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Book Review: 'The Black Prince' by Iris Murdoch

An Air Warrior and devotee of Lord Krishna has published over 120 short stories and 15 books on fiction and 4 on military history.



Ireland is a country that for a long time was under the yolk of the English till it gained independence. However, both countries share a common heritage and that is the `English language. One of the more famous Irish writers who made her home in England is Dame Iris Murdoch DBE. She is well known as an Irish-born British author and philosopher. She has carved a niche for herself with her novels that showcase good, evil, and sexual relationships.

Dame Murdoch published more than 26 novels. Her novel The Sea, the Sea won a Booker Prize in 1978. She published her last novel, The Green Knight, in 1994. This was the year she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.

In 1973 she wrote and published her novel, 'The Black Prince' that has been recognized as one of the great books of the 20th century. It won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.


The book

Iris Murdoch wrote ‘The Black Prince’ in 1973. This was her fifteenth novel and alludes mainly to Hamlet, the character created by William Shakespeare. The Black Prince is generally considered the best of Murdoch’s novels.

Murdoch admired the great nineteenth-century English and Russian novels written by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, James, Dickens, and Eliot. Overall, she had the ability to merge philosophy and fiction and this is apparent in the main character Bradley Pearson in the novel.

Murdoch relates the novel through Bradley Pearson. He is a retired 58-year-old Inspector of Taxes and has a dream of going to the country to write his book. But the result is not simple as Bradley is beset by complications at every stage of his life. His character is ambiguous as he bickers with his ‘protégé’ Arnold Baffin about the art of writing a book. Simultaneously he is enticed by Arnold’s wife to sleep with her in an affair that is almost clinical.

He also tutors the 20-year-old daughter of Rachel and Arnold, Julian. His ex-wife Christian and her brother France along with his depressed sister turn up at his door. The reader wonders how Bradley will react, but Dame Murdoch paints him as a self-absorbed, pompous, and unsympathetic man. He does not care for the suffering of others.

Bradley is struck by the arrow of Eros, the god of love. This changes his entire perception of life. Bradley changes to a man who is tender, as his love for Julian Baffin takes seed in his heart. He becomes almost infatuated with her. Despite this infatuation, he decides to keep his love to himself, but love overpowers as he realizes that Julian also loves him.

They meet and bare their souls to each other outside the Royal Opera house. This launches a whirlwind romance. Bradley and Julian love each other with passion and as their love blossoms. ‘The Black Prince’ becomes one of the most romantic works of literature. The lovers crave for each other and each encounter leaves them breathless for more. Bradley subtitles his memoir ‘A Celebration of Love’.

Murdoch uses the love of Bradley with a girl old enough to be his daughter to emphasize her point that sex itself is the great connective force to God and something that can be the most relaxing thing in life. I will digress here and bring out the fact that Dame Murdoch stated what is written in the Hindu Tantra which talks of realization of God and salvation through the sex act.

The youthful Julian reciprocates the love of Bradley. Once she dresses up as Hamlet and so arouses Bradley that he makes ferocious love to her. Julian is the driving force and initiator for all that takes place. The entire book is a romantic fantasy retold through the pen of Bradley.

The character of Bradley Pearson has the same initials as the Black Prince, B.P. Hamlet is the Black Prince and he faced tragedy, so does Bradley. Murdoch has created a character that is deeply emotional and philosophical. It is a book that one cannot put down, after having commenced to read it.


Last word

Murdoch was born in Dublin in 1919 and went to Oxford. She lived a very unconventional life and in 1956 married John Bayley a literary critic and novelist. From 1974 to 1992, she also married Warton Professor of English at Oxford who she had met in 1954. The trio had an unusual romantic partnership that lasted almost 40 years. Murdoch had "multiple affairs" with both men and women which, on discomposing occasions meaning to disturb the calm, were witnessed by Bayley. She lived a life of Hedonistic love and it finds expression in her novels and books.

Dame Murdoch spent the last 5 years of her life with Alzheimer’s disease and died in 1999. Her husband was at her bedside.

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Dame Murdoch was one of the greats of English literature of the 20th century and it will be wrong to assess her on her promiscuous life and belief that sex leads to god.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 29, 2021:

Manatitaji, it's always a pleasure to read your comments, so erudite with deep philosophy. Take care.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 29, 2021:

Bill, thank you for your comment. I have read nearly 20 of her books.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 29, 2021:

Dreamer Meg, nice of you to spare time and comment.

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on July 29, 2021:

Very interesting. I have never read any of Iris Murdoch's stories, as, knowing she was a philosopher, I assumed her books were highly philosophical and see now that I made an assumption that was wrong! Seems it might be worth me looking up some of her books.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on July 29, 2021:

This one I have read. Thanks for the review. I think I might have to read it again in the near future. It is worth a second go-around.

manatita44 from london on July 29, 2021:

You're getting better and better, my brother, and I'm happy that you've added yet another edge to your writing, even though Swalia seems to be back.

You have always been versatile and I used to wonder how you got the time and energy to come up with so many awesome pieces. Now you seem to fit more than nicely into these literary reviews.

Perhaps you were a great Indian savant or an Englishman last time round. Air Force Raj? Ha-ha. A kind one... there were a few. Excellent writing and engaging piece!

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 29, 2021:

Yes Tom, thanks. She did deserve the Nobel prize but was cheated out of it. I haven't seen the movie with Kate Winslet. Must see it now.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 29, 2021:

Thank you Sankhajit, for your comment.

Sankhajit Bhattacharjee from MILWAUKEE on July 28, 2021:

it's really an interesting piece

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 28, 2021:

Thank you, Pamela, It's such a pleasure to read your comment.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on July 28, 2021:

"The Black Prince" sounds like a very interesting book, MG. It is a shame that Dame Murdock ended up with Alzheimer’s disease. She is a very interesting woman. Your review of this book is very good.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 28, 2021:

Thank you Danny for commenting. I have read at least 20 of her books and there is no doubt she is one of the greats of English literature.

Danny D'souza on July 28, 2021:

This is a wonderful review. I have read the book and you have shown your mastery by reviewing it. Dame Murdoch's poems are also worth reading as well as her philosophical works. Truly a great woman of letters.

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