The Essence of Art and Artist in Iris Murdoch’s Novel “The Black Prince”

Iris Murdoch was famous British writer and philosopher of the second half of the twentieth century. Her works are full of many actual issues. Among them, the most notable one is the art, the art-concept, which has a lot of interpretations. Everything that is of an unnatural existence or in other words, is created by people belongs to art. Iris Murdoch believes that art is a fundamental source of inspiration for the mankind. It encourages the revelation of people’s inner lives. The paper presents the connection between art and love, art and truth, art and moral as well as between aestheticism and ethics in combination with the role of art in the moral world.

In Iris Murdoch's novels, there is a big influence of the famous writers, for example, William Shakespeare. Therefore, it is not surprising that her novels are full of philosophical topics, which are a bit difficult to perceive, but in its turn, make us aware how magnificent art is. Murdoch shares the idea of Thomas Eliot and asks the real artist to be impersonal, so as to create the work of art. She believes that art is deeper than philosophy. One thing is clear from her novels - art enriches our moral understanding, cultivates our virtue and helps us to achieve a better life. The writer is certain that the second name of the art is the truth. Therefore, if there is no truth, there will not be a place of art.

“Art tells the only truth that ultimately matters. It is the light by which human things can be mended. And after art there is, let me assure you all, nothing” - we read this in Iris Murdoch’s fifteenth novel “The Black Prince” [Murdoch, 2003: 408]. The narration in the novel is in the first person. The protagonist of the novel is fifty-eight years old unsuccessful artist Bradley Pearson, who looks for finding himself in society throughout the novel. He is unable to write a good book. He is prevented by something on this way. The difficulties are unavoidable throughout the novel. He has got difficulties with everyone, not only with his friends, but with his relatives, family members. He cannot understand the reality around him, not to say anything about his imagination, which he does not have. He is unable to differ and interpret the significant concepts: to distinguish good and bad. Everything is the same for him. What is the most important for us is that Bradley does not believe in the existence of love. Love, in this novel, as in Iris Murdoch's other novels, is one of the primary issues worth talking about. The author herself pays a great attention to the discussion of this concept in this novel. The title of the novel („The Black Prince” or “A Celebration of Love”) itself enables us to make such a conclusion. The main protagonist of the novel Bradley Pearson falls in love with his rival’s and friend’s young daughter, who is only twenty years old. Their love is unacceptable for everyone, even for Bradley, but he does not confess. In the foreword of the book, the publisher writes: “Every artist is an unhappy lover. And unhappy lovers want to tell their story” [Murdoch, 2003: 2]. 

The novel is full of different literary techniques such as irony, tragedy, comedy. This novel is called tragi-comic. As we, the readers, can see tragedy (not only Bradley's, but of the whole society) and comedy, as the characters' behavior in many cases causes laughter. The tragi-comedy of this novel is caused by the influence of Shakespeare. There is no doubt that Murdoch idealizes Shakespeare. The most important passage in this novel connected to art is the dialogue between Julian and Bradley, when they are talking about “Hamlet” and its meaning. According to their conversation, a reader realizes that art is an adventurous story, which needs to be explained by words, but exactly these words are hard to find. According to Bradley, Hamlet is nothing, but expressing ideas by means of words. This is exactly art, this is significant and this is the most problematic matter of all times. “Words are Hamlet’s being as they were Shakespeare’s”. “Words, words, words“ [Murdoch, 2003: 191]. But do the words do their function? Do these words have any relevance or are they just insignificant? According to Murdoch, the words have lost their primary purpose to convey the truth. Murdoch writes: "We can no longer take language for granted as a medium of communication. Its transparency has gone. We are like people who for a long time looked out of the window without noticing the glass and then one day began to notice this too" [Murdoch, 1987: 64]. 

Expressing the idea by means of words in Murdoch’s fiction is important, because Bradley is interested in Shakespeare. Shakespeare managed and created his own language. He was a real master. It is difficult to find someone like him. Shakespeare introduced a new language in literature not only for the Englishmen, but for the whole world as well by his play “Hamlet”. This is the language of beauty, art. Murdoch writes that she strives to create a similar language. We read in the novel: “Hamlet is speech” [Murdoch, 2003: 191]. However, there is no doubt that “Hamlet” is more than just words. It is the world’s masterpiece. In my opinion, Murdoch's protagonist's desire is to create such a masterpiece, which will be accepted and read by everyone. I think that the influence of Shakespeare makes this novel even more popular. We consider Shakespeare as its source. The values of the novel undoubtedly belong to him. However, it will not be bad if we talk about Murdoch’s attitude towards Shakespeare. She talks about it to Michael Bellany: "The Black Prince" is not "Hamlet" of course, but that's by the way. I am not a Shakespeare critic but I do feel the presence of Shakespeare in that play as kind of trembling emotional excitement, that makes it, in fact, a rather dicey play” [Bellany, 1977: 132]. 

As I have already mentioned, Bradley falls in love with the girl, who is unsuitable for him. What does Bradley want to achieve by this? Is their love true? I think Bradley is trapped. While talking to Francis Marlowe about his love, he says: "In my chess game with the dark lord I had made perhaps a fatally wrong move" [Murdoch, 2003: 244].  After reading this quotation, we realize the fear of our protagonist. He mentions the word fatal. Falling in love with Julian may become fatal. Bradley is trapped, but he does not understand how. He cannot realize if he will ever escape. However, this "love play" will lead him to his aim. The author talks so much about love as she herself believes in the existence of it and she reckons that love is a key element for establishing yourself in the society in order to live on and not to be afraid of anything. This feeling will enable people to understand the importance of the truth. The protagonist wants to find truth and freedom. He has to manage to handle the evil forces in order to get rid of any kind of disaster. Such a person will definitely turn into a successful artist. Such artist will benefit not just for himself, but also for the society. 

People from Murdoch's epoch lacked the real works of art. They were offered only the literary works produced by Bradley's rival Arnold Baffin. The society read his novels. Arnold Baffin was very popular among people. Therefore, it is very easy to conclude that the problem exists in people. They are blind. Society does need to be awakened. It seems that Bradley realizes this, but he does not know the way out -  he himself is a member of the society.

Murdoch manages and establishes the connection between love and art. She managed and created the novel by means of a love adventure and this love adventure, in the end, turns into a novel, the work of art. Murdoch, undoubtedly, believes that love provokes motivation in humans and what this motivation might be if does not make people's awakening, show them new ways, the way of finding the truth, freedom? Such love may become a source of inspiration.

If we consider Bakhtin’s idea, we can say that “The Black Prince” is not a monologue, but a dialogue between the society and the main protagonist or between the main character and other characters of the novel. A particular idea is conveyed on different levels. This is very important for the interpretation of the novel. Therefore, it is clear what Murdoch wants from us to do something trifle to obtain the truth.

Throughout the novel, Bradley is seeking for something. He wants to understand why he is unable to create a novel, why does he have difficulties, whilst his contemporary Arnold Baffin is a successful artist. In the foreword of the novel, Bradley writes: "Good art speaks the truth, indeed is the truth, perhaps the only truth" [Murdoch, 2003: 3]. What can we conclude from that? Only one thing is clear that a true writer should be devoted to expressing the truth and nothing except this one. I think Bradley is gradually convinced that he should do the main requirement to become a successful writer. His novel will present only the truth. If we compare Bradley and Arnold, they are extremely different. Arnold is not interested in finding the truth. His is oriented to create a novel, which will be profitable. Bradley came to this idea by the relationship with Julian and after a short period of their acquaintance, he even wrote: "Art is concerned not just primarily but absolutely with the truth. It is another name for truth. The artist is learning a special language in which to reveal the truth" [Murdoch, 2003: 56]. “Art is the only available method for the telling of certain truths” [Murdoch, 2003: 72]. 

Every artist is disappointed by his or her failure and I am sure, he or she is constantly seeking the reasons, which have made him/her unsuccessful. I am sorry for Bradley because of his weakness. He is determined to create a real masterpiece. Art is sacred for him, exceptional. He knows that the ability of fantasy and imagination is required to create the language full of meaningful words, the language that will take the utterance to the people. If the artist lacks imagination or fantasy, he or she will achieve nothing and it will be meaningless to say something. Bradley writes: "Art is imagination. Imagination changes, fuses. Without imagination, you have stupid details on one side and empty dreams on the other“ [Murdoch, 2003: 42]. 

It is known for everyone that art and aestheticism were essential for Plato. He was in constant search. He was determined to decipher the secrets of these concepts. For Plato, everything began from art. Everyone knows his famous saying about art - it is nothing more than just the imitation. However, Murdoch does not agree with this and we do not see this in her characters' behavior.

Speaking about art will be meaningless if we do not mention the concepts of morality, virtue and those highest notions that are the roots for people's growth. This should not be surprising, because moral includes aestheticism in itself. "Art not only enriches our moral understanding but makes us even better" [Murdoch, 1970: 77]. This is another confirmation that art is unique. It comprises quite a lot of things in itself - moral, virtue, which in the end will lead us to the truth. It is the truth, which we lack and which we strive for. In the end, Bradley feels better. It is true that he is imprisoned, but he is able to find himself, get away from his loneliness. At one glance, you think what made him do this. He was able to do this earlier and be free, or going to prison was necessary? It was unavoidable and there is some kind of irony. In prison, where a person loses his freedom, Bradley manages and finds it.

Bradley managed to find a better life by means of art. Maybe art is the only way out, but we have seen clearly that it has a lot of difficulties. However, the thought that once you will be able to deal with art gives humans the strength. According to Murdoch, maybe, it is true that art is deeper and more difficult to interpret than philosophy. Murdoch was sure of this. Murdoch was a great philosopher, but literature was the most important thing for her. Literature makes humans stronger, it is more understandable, it is greater and that is the main reason why Bradley wants to convey the main idea by means of literature so as it to be understood by everyone.

Murdoch analyzes the idea of bad and good art in many essays. For her bad art is associated with losing, especially, of love, which is needed for every artist. Creating a good work of art leads to a new love, a new life, which in its turn, will be the foundation of writing new works and this will be an ongoing process. If this does not proceed and will be hindered by something, then we will not have either love or truth or freedom and what is more important, there will not be a place for art. The result of this will be death, which should not be allowed. Every human should be encouraged by something, which will enable him/her to do even the most impossible deed, which makes him/her beautiful. It is possible that Murdoch wants to say what Fowles said in his book “The Collector”: “Your way is the art of love and the love of art” [Fowles, 2013: 234]. Maybe this quotation exactly expresses the behavior of Bradley throughout the whole novel. These two qualities or feelings are expressed in this novel. Understanding "the art of love" became fundamental for comprehending "the love of art". Bradley is the participant of these two processes. He is a happy person, not everyone is able to do this. Art is higher than anything else. It is not a secondary thing. The work of art, in our case, the novel comprises everything. Moral and art are interconnected with each other. What result do they have? The answer is the above-mentioned feeling -  love. It is hardly achieved, but supposedly  overcoming this difficulty is the art. Good art enables us to appreciate people around us, to share their problems. Literature is one of the forms of uttering this, which shows us others' problems, teaches us to live, helps us to make a choice, shows us the inner life of a person. Hence, this does not mean that painting and acting are unable to do this. For a director, a good novel is necessary to put on a good play. Literature offers us the ways to be more patient, more tolerant and less critical towards other people when we ourselves deserve the same.

Finally, we can say that this paper clearly shows us the problem of the twentieth-century literature, which mainly involves the isolation of a human. Murdoch does know the pain of this century. She is an innovator. She has her own particular style of writing, which means that she writes about the problem and how to cope with it.

Murdoch managed to handle all the problems by means of her protagonist Bradley Pearson. The author manages and puts us forward different ways out of getting away from “the trap” and warns us that perseverance, bravery is required. If we do not act like this, we will stay in that swamp and dirt and in the end, there may be no way out.

The above-given discussion enables us to conclude that the existence of art is essential. This most complicated concept - art - has a big mission. It should recue the society, which is presented as a crowd. People should find the faith, the faith for the better future, otherwise, we achieve nothing. Neither weeping about the past, nor doing nothing in the present is the solution, only fighting for a better future can create a society where everyone will be happy. For Murdoch, people's freedom is important. People should realize how boring our life is without it. In her novel "Under the Net” we read: “Freedom is only an idea” [Murdoch, 1982: 27].  In "The Black Prince" the same opinion is expressed in the foreword of the novel: "Without freedom, there is no art or truth" [Murdoch 2003: 11]. In addition, the novel “The Sea, the Sea” is devoted to this idea: “Sea an inaccessible image of freedom” [Murdoch, 1978: 263]. 

Murdoch is a great novelist. She manages and makes us aware of the idea of art on the example of her characters very beautifully. It is difficult not to pay attention to her opinion. The result is that everything may happen in this world, but you should not give up. Faith, hope, love should always be with you. In Iris Murdoch's novels, the hope for better things is always noticeable. The last word is always left for us, the readers. 




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