“One of the most significant novelists of her generation” (The Guardian) and a “consummate storyteller” (The Independent), British author Iris Murdoch grappled with questions of morality as well as the nature of love in novels that are every bit as entertaining as they are thought provoking. Over the span of her career, she was the recipient of the Man Booker Prize, the Whitbread Literary Award, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.
Henry and Cato: Henry Marshalson and Cato Forbes were inseparable childhood friends. But their lives took different paths. Henry went to the United States to teach art history. Cato became a priest. When Henry’s brother dies, leaving him sole heir to his family’s vast estate, he returns to England, and the two friends reconnect. As Henry struggles to come to terms with his personal passions and family obligations, Cato fights against his religious doubts and darker urges. Soon, both men find themselves entwined in a deadly intrigue that could ruin not only their lives but also the lives of those they hold dear.
“Murdoch’s finest novel.” —Joyce Carol Oates
The Italian Girl: After a long absence, Edmund Narraway has returned to his childhood home to attend his mother’s funeral. The visit rekindles feelings of affection and nostalgia, but also triggers a resurgence of the tensions that caused him to leave in the first place. As Edmund once again becomes entangled in his family’s web of corrosive secrets, his homecoming tips a precariously balanced dynamic into sudden chaos.
“[An] inbred story of modern life . . . a ritual of innocence and corruption . . . accomplished with many dark fancies, sudden surprises and arcane implications.” —Kirkus Reviews
The Philosopher’s Pupil: The quiet English town of Ennistone is shaken up when George McCaffrey’s car plunges into the cold waters of a canal, carrying with it his wife—and when the village’s most celebrated son, famed philosopher John Robert Rozanov, returns, upending the lives of everyone with whom he comes in contact, in this New York Times Notable Book.
“The most daring and original of all her novels.” —A. N. Wilson
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About the Author
Iris Murdoch (1919–1999) is the author of twenty-six novels, including Under the Net, The Black Prince, and The Sea, The Sea, as well as several plays and a volume of poetry. Murdoch taught philosophy at Oxford before leaving to write fulltime, winning such literary awards as the Booker Prize and the PEN Gold Pen for Distinguished Service to Literature.
Read an Excerpt
RITES OF PASSAGE
Cato Forbes had already crossed Hungerford railway bridge three times, once from north to south, then from south to north, and again from north to south. He was now walking very slowly back towards the middle of the bridge. He was breathing deeply, conscious of a noisy counterpoint of breath and heartbeat. He felt nervously impelled to hold his in-drawn drawn too long and then to gasp. The revolver in its case, heavy and awkward inside his macintosh pocket, banged irregularly against his thigh at each step.
It was after midnight. The last tardy concert-goers from the Royal Festival Hall had passed over and gone home. Yet even now he was maddeningly not alone upon the bridge. The mist, which he had welcomed, baffled him. Damp and grey and gauzy and slightly in motion it arose from the Thames and surrounded him, seeming transparent and yet concealing the lights of the embankment on either side and deadening the footsteps of figures who, persistently appearing, would suddenly materialize close to him and go by with a suspicious gait. Or were these all shrouded apparitions of the same man, some plain-clothes police officer perhaps, whose task it was to patrol the bridge?
The air of the April night was faintly warm, carrying fresh smells, the scent of the sea, or perhaps just the old vegetable aroma of the river, lightened a little by far-off presences of springtime trees and flowers. Although it had scarcely rained that day everything was wet. The asphalt beneath Cato's feet was sticky and the thick cast-iron railings were covered with a cold sweat of running water. Cato's fingers had become damp and chilled as he walked the narrow footpath beside the railway line, steadying the gun with one hand and trailing the other hand along the bars. His face, blazing with anxiety, felt wet too, and he mopped it awkwardly with the sleeve of his macintosh. Behind the grille which separated the railway from the footpath a train leaving Charing Cross station rattled slowly by, the lighted carriages jerkily illuminating the mist. Cato turned his head away.
Oh how stupid I am, he said to himself; using words which he had used ever so often since he was a child. At that moment it seemed to him that his life had consisted of one blunder after another, and now aged thirty-one he was well on into the stupidest of all. The train had gone by. A tall figure appeared and passed, looking at him intently. There was a curious taut silence within which the faint hum of the sparse embankment traffic was contained. A distant foghorn boomed sadly, then boomed again, the very voice of the night. Cato knew that he could not simply give up and go home; he had made a cage of purposes and was caught in it. Fear, feeling now almost familiarly like sexual excitement, was at last becoming a compulsion to act.
Without even troubling to notice whether anyone was near he knelt down close to the centre of the bridge, his knees adhering to the cold muddy ground. He began to pull the revolver case out of his macintosh pocket but one corner of it caught in the lining, and he knelt there tugging at it and ripping the cloth. When he had got the thing out he hesitated again, wondering if he should remove the gun from the case. Why had he not decided this earlier? Would the case float, he stupidly wondered? He peered down but the water below him was invisible. His cheek touched the wet cold iron-work. He thrust the unopened case out through the bars into the dark misty air and released it. It vanished instantly silently from his fingers into the mist as if it had been gently plucked away. There was no sound of a splash. Cato rose. He touched his pocket, hardly believing that the heavy object was no longer there. He took a few steps, then looked round behind him. It did go into the river, didn't it, he thought. It can't have gone anywhere else.
He began to walk back towards the north bank. There were two chill plates where his knees had rested upon the ground. Someone, approaching him with soft gluey steps, loomed up and passed. Cato coughed, then coughed again, as if to reassure both himself and the other person. He breathed slowly and deeply, blowing his breath out vigorously into the mist. He could now see the lights of the roadway. Deliberately slowing his pace he went down the steps onto the embankment. Charing Cross underground station was closed. Of course he must not take a taxi. He began to walk up Northumberland Avenue, lighting a cigarette as he went. He felt better. The acute fear had gone and now seemed to him to have been irrational. The sexual excitement, diffused and vague, remained as a comfort, as if he had taken some warming calming drug. Oh how stupid I am, he said to himself again, but now he smiled cunningly, secretively, as he said it.
At about the hour when Cato Forbes was walking up and down in the mist on Hungerford Bridge, Henry Marshalson was awakening from a brief nap upon an eastbound jumbo jet high above the Atlantic. Leaving New York in daylight, his plane had soon risen into a sort of radiant rosy-blue stratospheric gloom. Now it was almost dark.
Awakening Henry had instantly become conscious of something new and wonderful about the world. Some unexpected marvel had entered his life. What was it? Oh yes, his brother Sandy was dead. Leaning back in his seat again and stretching, luxurious Henry flexed his toes with joy.
When the great news reached him Henry had been in St Louis, sitting in O'Connor's bar eating a hamburger. He had opened a copy of the London Evening Standard which a jet-propelled visitor had left in the lounge of his small hotel and which he had idly picked up. Private Henry shunned university acquaintances in St Louis, preferring modest hotel life, while trotting to and fro from the picture galleries and the zoo. Munching, he opened the paper and scanned the news of strikes, trade deficits, Labour Party feuds, rows about education, rows about new roads, rows about new airports. No interesting murders. Everything seemed much as usual in his native land which he had left eight years ago intending never to return. Then he gasped, rigid with shock, blushed scarlet and became white. Covered over with surges of dots the small news item danced wildly before his eyes. The well-known racing driver Alexander Marshalson ... killed in a car accident ...
Crumpling the paper against his chest Henry staggered up. The air seemed suddenly to have become rarefied and unbreathable. He rushed out and ran all the way to his hotel, panting with anguish. It was in the paper, but it didn't have to be true. Oh God, if it should now prove false! He made a telephone call to England. Of course he did not ring his mother; he rang Merriman, the family solicitor. It was true. They had been desperately trying to find out where he was. The funeral had just taken place. Henry put the receiver down and fell back on his bed, salivating with relief. Inheriting the property was nothing. What mattered was that bloody Sandy was no more.
Alienated Henry, now thirty-two years old, had spent his years of exile in America, after obtaining a second class degree in modern history at Cambridge, England. He had spent three years at Stanford messing with a doctorate, and had then obtained an insecure teaching post at a small Liberal arts college at Sperriton, Illinois. Henry's academic career had not been glorious. At Stanford he had begun, cautiously at first, to pass himself off as an art historian, an idea which would have amazed his tutors at Cambridge, England. At unexacting self-indulgent little Sperriton, where no one knew much and he could do as he pleased, he taught 'fifty great historical pictures'. Later he taught 'fifty great pictures'. His courses were popular and Henry's ramblings did the kids some good, he thought. Would he have stayed on at Sperriton if it had not been for Russell and Bella Fischer? He was not sure; and in any case there had been no rush to offer Henry jobs. Sperriton was a very long way from anywhere out in the flat cornlands where miles and miles away against the sky one could perhaps see a silo. Through the corn here and there ran the freeways, along which Henry and Russ and Bella would sometimes tear about. Once they went as far as Mexico.
The local metropolis was weird majestic St Louis beside the journeying Mississippi. T. S. Eliot's city. Henry who detested New York loved St Louis. Sperriton was tiny and lonely. St Louis was vast and lonely, and lost Henry delighted in its besieged loneliness. He loved its derelict splendours, the huge ornate neglected mansions of a vanished bourgeoisie, the useless skyscraper-tall steel arch through which the citizenry surveyed the view of shabby warehouses and marshalling yards on the Illinois shore. The empty palaces beside the immense eternal river: what an impressive image of the demise of capitalism. (Henry hated capitalism. He hated socialism too.) Russell and Bella went to concerts. (There was virtually no theatre.) Henry cared for none of these things; he just wandered about seeking an identity. Eventually he got onto the trail of Max Beckmann whom a fate even stranger than Henry's had exiled to St Louis in his later years. Henry had been told by the head of his department that he must write a book, any book. He decided to write about Beckmann. Henry's book would not soon appear. Russ and Bella laughed at it.
In fact after Henry had been teaching fifty great pictures for a while he began to hate art. Or perhaps what he hated was just the old pompous cluttered-up European tradition. It was mass production before the factories. There was too much stuff in the world. Man invented time, God invented Space, Beckmann said. Henry wanted to get back to space. So oddly enough did Max, although he so anxiously crammed his canvases with those tormented images. The only peaceful thing in Max's art was Max himself. How Henry envied that vast self-confidence, that happy and commanding egoism. How wonderful to be able to look at oneself in a mirror and become something so permanent and significant and monumental: a revolutionary leader, an epic hero, a sailor, a roue, a clown, a king. The fish-embracing women were another matter. But that great calm round face was a light in Henry's life. Two-wived Beckmann treading underground paths of masculine mysticism which linked Signorelli to Grünewald, Rembrandt to Cezanne. One day Henry would chart it all, only, given over to love and envy, he kept putting off starting.
Henry often thought of himself as a failed artist. Why failed, for heaven's sake, Bella asked him, you haven't tried! He and Bella took painting lessons but Henry soon gave up with a yelp of rage. Bella cheerfully went on painting badly. Henry grandly said that he preferred the tabula rasa of the white canvas. Perhaps indeed America had been his tabula rasa, where at first he had expected all sorts of events and adventures. There was a heroic life somewhere to which he felt that he belonged. He pictured himself like Max in a frightful harlequin world of extreme situations and inquisitions taking place somehow in night clubs or circuses. Of course Max had had his real horrors: the Nazis, and the nineteen-fourteen war with a pencil and no paint. There was certainly an America elsewhere where things happened, but the hard stuff never seemed to come Henry's way, and he could not but observe a lack of intensity in his life. He inhabited spacious easy routines of quietness and calm. His America was a soft drink. He had expected a great love, never having had one in England; but the competent hygienic campus girls, his pupils, who regarded him as comic and very old, filled him with alarm and dismay. At Stanford he had had several inconclusive miserable affairs. At Sperriton he had met Russ and Bella. When at last he went to bed with Bella, Russell knew all about it and they both discussed it with their analyst. Bella wanted Henry to go into analysis but he never would. Contempt for analysis was one of the little English flags which he sometimes flew.
Henry had meditated a lot upon what he thought of as 'the great American coldness,' and upon why he went on feeling such a foreigner in his adopted land. Both figuratively and literally there was a certain lack of smell. (Henry's clothes and person smelt. Bella said she liked it. Russell was odourless.) Henry had long ago adjusted himself to his modest talents and settled down, he sometimes suspected too soon, to a sense of his limitations. He took the pattern of his life and character for granted. They (Russ, Bella, The Americans) seemed to have no way of taking things for granted, but assumed a regime of perpetual change wherein they unceasingly asked: am I developing, am I succeeding, am I fulfilled, am I good? This made unpredictability a right and the constant exercise of will a duty. Psychoanalysis, which might ideally produce a humble self-awareness, seemed to Henry in this heroic scene to promote a restless nervous desire for change and improvement. He looked on with awe, like an idle slave watching some battle of Titans. What he could never decide was whether this grand refusal to be defined was something good, perhaps a kind of innocence, or whether it was something bad. As he could not regard himself as good he decided that the opposite must be in some way admirable, and he made that wonderful instability into an object of admiration, although he knew that he could never share it. Having had the orderly frustrated childhood of an English middleclass child he could not, in early middle age, still think that all things were possible. He gave himself no credit. He thought of himself as a demonic man, but failed. A failed demon, that would be something spiteful; only even his spite was contained by his deep sense of his limits.
In fact refugee Henry had quite remarkably settled down. In America there was nowhere to hide, so he stopped hiding. He settled down with the transcendentally nice Fischers, finding what he had never expected to find again, a home in their Jewishness, in the bosom of their vast intelligent American innocence. Carefully and slowly they unwound him, they unpacked him like china. His affair with Bella, now over and done with, had not ruffled any feathers except his own. It had, exactly as they had predicted, brought him closer to both of them. He had concluded, and had told them this, that he would now be quite happy to spend the rest of his life with them, studying America in their two persons. Of course (they were childless) they had adopted Henry, they had become his 'parents'. They even suggested that he should live with them, only Henry clung to his tiny wooden house and his tiny independence, even though he spent more time with the Fischers than he did at home. And through them he made his other friends, and through them he partook of America. Both of them taught at the college, Russell as a philosopher and Bella as a sociologist. Spiritually they desired to perfect themselves, but academically had more realistic ambitions. There was a persistently discussed dream of getting to 'the coast', that is to California. Russell was once short-listed for a job at Santa Barbara. Of course they could not go until they all three had jobs. Unfortunately none of them was any good.
It had been extraordinarily painful to leave them, though naturally he was returning very soon. 'Cheer up, kid, it'll be over by Christmas,' said Russell to leave-taking Henry. 'By Christmas!' shouted Bella. 'Why, he'll be back here in a fortnight, he can't live without us!' Henry's chance of sudden English adventures was discussed. 'If he falls for anybody it'll be some sort of ravaged tart,' said Bella. 'Like you, honey,' said Henry feebly. It was agreed to be unlikely. Timid Henry shuddered from indiscriminate or hasty sex. One of the things which Bella had done for him was to make him feel that he had somehow been through 'all that' and come out spotless. What after all did he know about women? What big plump loud-voiced dark-eyed Bella had taught him; he was her pupil, her creation, probably her property.
Henry took off his watch and altered it to London time. Half way there. He felt, as a very vague stirring in his bones, America begin to fall away. Not thinking of England or his mother he poured himself a quick Martini from the hip flask which Bella had thoughtfully provided. Presumably he was a rich man now. Of course he had not been exactly a poor man in the States except in the sense that he had somehow conditioned himself for poverty. His father, a rigid primogeniturist, had left everything to Sandy, the elder son: everything that is except a sum of money, not fabulous though not contemptible, which escaping Henry had left behind him untouched in a bank in London. Occasionally, when economizing with Russ and Bella, he thought of bringing the money over and spending it rapidly on riotous living, only somehow he had never found out how to live riotously. He could not discover in himself any talent for buying anything expensive: girls, fun, objets d'art. He did not want them if bought. Even the cornucopia of the American supermarket somehow turned his stomach. He never told the Fischers about the money. Naturally he had told Bella about Sandy at a faculty party the very first time he met her, and she had soon developed her classical theory about his childhood. Only of course it was not like that, it was not like that at all, and the truth was untellable.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Novels of Iris Murdoch Volume One"
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Table of Contents
Henry and Cato,
Part One: Rites of Passage,
Part Two: The Great Teacher,
The Italian Girl,
1 A Moonlight Engraving,
2 Otto's Laughter,
3 Isabel Feeds the Fire,
4 Otto and Innocence,
5 Flora and Experience,
6 The Magic Brothel,
7 Two Kinds of Jew,
8 Otto Confesses,
9 Edmund is Tempted,
10 Uncle Edmund in Loco Parentis,
11 A Modern Ballet,
12 Isabel Confesses,
13 Edmund runs to Mother,
14 Otto Selects a Victim,
15 Lydia's Sense of Humour,
16 Elsa's Fire Dance,
17 Edmund in the Enchanted Wood,
18 Elsa's Rings,
20 Isabel in a long Perspective,
The Philosopher's Pupil,
Prelude: i An Accident,
Prelude: ii Our Town,
The Events in Our Town,
What Happened Afterwards,
A Biography of Iris Murdoch,