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The Bell by Iris Murdoch

The Bell (1958)

by Iris Murdoch

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,652366,803 (3.83)2 / 246
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 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 37 (next | show all)
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 |
The moonlight made the high wall look insubstantial and yet somehow alive, with that tense look of deserted human places at night. Toby, as a Londoner, was not used to moonlight, and marvelled at this light which is no light, which calls up sights like ghosts, and whose strength is seen only in the sharpness of cast shadows.

I found a copy of this book in the ship's library while on a cruise, and decided to read it becuase I remembered enjoying the TV adaptation. Interestingly, I realised that most of the male actors were a lot older than the characters in the book (aklthough I can see why in the case of Toby), while the female actors were about the right age.

I had forgotten most of the plot, including who it was that successfully commits suicide at the end but found the themes of religion, homosexuality and marriage interesting, although Michael is so lacking in self-knowledge that I found the parts that he narrated quite irritating. Actually, now I come to think of it, the other narrators Toby and Dora do not really understand what is going on all the time, but they are outsiders who are only visiting the lay community for a few weeks, while Michael is the leader of the community.

This was my first Iris Murdoch novel, but I will probably read more. ( )
1 vote isabelx | Jul 16, 2018 |
lay religious retreat, next to an Abbey and the interactions of the people and something about a bell ( )
  margaretfield | May 29, 2018 |
The Bell. Iris Murdoch

Why did I read this book? Because there is a library building named after the author for dementia sufferers at the University of Stirling, with which I am familiar.
Did I like the book? Well, err, no! I found this to be a book without a soul, driven by an immature philosophy rather than a plot. Iris Murdoch clearly had issues she wanted to air in the context of 1958, a time when sodomy was still illegal and feminism had not yet entered the promised land.

Murdoch has a belief in religion and platonic goodness which she sees manifest in the very act of prayer. Unfortunately, Murdoch and her chief character, Michael : (a prayerful wannabe priest with a penchant for youthful boys) has a poor understanding of evangelical theology which lets her and Michael down. Michael fails to see why he cannot have his cake and eat it before his all loving God. Murdoch’s anti- existentialist views are expressed in the ditsy character of Doris who does everything in the spur of the moment, without thinking through the consequences. Michael and Doris are part of a straw religious community attached to a convent (a proper religious community)

The plot is simple, so simple in fact that I almost put the book down through boredom. Having resisted this particular sin I was treated to the central philosophical argument in the book: the third sermon (a secular one). At this point the narrative picked up speed and a few surprises emerged which made it a worthwhile although exasperating read.

I gave this book four stars, three for the narrative and one for helping me get to sleep when I had a sore throat. (A good book makes me think and keeps me awake)

I have no doubt that Iris Murdoch has produced better novels that this. Some books are timeless. The Bell is not, The Bell asks questions of its time which, with the benefit of hindsight are answered as England enters the swinging sixties.
  Peter_Scott_Wilson | May 11, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 37 (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)

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Iris Murdochprimary authorall editionscalculated
Byatt, A. S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Dora Greenfield left her husband because she was afraid of him.
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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Average: (3.83)
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2 18
2.5 6
3 73
3.5 23
4 132
4.5 21
5 69


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