The state of the writer in Iris Murdoch’s "The Black Prince"

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

14 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Bradley Pearson’s account of himself and Arnold Baffin as writers
For the sake of art
Bradley as a writer
Arnold as a writer
Arnold and Bradley in contrast

3. Questioning the artist-saint contrast

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Iris Murdoch’s T he B la ck Prince (BP), which was published in 1973, is considered her most successful and brilliant novel by her readers as well as by her critics. Richard Todd describes it as her “closest approach to the ‘post-modernist’ novel”1, which is especially in the context of narrative unreliability highly interesting and complex. However, the central theme of this paper concerns the relation between the two writers Bradley Pearson and Arnold Baffin.

It will be discussed which function is ascribed to this comparison of the two characters in T he Black Prince and to what extent the frequently quoted “artist-saint contrast”2of Murdoch’s works is applicable to this constellation.

Therefore, the first chapter is concerned with Bradley Pearson’s account of himself and Arnold Baffin as writers, and to a certain extent with the question of Bradley’s narrative reliability as well as – and this is essential – with Arnold’s and Bradley’s different definitions of the art of writing. The relation between Arnold and Bradley, which is already a topic of the following chapter, will be particularly examined in the last chapter where the focus will be on the discussion about the (hypothetical) artist-saint contrast within T he B la ck Prince.

2. Bradley Pearson’s account of himself and Arnold Baffin as writers

In B P, the reader has to be aware of the fact that every explicit description of Arnold Baffin as well as of Bradley Pearson himself is given by Bradley’s account which is always a direct or indirect comparison to his own work where he clearly makes out distinctions. Furthermore, the kind of comparison the reader receives is not merely based on statements on character traits or the personality of Arnold and Bradley, it is also grounded on a rather abstract level, their “quality” as writers in relation to true art. Therefore it is first of all essential to present Bradley Pearson’s main theories about art, which can be implicitly suspected to mirror views on art of Iris Murdoch herself.3According to Barbara Stevens Heusel Bradley can even be considered as the author’s “mouthpiece”.4

Thus, the following subchapter will be concerned with the discussion of “art” as a notion defined by Bradley Pearson, at the same time being a writer, and with Arnold Baffin, his direct counterpart.

2.1 For the sake of art

“Good art speaks truth, indeed is truth, perhaps the only truth”5, Bradley Pearson enlightens his readers at the beginning of his novel “The Black Prince. A Celebration of Love” which is the “inner part” of Iris Murdoch’s T he B la ck Prince. As “[a]ll art deals with the absurd and aims at the simple”

(11) he is free to use “the elements of crude drama, the ‘fabulous’ events which simple people love to hear of” (12) for his novel. In fact, even with the overall construction of the novel which consists of three parts – or three acts – (as well as of the postscripts and two forewords) and with the mentioning of his “’players’” (14) Bradley convinces the reader of his story as a drama “which brought [his life, T.S.] so significantly to a climax.” (15) By this – so Hilda D. Spear concludes –, i. e. by creating the drama of his life, by remembering the most influential events and by reflecting and interpreting from a narrative distance Bradley is able to see the meaning his life took on through this autobiographical work.6

If “[a]rt comes out of endless restraint and silence” (50), Bradley Pearson must be the creator of a notable masterpiece of good art since he knows: that “before I could achieve greatness as a writer I would have to pass through some o rdeal” (18) which in the end is, indeed, given by the tortures of love and his (perhaps wrongful) imprisonment. So he is right in saying: “A work of art is as good as its creator” (11). Bradley struggles endlessly to write his book; the reader notices numerous attempts of him to leave London in order to find the necessary silence, “darkness, purity, solitude” for writing (127). Nevertheless, he cannot “escape” the unpredictable system of contingencies he is exposed to, for instance the unexpected appearances of his sister Priscilla, his ex-wife Christian or his former brother-in-law Francis and the thereby arising network of connections. However, as “[f]or an artist, everything connects with his work, and can feed it” (125), Bradley Pearson absorbs every single event he is confronted with, especially the ones which he could not have anticipated, and avails himself of them for his work. He prepares his readers for the “truth as [he] understands it, not only concerning the superficial and ‘exciting’ aspects of this drama, but also concerning what lies deeper.” (11)

Love and its entanglements, especially the “tribulations of marriage”7are – despite being emphasised in the title – just a minor theme of Bradley’s (and Murdoch’s) novel which, in fact, is much more occupied with the “discussion of art and of life”8. Hilda D. Spear states that “the novel follows Bradley’s journey of self-discovery” and she supports her thesis with Freudian-like analyses concerning Bradley’s mental restraints in relationships, which are said to be connected to his family background (likewise Francis uses such analyses within his postscript).9Supportive to this view of Bradley’s way to self-awareness is a line from his own postscript: “How littlein fact any human being understands about anything the practice of the artsoon teaches one.” (381) His autobiographical work – in which “[a]rt is akind of artificial memory (381) – is a device which helps him to reconstructhis life until a certain point and to reveal the inevitable coherences of eventsand the implications depending on the persons he is confronted with. In thisregard it is interesting to read that “In the twenty-five novels she haspublished since 1954 [...], Iris Murdoch has avoided what she sees as ‘theobvious danger for a writer’ – writing autobiographical novels.”10 In turn, thereliability of the narrator can be questioned and very much so – already in‘his’ part of the novel “The Black Prince. A Celebration of Love”. In anyevent the reader is left alone with his own speculations after having readThe Black Prince since Bradley admits that he has modified reality in respectof the shape of art by conceiving the drama of his life. Particularly theframing postscripts bring in new (critical) perspectives on what is until thispoint the only truth for the reader; so Bradley’s account can be doubted as“[t]he postscripts set the reader up for closure or consolation that nevercomes.”11 Nevertheless, the discussion about narrative unreliability shouldremain a subsidiary aspect of this paper. Instead it is relevant to scrutinise, atfirst, one of the initial concerns, namely Murdoch’s depiction of BradleyPearson as a writer.


1 Richard Todd, I r is Murdoch (London and New York: Methuen, 1984) 74 f.

2 Cf. Todd 75.

3 Cf. Todd 76.

4 Barbara Stevens Heusel, Patterned Aimlessness – Iris Murdoch’s Novels of the 1970s and 1980s (Athens and London: The University of Georgia Press, 1999) 127.

5 Iris Murdoch, The Black Prince (London: Vintage, 1999) 11. All page references within the following text belong to this edition.

6 Hilda D. Spear, Iris Murdoch (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995) 79.

7 Spear 80.

8 Spear 81.

9 Cf. Spear 80.

10 Spear 1.

11 Heusel 128.

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The state of the writer in Iris Murdoch’s "The Black Prince"
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M.A. Theresa Schmidt (Author), 2006, The state of the writer in Iris Murdoch’s "The Black Prince", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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