had a right express his irritation and had been hired to write a story (and, as he said, not the worst of them)." I could almost accept Toby because he will probably grow up to be pretty normal except that he is a person of faith, and I can't see IM taking a step in that direction. Right at present though, he's awfully young and unformed. I do have to say that the one time Michael really touched me was when he figured that Toby was already talking about him as the man who had fallen in love with him. That's just poignant!
This talk of a norm suddenly makes me wonder why I hadn't read this book as satire in the first place. If that's the case, it's no wonder that these people don't seem quite real. I have to say that if it is intended as satirical, it's satire of the very mildest sort. I somehow think IM takes them more seriously than a true satirist might.
What say you?

Redigeret: jan 9, 2013, 7:42 pm

Yes that moment touched me too..... but also reassured me of Michael's essential soundness. Just enough satire to cause one to step back - a bit like Thackeray? I do care a bit more about Iris' crew than Becky Sharpe though. I was thinking at some point today, that Iris just enjoyed making these muddles and totally over the top messes, for her that was the fun of writing novels, maybe? Play. She's perfectly serious at the same time, and maybe to like Murdoch you have to allow her to work at multiple levels?

The bawdy level, the 'mysterious' level, the philosophical debate level, etc.

jan 9, 2013, 10:31 pm

Maybe that's the key, Lucy.

feb 1, 2013, 6:31 pm

My February IM is going to be The Bell. Lucy, you had a discussion going on your thread last month about A.S. Byatt and her sister. The Introduction in this Penguin Classics edition of The Bell is written by A.S. Byatt. Just a little "fun fact."

I haven't started the book yet.

Redigeret: feb 2, 2013, 9:19 am

I just started this one this morning, and I find that I'm 1000% happier reading this one than I was reading The Black Prince, so far my only IM. I am very happy to have the authorial focus be on Dora rather than in the first-person head of that idiot, Bradley Pearson of TBP.

>8 sibylline:. but what an interesting authorial 'position' Murdoch has taken up vis-a-vis Dora.

Lucy, would you care to elaborate on your statement about Dora?

Redigeret: feb 2, 2013, 9:30 am

Hmmm, memory being what it is..... I think it is that she 'explains' Dora even while being in Dora's mind.... both showing Dora's internal processes (the whole scene on the train), judging her from afar, and also revealing how others are seeing her. Comical and also starts the process of empathy, but empathy with reservations, if that makes any sense? It holds firm through the book too.

Yes - it was a good intro too.

Redigeret: feb 3, 2013, 7:04 am

>41 sibylline:. Yes, I think that's a good explanation. Even though I'm only as far as the first chapter, I feel a certain sympathetic understanding for Dora's personality and the way she reacts to people around her. I think the train scene is brilliant.

Redigeret: feb 3, 2013, 2:49 pm

>41 sibylline:. empathy with reservations

Chapter 2 and 3, and let's just say that the "reservations" about Dora are growing. Haley Mills, Lucy? snort

I would just warn anyone reading my posts who hasn't yet read the book but plans to: expect spoilers. I don't know how to talk about the book without talking about what happens in the book. But I'll announce at the top of the post what chapter(s) I'm discussing.

ETA I do feel a sense of empathy for Doris's uncomfortable feelings when she first meets the group at Imber Court. Have you ever been introduced to a group of people who "know" you only from someone else's description of you? This has happened to me at various times throughout my life with my mother. I'll meet someone who doesn't know me but has heard about me from her, and it always gives me an uncomfortable feeling--like I'm at a real disadvantage right from the start, because I know from her history that my mother is constitutionally "challenged" when it comes to saying anything nice about anyone. Someone in the group tells Dora (was it Mrs. Mark?) that they had heard all about her. Dora later questions Paul about it when they're alone and he says, "I had to say something about you to the other members of the community, and if it was unflattering that is hardly my fault." What a jerk he is, but also what a fool she seems to be for going back to him.

Redigeret: feb 3, 2013, 8:06 am

Iris keeps shifting the ground delicately back and forth vis a vis sympathies....... I think Iris would agree with you about the obnoxiousness of walking into a group you can be quite sure mostly have heard 'unflattering' things about you. Such a brilliant word choice IM makes there. Paul is masterful at the put-down. It becomes more clear - even explicit - why Dora stays.

Redigeret: feb 5, 2013, 11:58 am

Halfway through Chapter 5, Mrs. Mark is showing Dora the visitor's chapel, and Dora reacts with a "sudden fright," and IM writes: "The rich exotic smell of the incense aroused some ancestral terror in her Protestant blood." That's so over-the-top that I'm sure (or at least I wonder, or I think) it's a place where IM is having a laugh. "High church" Anglicans (and Episcopalians) use incense, so incense is not something that's necessarily foreign to a person just because they're Protestant. But I'm sure it's foreign to Dora.

The Benedictine tradition is rich and deep, and Dora's reactions to it are superficial, showing her to be something of a ninny. She feels "stifled and frightened" by the visitors' chapel in the Abbey. The parlours with their gauze screens used by the nuns and visitors to the Abbey seem to her "unbelievably eerie." She is hostile and shuddering when Mrs. Mark suggests she might like to talk over her troubles with Mother Clare. She thinks it "appalling" that the cloistered nuns never leave the Abbey. Etc.

I guess we somewhat forgive Dora (or maybe expect this from her) since she seems to be so unsure of herself and to know so little of the world. Dora is only 21 years old, and we're told she comes from a "lower middle-class family." She was a "wretched" schoolgirl and a scholarship student at the Slade school of art. She never got on well with her mother, and her parents were divorced. Remembering that this was published in 1958, being a child of divorce was certainly a life experience outside the norm.

What in the world is Paul doing with a girl like Dora? He's the one who bothers me the most so far in this novel.

Now finished with Chapt. 5.

Redigeret: feb 5, 2013, 5:17 pm

If anyone is interested in learning more about Benedictine life, I highly recommend The Cloister Walk, by Kathleen Norris. Sometime after she left New York City to live in the house left to her by her grandparents in South Dakota, Norris became a Benedictine oblate, a person who promises to follow the Rule of St. Benedict "insofar as your situation in life will allow." At the time she was married, so rather than living at the monastery, she would go there for frequent visits:
Why would a married woman with a thoroughly Protestant background and often more doubt than faith be drawn to the ancient practice of monasticism, to a community of celibate men whose days are centered around a rigid schedule of prayer, work, and scripture?
This is a beautiful book.

ETA. Apropos the earlier remarks by Lucy & Peggy about searching for a normative character: I was thinking that perhaps Mrs. Mark represents a norm. She's living in a Benedictine community where The Rule is imperative, and she keeps the rules of the house and sees that others keep them as well. Unfortunately, it seems that Dora, as a new member, only learns about a rule when she breaks it. A kinder person or someone more aware of her visitor--one more steeped in actual Benedictine hospitality rather than merely a follower of rules--would have sat the young woman down at the beginning and explained the rules of the house.

Redigeret: feb 6, 2013, 9:40 am

I doubt Dora would have changed her behaviour much, she might have felt guiltier though about her infractions.

This is a propos though - it is not knowing rules, that others take for granted, that fuel many a plot, eh? The sf series I'm reading now is deeply reliant on that - and mainly it never seems to occur to people that it would be a good idea to clue others in - although, even when they sometimes do, often the recipient dismisses the information as ridiculous. Which leads one to wonder, in RL, how much trouble is caused by true misunderstandings that with explanations taken seriously could be averted? Is it a novelistic 'ploy', or a very significant aspect of RL complexities?

feb 6, 2013, 12:30 pm

>47 sibylline:. not knowing rules, that others take for granted, that fuel many a plot

That's a good point, Lucy. Clarissa certainly comes to mind in that regard.

You're probably right about Dora not changing her behavior whether she knew the rules or not, but at least she might not have felt shamed (which to my mind, I think she does, at least to some extent) when she broke the rules. Instead, it would have been a choice she made to break the rule, which would have been a different dynamic.

Also, Mrs. Mark comes off as being someone who either doesn't understand the community in which she lives or, more harshly, if she does understand, as something of a hypocrite.

feb 6, 2013, 9:30 pm

Very insightful about Mrs. Mark. I'm not sure which. Lyzzybee? Peggy?

Good point - and later Dora does have to deal with the choice issue.

Redigeret: feb 7, 2013, 8:01 am

I'm finding the concept of "love" in IM's novels (2 for 2, so far) to be a bit strange. In The Black Prince, Bradley Pearson, for no particular reason, decides that he is deeply in love with his best friend's daughter, Julian. What he thinks is love seems to me to be just some sort of creepy obsession, especially given their age difference.

Now in The Bell we have Dora and Paul. Paul's idea of love seems to be stunted and selfish. I don't know what to call what he feels for Dora, but I don't think I'd call it love. This is from Chapter 9:
Paul says he thinks Catherine is "everything a woman should be--lovely, gentle, modest, chaste."

Dora: You don't respect me, her voice trembling.

Paul: Of course I don't respect you. Have I any reason to? I'm in love with you, unfortunately, that's all.

Dora: Well, it's unfortunate for me too.
I don't detect anything from IM that invites the reader to take what Paul says at anything but face value. I can't detect any irony. Paul is a nasty piece of work--or at least that's how he strikes me. But I'm not even sure that IM means for the reader to judge him that way.

Thoughts, anyone?

Redigeret: feb 7, 2013, 11:32 pm

Chapter 19

I think what James has to say about Dora and Paul in this chapter is fascinating--and also right on the mark. She is a bitch. Paul is a dreadful alarmist and a chronically jealous man. Dora's a great emotional mess whose mental age matches that of Toby. James feels the community has let Paul down by having made so little impression on Dora.

Did anyone get the reference to the limerick? James tells Michael that she resembles the jeune homme de Dijon qui n'avait acune religion! Translated into English, the whole limerick is here:

There was a young man of Dijon,
Who had little religion.
He said: "As for me,
I detest all the three,
The Father, the Son, and the Pigeon

ETA is anyone else surprised at the good will the community is willing to extend to Paul?

feb 7, 2013, 3:07 pm

I love sentences like this--this one comes from Chapt. 20

"After lunch Paul continued with manic alertness to supervise his wife."

Redigeret: feb 7, 2013, 6:34 pm

What a great choice of quote - I think it is those sentences that get people like us hooked on Iris.

As for love - I've only read two IM's so far, but both were about love and obsession - love and possession. I took what Paul says about 'loving' Dora to be his lustfulness for her which given his somewhat spartan, puritan nature he finds a bit disgusting of him, this animal side..... so he has some abstract idea about a 'pure' love that doesn't include sex...... in fact...... they all do...... the 'healthiest' of them, I forget his name already but he ends up sort of in charge of everything after Michael falls apart, he seems to be entirely asexual or so firmly repressed there is barely a whiff of desire around him. I felt, and this is just an intuition, that IM was very impatient with that attitude. And also disgusted with the way men feel they can 'own' a woman. Not so much as a feminist, but simply as a human being, as the philosopher that she was.

I love that limerick! Or should I say, J'adore le Limerick! Or "J'aDORA le limerick."

feb 7, 2013, 11:32 pm

"J'aDORA le limerick."

Very cute! :)

feb 8, 2013, 2:13 am

Her Henry and Cato is also about both love/obsession AND love/possession. And I am finding it very interesting how she goes about the storylines of each.

feb 8, 2013, 10:49 pm

Becky, you're reading so well! Thank you. For me Mrs. Mark was a limited sort who grabbed the rules of the community as a substitute for thinking about true community. I guess that's putting me firmly on the side of those who think that she didn't understand the possibilities open to members.
Great limerick! Thanks!!! J'aDora it too. Heh heh heh

Redigeret: feb 9, 2013, 10:15 am

Finished. Overall, I liked the book. I agree with Peggy's assessment at #33: This is my second recent IM with an insufficiently motivated suicide. My main complaint about the book is that we (or I) saw so little into Nick and Saint Catherine. I thought that they should have been the most interesting characters in the book, but they weren't.

I think what Noel has to say pretty much sums up how I feel about this motley crew:
Noel: As you may have guessed, I feel no sympathy with an outfit like this. I don't think these people are consciously insincere, but they just born to be charlatans malgre eux {despite themselves}. I'm sure there are all sorts of little feuds and delusions in this crackpot community. If people want to stop being ordinary useful members of society and take their neuroses to some remote spot to have what they imagine are spiritual experiences I'm certain they should be tolerated but I see no reason why they should be revered.
I don't feel quite that cynical about people who take themselves off to a community like this one. I do agree that people are people, and even religious communities have their share of insincerity, crackpots, and charlatans. This book isn't too far from the communal movement of the 1960s. Take away the mainstream religious aspect, and most of them would fit right in with life in a 1960s commune--for example, compare this group with the characters in Mark Vonnegut's memoir, published in 1975, The Eden Express: A Memoir of Insanity.

I don't really have all that much sympathetic understanding for any of these people. I wasn't that interested in Michael and his angst. This book would have read very differently back in 1958, but in 2013 when we've been so inundated by "everything gay" (or, if you wish, the issue has become more normative), it really doesn't have nearly the same impact. The character that drew me in the most was Dora; it helped to remind myself that she was very young and knew very little about the world, and that kept me from losing patience with her. I was glad to see IM let her grow up a little bit and move away from Paul, the big mistake in her life.

Overall, I'm happy to have spent time with the book, and I plan to read more of Murdoch. I struggled with my rating with this book, flirting with giving it 5 stars, but decided instead that it fits more appropriately into the way I categorize 4-star reads.

ETA--I doubt that Iris would have tied up the ends of this novel quite so neatly as she did here if this had been one of her later books--just a thought that occurred to me as I was posting on my other thread. She lets Doris grow a bit, but would she if this had been a later novel?

Redigeret: feb 9, 2013, 12:28 pm

I'm here again to add this thought: In general, I think what bothers me the most about Murdoch is that she gives so little authorial direction about the normative point of view in her novels. Look at us here, flailing around, trying to figure out which one might be the character who represents the norm in this novel. Contrast her to an author like John Irving, for example.

I think what I mean here is that I have a problem with her narrative voice. It's weak, or something. Without knowing something about her biography, I honestly don't know on what side of the issues she stands--and for me, that's another way of saying, "So what's your point?" The controlling presence of the authorial voice behind the characters doesn't control. Peggy said something about the satire in this novel--if it's even intended as such--as being very mild. I think that's so right. I don't need the author to hit me over the head with her point of view every other page, but I would like to be able to figure out just exactly where Murdoch stands on some of the major issues in this novel--without resorting to some kind of game of biographical trivial pursuit.

Would anyone like to weigh in on this?

ETA the reason I mention John Iriving is that after finishing The Bell I went back to reading A Son of the Circus, and I realized how happy I was to be reading Irving and not Murdoch. Not everyone appreciates Irving, but one thing I do appreciate about him is his strong narrative voice. Here's one sentence, just picked out at random:
As with all his father's pronouncements, that voice of steadfast authority rang down through the years, for old Lowji proclaimed everything in the same strident, inflammatory tones; he mocked, he defamed, he provoked, he advised. Whether he was giving good advice (usually of a medical nature) or speaking out of the most dire prejudice--or expressing the most simplitic opinion--Lowji had the tone of voice of a self-declared expert.
So when the character of Dr. Lowji comes on the stage, I don't have to guess about his actions or motives--I pretty much get from this sentence what Irving is doing. I'm willing to consider that what I see as a weakness in Murdoch is my own weakness as a reader--or maybe it's just a preference for one style over another. But this is one big reason, I think, why I find Murdoch to be something of a slog--or maybe "struggle" is the better word.

feb 9, 2013, 12:32 pm

I am dying to weigh in, but the truth is I need to read five or six more novels before I can. Two novels and a short bio/memoir won't cut it. Lyzzybee where are you???

My guess, an intuition nothing more substantial, is that Iris wasn't a side taker. She presents, you decide what you think. Just like life. A mystery at the core that she won't presume to take a stand on. I expect she would have been, like me, a P and not a J in the meyer's briggs test?

I agree fully about Saint Catherine and her brother - that IM set in motion two characters who were so riveting that they threatened to unbalance the rest of the book. Even more disturbing to me was what Nick's motivation was to destroy Michael's life a second time. But she is very interested in obsessions and they are hard to fathom from the outside, certainly. And she did not choose to try to get inside it.

Good point too that she might have done things differently later on in her writing life.

Noel was definitely the 'normal' for me in The Bell but I also think that in The Sea, The Sea one of the interesting things was that the 'normal' sometimes shifted about from person to person, it wasn't a settled thing. That's quite interesting and, wise, it seems to me - an observation that most of us can be quite normal most of the time, but that we may all have times of madness, and areas of madness.....

Redigeret: feb 9, 2013, 1:15 pm

>59 sibylline:. Very interesting, Lucy. You think Iris wasn't a side-taker? I guess I would need to know something more about her to be able to weigh in on that one. I think she did have a stand on all of these issues--I just can't figure out so far, without reading her biography, what it is. It matters to me, for example, what an author's stance on abortion is if they're writing a story about abortion. Maybe I'm not making myself clear.

As far as the question of who represents the "normal" character is concerned: if you say Noel is the normal and I say the Abbess is the normal and someone else says Paul is the normal--then haven't the three of us read three totally different novels--and then you have to ask, does authorial intention have any meaning or even, does it even exist?

feb 9, 2013, 4:42 pm

I wrote a brilliant post and then it was eaten. Sigh.

Hmmm. I likely wouldn't read a novel where it was obvious from the start what the author's stance on the stated theme was - the whole point, for me, in a novel is the delineation of the enormous range of richness and folly and madness in human character. It should become obvious eventually, I suppose, but I think of novelists - and most creative writers - as being quite embracing about human frailty, physical and mental. Somehow that seems to preclude the necessity of stances on much of anything for me.

Oh I think that the abbess is quite sane, probably, yes, the most 'normal' except we so so little of her how can we know what led her there and what she's been through and Noel is close - none of the rest of them really. But most of the characters exist within a basic acceptable 'norm' - it is when they are stressed that they step outside and reveal more - sometimes darker sometimes lighter (as in good) sides of themselves. And that is what interests Iris too - that I can say - she is fascinated by temporary madness in an otherwise sane person. Uses 'love' to show that.

feb 9, 2013, 7:08 pm

>61 sibylline:. Yes, I can see I'm not being clear. I'm using the word normal as in "norm," to delineate the character whose point of view most closely matches that of the author--not "normal" in the sense of sane or not sane. Who is the author most approving of; who is the author closest to? Who is the norm against whom we are to judge the behavior of the other characters? I'm looking for how the writer connects with her characters.

Looking for the normative character, for me, is also a search for what the author is trying to do--what she has to say in the novel. I'm not asking for the author to be "obvious from the start," but instead I'm looking for a coherent philosophy or point of view to be revealed at some point in the novel, especially when reading an author like Iris Murdoch, someone who has thought deeply about her themes.

feb 9, 2013, 10:22 pm

Oh I get it. Definitely I have no idea then who, if anybody, in the two novels I've read represent any kind of authorial norm - I guess the abbess (knows all, sees all. etc.) in this one and..... I have no idea who in The Sea, The Sea. Do you think there is always someone that the author agrees with or approves of the most, I mean, not just IM but writers in general? Oh I guess in The Sea, The Sea it might be cousin James. Like the abbess he is an extremely spiritual person, but 'secretively' - the abbess because she is locked away, James because he is, well, secretive and private. I just say might be because I have no idea really.

feb 10, 2013, 3:54 am

Goodness me, what a fabulous discussion!

In my opinion, Murdoch's entire oeuvre, including the philosophy, is obsessed with "how to be good". In her world, being "good" means ...

1. Absorbing pain and not passing it on (e.g. contrast cruel characters who have been in concentration camps with saintly ones who absorb)
2. Removing or effacing yourself, not making yourself obvious or prominent
3. Accepting "contingency" i.e. mess, lack of meaning

She has saint, artist and enchanter figures. Saints are usually associated with the above 3, or striving for them (but not too had, see Stuart in Good Apprentice - no straining) and often have oriental stuff like netsuke (c.f. cousin James indeed in The Sea, The Sea). Artists are usually trying to be good but try to shape the world a bit too much. Enchanters are often given their power by their victims (the successsful ones are - Charles in Sea is an unsuccessful one because he tries to impose power; Ben is the real enchanter, perhaps, because he inspires allegiance rather than demanding it in some ways). So, in The Bell we look at different ways to be good, including those sermons. Dora tries too hard, as do all the people in the community. Toby is an innocent, which often also occurs in the books, so not good or bad. Who is the Saint ... ?

One good thing to watch out for in Murdoch is siblings, particularly twins. The closer and weirder they are, the more likely everything is to go horribly wrong. Too wrapped up in someone else spells doom.

This schema informs all of her works. That's why a lot of people say IM is their favourite author rather than one of her works is their favourite novel - because the works hang together remarkably well. The pleasure lies a great deal in spotting themes and seeing clues, rather than being told. She lays out the characters to you, often inside their heads, and leaves you to decide - in a naturalistic way very unlike the metafictional ways of George Eliot, Hardy, or Irving. Even The Philosopher's Pupil with its omniscient narrator, plays with metafiction and leaves you more confused.

Hope that helps. My own reading, but informed by some of the work on the subject.

And the caveat that I also espouse "reception theory" and "death of the author" so take a critical standpoint around the reader's reaction to the text rather than the authorial intent.

feb 10, 2013, 7:21 am

>64 LyzzyBee:. Thanks for your thoughts here, LyzzyBee. Death of the author & reception theory--OK, I see where you're coming from.

>63 sibylline:. Do you think there is always someone that the author agrees with or approves of the most, I mean, not just IM but writers in general?

"always" and "most"--no, I wouldn't push the idea to those extremes.

I think there's a lot to be said for reception theory, but I got a belly full of Stanley Fish when I was in school, so I tend towards the other end of the spectrum and find that I get more satisfaction from reading if I know something about the author, the social context, and the time in which a work was written. I also believe that there's such a thing as a misreading of an author's work, so obviously I don't fit well into the reception theory camp.

feb 10, 2013, 9:49 am

I have a paradoxical and possibly nonsensical view that while knowing about an author enriches the experience of an artist's body of work, and is in fact 'part' of the appreciation of the whole - it also doesn't matter if you don't want to know - for each work or a body of work also should be able to stand on its own free of the artists intentions for you to make of it what you will. Although, no doubt, they had intentions, in other words, and life situations that affected the thematic choices they made (James the self-appointed exile, exploring the american ex-pat and all that implies) and things they overcame (Ray Carver writing in the car at night) and those are worth knowing, their work is still essentially a gift, and thus free of obligations. In work as complex as a novel, reactions and interpretations will be as varied as the number of people who read the work - although those responses might, eventually, build into a consensus of a sort. One reason I love LT so is that I feel, over time, a form of consensus will build about certain books in a way that is mostly free of influence of experts. I get easily fed up with high culture pretensions and cultivation of the individual so this pleases me. Kind of a heavy reply but there you have it.

feb 10, 2013, 10:01 am

Well I was pretty heavy and I think all sides of this discussion are great and valid. I have had to veer close to reception theory as that's part of my research about The Bell being a good book for book groups - whether the opinion of book groups "matters" as much as those of the critics ...

Redigeret: feb 10, 2013, 11:54 am

Of course what the readers think matters MORE! Well, unless you have a writer who writes exclusively for critics, I suppose.

Redigeret: feb 10, 2013, 1:57 pm

One of the reasons I appreciate the historicity of a work is because knowing "something" about the author's philosophy, view of the world, situation in his/her culture, etc. can guide readers towards having something to say about a work. If the reader knows, for example, Murdoch's view of "contingency," a word used by Liz in #64, then when he runs across Iris moodling around with that concept, it may spark one of those "aha" moments in the reader rather than a situation of feeling confused (or annoyed) about why Murdoch always seems to be putting her characters into such a muddle.

Another example is one I ran across just this morning reading Terry Eagleton's The Rape of Clarissa as I passed the page-1,000 mark (!) in Richardson's book, Clarissa. Eagleton says this about Richardson in his Introduction:
The son of a Derbyshire joiner, with perhaps only a year or so of secondary education, almost no classical learning and a relatively narrow acquaintance with the literature of his society, Richardson passed his placidly uneventful life largely outside the circles of metropolitan literary culture, as a gauche self-made businessman dogged by feelings of social inferiority.
I find that information fascinating, and it helps me to understand a little more about what Richardson was doing in this behemoth novel. If I'm going to spend months and months reading a book like this one, I want not only to read the book, but also to understand some of the ideas behind it.

I think this also gets at the issue of "how to read." Without some sort of guide, it can be quite daunting (even to the point of never giving a particular book a try) to read some of the more complex literary works. Lucy, I know you read Infinite Jest awhile back. Did you read anything to help inform you about that book, or did you go it alone?

I'm not a slave to the critics, and I don't very often read "professional" reviews, but what I do enjoy reading are the "reader critics" on a site like of course thoughtful reviews or reactions here at LT. And I guess that could lead off into a whole other branch of this discussion. . . . fun! Thanks so much, both of you!

ETA ~ But you're right, Lucy, the work should be able to stand on its own, and for many people that's a better reading experience than adding outside information. I think it's something of a balancing act. Probably also, the more works a person reads by a particular writer, the less outside information is necessary. John Irving, for example. I've read most of his novels, so coming across dwarfs, sex workers, transvestites, bisexuality, dancing bears, absent parents, the film industry, severed body parts, etc. in A Son of the Circus is no surprise. I don't find myself wondering what he's doing with all of this craziness (contingency?), because we've been here before. Of course, had that been my first John Irving--wow! I don't even want to think about it.

feb 10, 2013, 4:28 pm

Imagine that indeed, coming across later Irving..... with no warning at all, very humorous and insightful Becky.

Oh yes, I am not an advocate of reading a book without 'help' - but I don't look to critics, generally, since most of them are too apt to tell you what you ought to think..... but to reference books (in the old days) and the internet now, and still, often essays by other writers about a particular writer..... Virginia Woolf on George Eliot, say, that kind of thing. I love that stuff. I'm a huge fan of Nabokov's writings on literature and a sucker for essays by writers about just about anything, but other books and writers especially.

In the past, when I read say, a writer like Pynchon or Joyce, I struggled more than I do now - but I would spend a lot of time looking at maps, dictionaries you name it. Now, not only is pretty much anything available on the 'net, but there are blogs and now LT where you can go join other readers either during or after they've read a book. When I read Against the Day a recent Pynchon, I found a brilliant blog that about 10 people had participated in and when I felt the need I would go to that blog and find out what they had all made of what I had just read. It enriched my reading of the book a millionfold and not one of them was a critic. That was just before finding LT. Now, of course, I do this. I have to say, I think the most brilliant thing would be to make author threads and then within that threads for each book that anyone who happens to be reading that book at that time could read or contribute to as they wished. As we are doing here. I love this.

So when I read IJ I joined the IJ group here - I made my own thread, as I see Tad, who is reading it now has done too. I also looked, occasionally at other threads as I read along. I had to look up a million things, study maps of Boston and all the usual stuff plus the benevolent support of past IJ readers many of whom keep an eye on the group and just come to cheer you along as you read, which was delightful. Much the way Liz is doing for us here. To me that is the perfect blend of high and low - unpretentious and friendly, but smart and thoughtful. Doesn't get better than that.

feb 10, 2013, 4:56 pm

>70 sibylline:. I have to say, I think the most brilliant thing would be to make author threads and then within that threads for each book that anyone who happens to be reading that book at that time could read or contribute to as they wished. As we are doing here. I love this.

Agree 100%!

feb 11, 2013, 11:54 am

I LOVE all this, and I've barely had time to read it much less respond. If I have a valid response, I'll be back later to make it. Thank you all!

feb 12, 2013, 5:19 am

I suppose that I am much more simple than the rest of you and not as well educated obviously but to me, while I like knowing a bit about the author, that yearning usually comes after reading one of his/her works. In my mind's eye the author is telling his story or telling us something. However, I, in reading said story may be getting something very different from it than author is telling. Because the author and the reader each bring something different to the book. Life experiences, knowledge, interests, concentration, many things affect what a story brings to me and I know it is not always what the author intended for me to 'get'. One example that comes to mind is George Elliot's The Lifted Veil. We did a group read of that one a year or two ago with varied responses as to what we had read and the meaning thereof. Now that was quite a discussion also.
Loving all of your comments by the way. Fascinating.

feb 12, 2013, 6:54 am

You've nailed it Belva. The same reader reading the same book at a different time in his/her life won't respond to it exactly the same way. Are critics with all their 'tools' any different? (Let's just leave that hanging, eh?)

I read The Lifted Veil a year or two ago - since LT - and I can barely remember a thing about it, even when I read my own review, which tells you something! I remember all her other books (that I have read) vividly. Wasn't that an odd one?

feb 12, 2013, 6:32 pm

Random Thoughts

On reading criticism: Obviously, I wouldn't have been an English major had I not been open to this. I love to see what other people think, both when I'm in the throes of something difficult and when I have finished. I may value my own insights most (I think that most of us do), but I'm grateful when somebody leads me to see more or see differently. I love good lit because of the layers and layers upon layers that exist, sometimes in contradiction to each other, and feed each other. (That's also what I like about this group!) On the other hand, one of my worst big reading experiences was following a guide to Ulysses. I know that my understanding was enhanced, but it was still deadly. So I need to do a Joyce reread on my own and look for aid when I want it.
I very much enjoy literary biographies too, but I expect a piece of lit to stand on its own legs. Knowing about the author's life may be more critical for some writers than for others. (Well, duh.) Mostly, I look at it as a bonus rather than a necessity.
The thing about Murdoch is that I wonder how often she became involved in her characters. I know that there are some that she laughed at, but did she ever love any of them, or even look at them with affection? Did she ever sit down to write with excitement for where a character might lead her that day? It's been since the 80s that I read a lot of IM, but I don't think I've ever felt that her characters were real people. That feeling is so crucial to my reading enjoyment that I wonder why I have kept drifting back to her. Nevertheless, I do. Here I am.

feb 12, 2013, 7:23 pm

Such good points, Peggy. Don't you think she was a wee bit fond of Dora? I thought so. But overall I agree, she might enjoy a character or be fond of another, but compassion/empathy maybe less evident. I love Muriel Spark and some other rather 'heartless' writers and it is worth thinking about why. (Can't say off hand, although what first pops into my head is a kind of ruthless vivacity that does capture something essential about how life 'happens' and relentlessly moves on.)

Redigeret: feb 13, 2013, 8:54 am

>75 LizzieD:. Hi Peggy, I love what you have to say there. Complexity and layers--a book that makes you work, engages you on so many levels. That's one reason we read, right? And I think I agree with Sib that Iris probably had a soft spot for Dora--the ninny! Ha.

Peggy, I once read a biography of Sylvia Beach (owner of Shakespeare and Company on the Left Bank in Paris--most people know that, I guess, although some might not. I wouldn't have had I not read the biog). James Joyce used her bookstore as his office. Beach initially published Ulysses in 1922 when it was banned in the UK and the US. But it seems that Sylvia did more than just publish the book--she also had a very heavy hand in editing it as well, to the point where I wondered how it could even be considered Joyce's book anymore. (I can't quote from the biog because it's in a box somewhere--arrrgh!)

Janet Flanner was the Paris writer for the The New Yorker in the days when Joyce and Sylvia were working together on the book, and she wrote this about it in Paris Was Yesterday:
As we learned by listening to and watching Sylvia in her bookshop, to accomplish her publishing feat she became Joyce's secretary, editor, impresario, and banker, and had to hire outsiders to run her shop. . . . After typesetting had begun at Dijon, in a kind of postscript ecstasy of creation, Joyce scribbled some ninety thousand words more on the costly, repeatedly reset proofs, making a four-hundred-thousand word volume, of which Sylvia managed to have two copies printed for his birthday on February 2, 1922—one for him, one for her.
What was kept in the final published version and what was left out seemed to me to be so arbitrary, and I guess that's one reason I've never really felt all that compelled to read the thing. I feel the same way about Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward Angel that was almost co-written by his editor, Maxwell Perkins. Although one of these days I'll probably read that one.

One of my great loves about literature is the story of books--how a book got written, where the author was in his or her life and career when they wrote it, its publishing history, how it was received by readers when it was first published--that kind of thing. And maybe that's why I like looking under the covers, so to speak, and finding out the author's story as well. So for me, very often the reading experience isn't just about the words on the page, but it also includes the "gossip" about the book.

feb 13, 2013, 12:52 pm

Maxwell Perkins is an interesting case. He also go Fitzgerald to cut Gatsby from --- something like 800 pages to the slender 160ish that it is. Hmmm. I have, more than once, thought I should read a biography about him. That might be a very interesting read. And he must have been something to be able to convince those egos to surrender to his ideas.

Redigeret: feb 13, 2013, 4:24 pm

Thank you, Becky. In fact, I didn't know about Sylvia Beach being almost the co-author of Ulysses. And I agree with Lucy, that a good biography of Maxwell Perkins would be a fascinating. Max Perkins: Editor of Genius won the National Book Award, I see. Definitely worth looking into. hmm. I thought so! I own that little gem!!!!!
And, by the way, I still have the first Nicolas Basbanes book, A Gentle Madness, sitting on my READ IT NOW table.
If you two think that IM had a soft spot for Dora, I'll accept that as true. I've so moved on that I don't remember my initial response to her, but I know that I never had the feeling for her that you have. I was sorry that she had married such an impossible man, but I think that I thought that she was pretty impossible herself.....too long ago (last month!) for me to say for sure.

feb 13, 2013, 7:34 pm

Maxwell Perkins (1884-1947) is one of my favorite characters of the 1920s-1930s New York publishing scene. The Berg biog of him is a good one (Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, although I think someone today could (should!) write a better one.

I have several volumes of his correspondence with authors. He was editor for Hemingway, Fitzgerald, John P. Marquand, if anyone remembers him, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (The Yearling, Ring Lardner, James Jones--Lord, so many of them in the 1920s through 1940s. He worked for Scribner's forever, of course.

One of my favorite books (I love books of correspondence, as Lucy and Peggy already know) is Max and Marjorie: The Correspondence between Maxwell E. Perkins and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. Lord, Marjorie was such a character.

feb 14, 2013, 11:20 am

That reminds me - have to put the Perkins book on my PBS wishlist as well as this one! I've heard that the Max/Marjorie correspondance is really readable.

Redigeret: feb 14, 2013, 12:21 pm

>81 sibylline:. Yes, I thought it was a fascinating book, although it doesn't quite get all the way at MKR's whacked-out, strong personality, and I think that's because she had Perkins up on a pedestal. Her fiction writing pretty much fell apart when he died--I think she thought she couldn't write novels without him, despite having written The Yearling. One time she sent him the skin of a 6 or 8-foot snake (I don't remember now what kind) that she had killed at her home in Florida, and he hung it on his office coat rack--I just think that's such a great visual image.

Who was the U.S. publisher for Iris's novels--anybody know?

ETA I guess it was the Viking Press.

feb 14, 2013, 5:52 pm

That's a fabulous anecdote!

feb 15, 2013, 2:27 am

The four I have were all published by Penguin in New York.

And what a wonderful 'tale' about the snakeskin. It is a great visual.

Is anyone else having the same problem with library Murdoch's that I am? They have very, very few. Mine (with a great many branches - seventy some I believe) only has one that I don't have. I was so disappointed when I found that.

Redigeret: feb 15, 2013, 8:18 am

>84 rainpebble:. My library doesn't have them either. I'm finding them used at editions, but mostly in the small-print Penguin edition that is hard on our eyes. Occasionally I've found cheap library editions at Amazon as well. I know a lot of people don't like Amazon, but I appreciate being able to find them there because I don't have time to shop the used bookstores.

feb 15, 2013, 2:20 pm

Great anecdote about MKR and the snakeskin! My wild cousin and his partner in crime offered William Burroughs (go figure) one of the poisonous snakes that they brought back from a snake-hunting trip to tropical Africa. He sadly declined (he said he was sad anyway). That led the p-i-c to a close relationship with him in his declining years, and those snakes ended up in the herpetarium that p-i-c continues to run in Wilmington. (Cousin now lives in Italy with his Italian wife, snake-catching days a thing of the past.)
I just checked and there are IMs available at PBS. Most of them are the tiny print Penguins, but I didn't look very carefully. You might find some hard covers. And Becky, I am also grateful for Amazon, especially since there aren't used bookstores in town for me to visit.

feb 15, 2013, 5:42 pm

There are a few IM's around, but not very many in our wider library system - I may avail myself of a few of them. I'd be curious too, to try an audio of one.

aug 12, 2013, 11:51 pm

I just started this, having finished The Sandcastle (and liked it). I'm interested to see (on chapter 2) if Paul is as horrible as Dora has made him out. She seems unreliable. I'm already taken with it.
Way earlier in this thread people were talking about reading habits. I'm another who multiple reads. Perhaps I'm afraid I'll miss something!
Currently reading:
The Fifties (Halberstam)
The Manhattan Project
First Men InThe Moon
The Bell

Soon to go back to A Search for Lost Time, and The Idiot is my next Doestevsky.

aug 18, 2013, 11:35 am

What a terrific line up - The Bell was my second Murdoch and if I hadn't loved it I might have thrown up the whole project.

feb 7, 2018, 8:39 am

I treasure "The Bell." I was finally able to have the novel added to the read list of my local book club. Out of fourteen readers, I was the only one who had read any work by Iris Murdoch prior to the assignment. (In fact, I have read all of her fiction.) I am happy to say that Murdoch has won three converts. The other ten participants either set the book aside as "boring" or savagely denounced its moral ambiguity, especially in regard to Michael's attraction to vulnerable boys. I never read a book to judge its characters. I may like a few and recoil at a few, but in Murdoch's world all hold some interest, and all merit compassion. "Amor Via Mea - Love is My Way."

feb 8, 2018, 3:04 am

Oh this is interesting, in my study on The Bell, lots of my readers claimed paedophilia and other awful dark topics in the book, and Michael as predatory - a really classic Reception Theory example of current times affecting how people read a book. I'm reading this this month as part of my re-read of all of the novels!

Redigeret: feb 8, 2018, 8:21 am

Nice to meet another Murdochian, Doug! Hi LyzzyBee, nice to see you here. Now you are tempting me to reread it!

Yes, my daughter* is deep into current thinking and can barely read any books with any pleasure at all for the time being. Most fiction depicts things as they are not as some might wish them to be. . . Such confusion.

It also makes it almost impossible for them to admire any historical figures at all.

Meanwhile, I am also being trained to use the pronoun they for he/she. I won't do it in conversation but I will on paper if it seems appropriate. Coming around to it. Is that happening in England too?

*waiting to be told not to use that either.

Mostly bemused.

feb 9, 2018, 7:43 am

>92 sibylline: As a professional editor, I've been using singular "they" for a few years now, as it both avoids gendered statements (when the customer does this, he is using that vs. they are using that) and binary gender assumptions. It's actually passed into acceptance in the major style guides now, too, although they are not prescriptive about it. I find it very useful for helping people avoid gender bias, although there are other methods, too.

feb 9, 2018, 7:48 am

Now that I've come around, I am also finding it helpful. So glad that it is being accepted!