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Reviews131 book which is too simple as criticism to appeal to specialists, and too speciedized in its focus to appeal to a more general audience. Willamette UniversityWilbur S. Braden Iris Murdoch: Workfor the Spirit, by Elizabeth Dipple; xii & 356 pp. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982, $25.00. Why is it that some readers find Iris Murdoch's novels so irritating, even unreadable, while odiers find diem so irresistibly compelling? There are superficial explanations no doubt but Professor Dipple, in this exemplary and profound study of die Murdoch literary oeuvre, carefully tracks down the more complex sources of irritation and fascination alike. Some readers, teased by die glittering surface realism ofdie novels, recoil at the unescapable allusive undercurrent: invariably disturbing, uncomfortable, unconsoling. Dipple acknowledges die unease of readers with a fictional world which "keeps us painfully aware of die sheer difficulty of human endeavor" (p. 90). Much of die unsetding undercurrent can be traced to Murdoch's views on art, which reveal subtle paradoxes in her own work. Like Plato, Murdoch sees art as potentially dangerous; it can dazzle us with its magic and indulge our most egotistical fantasies. The novelist is a trickster. The theme of enchantment and illusion permeates Murdoch's novels where a recurring character is die trickster, the enchanter, the magician, and of course the artist. Manipulative power euid corrupting illusion are portrayed as insidious enemies of art and morality but portrayed of course with all the finest tricks of the novelist. Dipple gives a most illuminating account of Murdoch's diemes of magic and "demonism," showing how the demonic characters — the most extreme identified as Carel Fisher in The Time ofthe Angels, the Satanic Julius King in A Fairly Honourable Defeat and, perhaps surprisingly, the bungling Austin Gibson Grey in An Accidental Man — are varied and complex, certainly richer dian mere "stage villains," and symbolic of different snares and perversions of the spiritual life. On the theme of magic she offers a most pertinent, if unlikely, comparison of The Unicorn, µnw9rldly and gothic, and The Sea, The Sea, with its worldly, rambling narrator, Charles Arrowby, a manipulating Prospero-figure in a world of illusion. These manipulators and "mydi-makers" exemplify for Murdoch the very antithesis of the true artist, even though, under Freudian influence, she sees the inspiration for eirt as stemming from creative forces in die same dark regions of the psyche· Murdoch would spare the artists from banishment only because she believes diat diis creative energy, properly chemnelled, can issue in the purest form of selfless "attention." This cluster of themes, centered on the paradoxes of art, is crystallized in The Black Prince, which Dipple, surely righdy, judges die "best novel so far" (p. 109). Bradley Pearsqn, the narrator, struggles with the creative forces, awakened by Eros and Apollo, and to his surprise fashions a work ofart out ofhis own account ofthe struggle. The novel, like sp much of Murdoch's work, delightfully and ingeniously reflects on itself as a creative act. Dipple gives a virtuoso reading, taking as a central motif the myth of Apollo and Marsyas: 132Philosophy and Literature Marsyas, the foolhardy mortal who challenges the god Apollo to a musical contest only to be flayed edive as the penalty for losing. The artist's painful struggle on the road to Truth parallels the moral struggle in quest of the Good. This theme, complementing the treatment of evil, finds Murdoch equally austere. Her Platonic Good is unreachable and absolute and in pursuit of it only "a fairly honourable defeat" can be hoped for, die fate ofthe Christ-like figure Tallis Browne in the novel of that tide. No wonder the novels provoke such unease. Dipple clearly shows that understanding diese works, beneath their dazzling surface, requires mastery of an abstract interpretive vocabulary: "fantasy," "demonism," "the good," "saintliness," "truth," "consolation," etc. But she rightly rejects as simplistic and "clichéd" the tag "philosophical novel." Philosophy is only one part of a rich edlusive frame which the novels invoke, including Greek myth, Christianity, Shakespeare, mysticism, and the visual arts. It would be difficult to find a better guide than Professor Dipple to these complex interlocking themes. It is a pleasure to recall die novels...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 131-132
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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