Saturday, January 15, 2011


The Sandcastle, Iris Murdoch, The Viking Press, 1957, 342 pp

 Interesting story for Murdoch. Mor is a teacher and housemaster at St Bride's school. His wife Nan is a carping, controlling woman who has beaten her husband down with a superior attitude. They have a teenage son who attends St Bride's and a pubescent daughter at another private school. Because I have read Harry Potter, I am familiar with this English school scene.

  A young female painter arrives at St Bride's where she has been commissioned to paint the portrait  of the former headmaster. Mor falls in love with her, wants to throw away his marriage, and Nan must find a way to hold on to him. Because this is Iris Murdoch, there are plenty of hilarious, silly, and nail-biting scenes. 

 I hadn't quite noticed this before in her novels, but I see it now. Murdoch is no feminist. She is as hard on her female characters as she is on the men. She finds the absurdity in any human endeavor and tromps hard. But she also makes it clear how dearly we all hold to our purposes and our ways of life.

 I am just blundering along in my reading of mid twentieth century English literature by women and so just beginning to glimpse what is going on. The major similarity I see between them (Murdoch, Muriel Spark, Doris Lessing, etc.) is a dedicated attempt to use intellect and philosophy as a means of going more deeply into human relations. To my thinking, that is a worthy aim.

(The Sandcastle is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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