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The Bell (1958)

by Iris Murdoch

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,917457,600 (3.86)2 / 271
A lay community is encamped outside Imber Abbey, Gloucestershire, home of an enclosed order of nuns. A new bell is being installed and then the old bell, legendary symbol of religion and magic, is rediscovered.
  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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» See also 271 mentions

English (44)  Spanish (1)  All languages (45)
Showing 1-5 of 44 (next | show all)
I picked up The Bell (Vintage) by Iris Murdoch totally randomly when I last visited the local library and I love it when serendipity works as well as this. It’s set in Imber Court, a country house in Gloucestershire where a strange collection of characters have formed a lay community attached to an abbey full of nuns next door. There are a few back stories that concern connections that have been made between some of them many years before and nearly always in ways that make their reunion awkward to varying degrees. The bell in question refers to the huge abbey bell that legend has it fell into the lake several centuries before and was lost. A splendid new bell has been commissioned and there are plans to celebrate its arrival and installation. The accidental discovery of the old bell gives rise to secret plans and alliances that complicate matters and don’t go as planned. Given the characters, motives and isolated location, it builds in a Agatha Christie type way and raises tensions that make it a page turner, particularly in the eventful final quarter or so. I have to say, I really enjoyed this book, probably more than Murdoch’s Booker winning The Sea, The Sea which is the only other of hers that I have read. This definitely won’t be the last. ( )
  davidroche | Jan 19, 2023 |
Excellent novel with treatment of homosexuality surprisingly insightful for 1971. A lay religious community and the flaws in the personnel. Leading to tragedy but it's not clear what the tragedy is to be until it happens.
  jgoodwll | Nov 4, 2022 |
Someday I suppose I'll chew through Iris Murdoch, but today is not that day.
  kencf0618 | Apr 3, 2022 |
My sixth Murdoch and I've yet to read a duff one. This, her fourth novel, is set in a lay community of more or less spiritual seekers, attached to an abbeyful of cloistered nuns in 1950's Gloucestershire. Murdoch puts her characters through a kind of existential dressage, pushing them awkwardly, and often comically, round an obstacle course whose end is self-knowledge.

One thing I love about Iris Murdoch is how palpably amused she is at the antics of her characters. Her stories all wear this aspect of delightful archness, yet she never sneers at her creations or abuses them. I think if I could be a character in one author's stories, I'd choose her. ( )
  yarb | Oct 28, 2021 |
My first Iris Murdoch novel, read for book club. As it started it was a bit confusing to see where it was going but I got very engrossed in the stories of both Dora and Micheal. I am not sure I am really supposed to sympathize with either of them because they are portrayed as weak or even not particularly clever or mature but I did feel a great deal for both of them. Dora is trying to find her way into an adult world and deals with a cruel bully of a husband in ways that are so deeply frustrating but I really do like her for trying anything at all. She lands in Micheal's spiritual community but Micheal is struggling with his own issues, a deeply personally closeted gay man in a time when it was both illegal and found repellent by many people. Micheal seems a hopeless case and lets himself be controlled by many other forces swirling about him but there seems a kindness in him. A kindness that perhaps he might never get to express. The other characters seem mainly there to be foils for these two and some I just never worked out who they were but Nick, Toby, and Catherine are the most real ones. The spiritual themes didn't resonanate as much for me but the return to the land nature of the Imber community was intriguing. Despite the religious notes everywhere, it didn't feel that much of spiritual work to me. I'll be interested in what book club thinks.
  amyem58 | Sep 8, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 44 (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 (13 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Murdoch, Irisprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Byatt, A. S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Margolyes, MiriamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peccinotti, HarriCover designersecondary 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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A lay community is encamped outside Imber Abbey, Gloucestershire, home of an enclosed order of nuns. A new bell is being installed and then the old bell, legendary symbol of religion and magic, is rediscovered.

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Average: (3.86)
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2 18
2.5 6
3 80
3.5 25
4 144
4.5 23
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