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The Bell (1958)

by Iris Murdoch

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,739397,036 (3.83)2 / 249
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY A. S. BYATT Dora Greenfield, erring wife, returns to live with her husband in a a lay community encamped outside Imber Abbey, home to a mysterious enclosed order of nuns. Watched over by its devout director and the discreet authority of the wise old Abbess, Imber Court is a haven for lost souls seeking tranquility. But then the lost Abbey bell, legendary symbol of religion and magic, is rediscovered, and hidden truths and desires are forced into the light.… (more)
  1. 20
    The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch (Booksloth)
  2. 00
    Shirley's Guild (Capuchin Classics) by David Pryce-Jones (Lirmac)
    Lirmac: Both novels are explorations of religious revival in a rural English setting, and share a tone of mystery. The authors are both exceptional stylists.
  3. 00
    Next to Nature, Art by Penelope Lively (edwinbcn)
    edwinbcn: Both books are about a commune, the book by Murdoch explores this in more detail and depth.
  4. 00
    The Courage Consort: Three Novellas by Michel Faber (Booksloth)
  5. 01
    Going Buddhist: Panic and Emptiness, the Buddha and Me by Peter J. Conradi (JuliaMaria)
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Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
I enjoyed this very much—such a good balance of plot and detail, with some non-trite ruminations on character, religion, sexuality, and power imbalances (I was going to just say relationships, but let's call 'em as Murdoch saw 'em). The whole effect was very propulsive, and the setting kept me Googling photos of English country houses, which is never a bad thing. Good fun without being silly at all. ( )
1 vote lisapeet | Jul 14, 2020 |
There is something about Iris Murdoch's novels that haunts me in a rather profound way. It has to do with being British. At the time of writing this, it has been 196 years since my ancestors left South West England to push out to Australia, and this sense of separation from the motherland is a strange, raspberry-coloured strain of my personality. I am not English, but I relate to that culture more than to any other (aside from my own Australian one). So when I read "The Bell", sixty years after its publication, I am struck by how familiar and yet eerily unfamiliar everyone feels. I understand what is being said, and what the characters are feeling, but at the same time I really, really don't. What I mean is - it's not just time. When I read Australian novels from the 1950s, I get the characters in a way that I don't entirely get these ones. Most people are thicketed by their culture (to use a Murdochian word) to the extent that it bursts out of them without realising it. Turns of phrase, implications of word choice, what we see and hear and what we feel.

All of which is to say that Murdoch's novels might be more descriptive than I would like in the twentieth century (very Zola), her characters prone to outbursts with origins I can't fully comprehend, and her sense of plot sometimes grinding mercilessly over her forever maudlin figures, trapped in an aspic-like web of memory (in How Fiction Works, James Wood paints Murdoch as a "poignant figure" because - as she herself admitted - she could never create fully psychologically independent characters, like Shakespeare could, but instead despite her best efforts, her characters were in some ways extensions of herself), but what distances me from the novel most is a sense that I'm not quite with the characters in this lay religious community.

In spite of all this, it might actually be impossible to get bored during a Murdoch novel. She weaves around you. She might be - as Wood argues - rehashing nineteenth-century styles and ideas with a twentieth-century melodrama facade, but I still think she's pretty damn good, and I'm haunted by that bell. As I wrote in my rather underwhelmed review of The Sea, The Sea, Murdoch was prolific, one of the last survivors of an age when "literary" writers could churn out stories without undue pressure that every work had to be a masterpiece. I don't actually expect every book to be a masterpiece, and I would much rather we return to a mentality when we can just enjoy works, great or minor, as stories.

Which is a needlessly lengthy way of saying that I enjoyed the book, I didn't love the book, I'm intrigued by Murdoch's characters, I'm disconnected from her characters, I'm haunted by that bell, and I also think that people whose lives are so fixated on a church bell need to consider other avenues of intellectual stimulation. That's clear, right? ( )
  therebelprince | Apr 27, 2020 |
“Remember that all our failures are ultimately failures in love. Imperfect love must not be condemned and rejected, but made perfect. The way is always forward, never back.”

This material may be protected by copyright.It reminded me a lot of Murdoch's 'The Unicorn' though of course this one was written first. Since giving the book a four star rating this morning, I've been unable to get these characters out of my head. I think of them as very real people. Possibly a five star book once I manage to reread it. ( )
  proteaprince | Dec 18, 2019 |
The Murdoch novels continue to get better as I go along. This is great, a small community living by an abbey, with all the attendant personality clashes and domestic dramas. A joy to read. ( )
  AlisonSakai | May 27, 2019 |
(Original Review, 2002)

“Toby had received, though not yet digested, one of the earliest lessons of adult life: that one is never secure. At any moment one can be removed from a state of guileless serenity and plunged into its opposite, without any intermediate condition, so high about us do the waters rise of our own and other people’s imperfection.”

In "The Bell" by Iris Murdoch

I first encountered the word 'rebarbative' in The Bell.

I don't think that something requires strict definition in order to have, or generate, meaning. I don't need an "a priori" definition of life in order to try to live; I just get on with doing the best I can. I suppose we operate within a general understanding of love as a looking-beyond-oneself or an acting-towards-the-Other, but whether one could, or would wish to, narrowly define love in a way that somehow includes the very different senses of love that one might have for one's partner, and children, and parents, and siblings is another matter. In terms of the language analogy, I suppose that one would not be trying to invent a language of one's own, but constantly rearranging the pre-existing vocabulary to communicate better with others (love thereby being less about an impossible identification with the Other, and more about a communion?). Which begins to sound less like Levinas and more like New Age bunkum, but that's the best I've got at this juncture in time.

Iris Murdoch and hope - now there's a conundrum to waste an afternoon! Still hopelessness is in the head of the beholder eh? Oh, it's definitely hope in the sense of 'this dark tunnel is very long, I do hope there's a light at the end of it. I suspect there isn't but it's better to keep walking than just sit down'. Which may well be to say: hope as a necessary illusion. ( )
1 vote antao | Oct 30, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 39 (next | show all)
Dora, a young, irresponsible art student, marries Paul, who is thirteen years older, and finds him decisive, possessive, authoritative and violent: 'Something gentle and gay had gone out of her life'. She leaves him and 'passed the summer drinking and dancing and making love and spending Paul's allowance on multi-coloured skirts'. She then decides to return to him, and goes by train, very nervous. On the carriage floor she sees a butterfly crawling; picks it up and holds it safely until the train stops and she gets out and meets her husband who finds she has left his property on the train, and 'His face was harshly closed'. He asks her why she is holding her hands so oddly, and she opens them 'like a flower'; the butterfly 'flew away into the distance'.
Clearly this is a butterfly highly charged with symbolic value.
added by KayCliff | editThe Indexer, Hazel K. Bell (Oct 1, 1992)
 

» Add other authors (14 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Murdoch, Irisprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Byatt, A. S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peccinotti, HarriCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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TO JOHN SIMOPOULOS
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Dora Greenfield left her husband because she was afraid of him.
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It might be thought that since Nature by addition had defeated him of Nick, at least by subtraction it was now offering him Catherine: but this did not occur to Michael except abstractly and as something someone else might have felt. (p.98)
Dora's ignorance of religion, as of most things, was formidable. She had never in fact been able to distinguish religion from superstition, and had given up her own practice of it when she discovered that she could say the Lord's Prayer quickly but not slowly.
At last, obeying that conception of fatality which served her instead of a moral sense, she left him.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY A. S. BYATT Dora Greenfield, erring wife, returns to live with her husband in a a lay community encamped outside Imber Abbey, home to a mysterious enclosed order of nuns. Watched over by its devout director and the discreet authority of the wise old Abbess, Imber Court is a haven for lost souls seeking tranquility. But then the lost Abbey bell, legendary symbol of religion and magic, is rediscovered, and hidden truths and desires are forced into the light.

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