The Bell, by Iris Murdoch

the bell murdoch

They came quite suddenly out of the wood onto the wide expanse of grass near the drive. The great scene, the familiar scene, was there again before them, lit by a very yellow and almost vanished sun, the sky fading to a greenish blue. From here they looked a little down upon the lake and could see, intensely tinted and very still, the reflection in it of the farther slope and the house, clear and pearly grey in the revealing light, its detail sharply defined, starting into nearness. Beyond it on the pastureland, against a pallid line at the horizon, the trees took the declining sun, and one oak tree, its leaves already turning yellow, seemed to be on fire…

This gorgeous novel does not treat meditation explicitly. But it does address many spiritual questions: what constitutes goodness and virtue and beauty, how is one to live and love in the world without causing harm, what are compassionate states of mind. As such, it ranks as one of the most thoughtful and deep novels I have ever read, written with crystal clarity.

The novel concerns a lay religious Anglican community in England. It treats the private lives of several individuals there: en erring wife, afraid of her bullying husband; the head of the community, who grapples with his past and his homosexuality; a young boy who comes there to find himself before joining university. All are drawn together through a series of bizarre events on the estate.

The richness of the themes, the sense of mystery and, almost, sacredness that pervades everyday life, the portrayal of the depth of human minds: these are hallmarks of Murdoch’s novels. I envy those who are yet to read this work.

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4 thoughts on “The Bell, by Iris Murdoch

      1. The Sunflower: On the Possibilities and Limits of Forgiveness. By Simon Weisenthal. It’s not actually fiction, but it’s great narrative; challenging. Forced me to look more closely at what I believe about forgiveness.

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