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The Bell [PDF] ❤ The Bell Author Iris Murdoch – A lay community of thoroughly mixed up people is encamped outside Imber Abbey home of an order of seuestered nuns A new bell is being installed when suddenly the old bell a legendary symbol of religio A lay community of thoroughly mixed up people is encamped outside Imber Abbey home of an order of seuestered nuns A new bell is being installed when suddenly the old bell a legendary symbol of religion and magic is rediscovered And then things begin to change Meanwhile the wise old Abbess watches and prays and exercises discreet authority And everyone or almost everyone hopes to be saved whatever that may mean originally published in this funny sad and moving novel is about religion sex and the fight between good and evil.

10 thoughts on “The Bell

  1. BlackOxford BlackOxford says:

    Interrupting RoutineI work as tutor and librarian at Blackfriars Hall Oxford the smallest and most medieval of the University of Oxford colleges and also a Dominican priory A few years ago Blackfriars acuired a bell to call the friars to prayer The sound of the bell does indeed create a definite atmosphere in the place; as also does its timing since it rings like its larger fellow at Christ Church College according to solar time about six minutes behind GMT The midday call to the Angelus therefore is somewhat disconcerting for passers by who nervously check their watches I have come to believe that this slight disruption this interruption is precisely the bell’s function intended or not Paradoxically a routine that interrupts routine One way to interpret Murdoch’s novel is as just such an interruption in the lives of its charactersAS Byatt in her introduction calls The Bell Murdoch’s first ‘English’ novel And it certainly creates a distinctive atmosphere one so dense thick and humid in the Summer heat that it feels like green cotton wool simultaneously inhibiting and cushioning movement The characters mostly middle class professionals each might have ‘issues’; but all are nevertheless cradled in the social solidity of a 1950’s bourgeois English culture that hopes against hope that it will remain 1939 forever They live in an existential routine that seems fixed; they are stuck largely with themselvesPeople ‘get on’ as if on a trajectory with the defined and relatively narrow limits of Oxbridge graduates in a post war world they find alien and confusing Their individual worries however don’t inhibit their confidence material or spiritual in being English They are of course completely unaware of this How could it be otherwise? But their Englishness is the necessarily unstated subject of the book The narrator would only spoil the narrative if she gave the game away; introspection is not to be encouraged “A belief in Original Sin should not lead us to probe the filth of our minds” Irony is after all English group therapyOpening with a very civilised adultery leading to an even civilised reconciliation for which the outgoing lover provides transportation to the railway station there is no conflict which can’t be solved if one just has the patience to wait it out And for heavens sake keep one’s mouth shut Intimate communication is far too perilous a venture Much preferable to rely on one’s friends to buoy one up without making a fuss usually with a little GT or possibly even a bit of evening Compline before bedThe High Church tradition the antithesis of her Irish Presbyterian background is something Murdoch became intimately familiar with in Oxford Her College Somerville is just past the end of St Giles’ a street along which John Henry Newman started his career as an Anglican vicar at one end and wound up a Catholic Cardinal at the other Halfway along and touching Blackfriars is Pusey House named for Newman’s colleague in the liturgical revival of Anglicanism the Oxford Movement in fact Pusey House is often Catholic than the local Catholic churches since it can both anticipate the introduction of new ritual or revert to ancient practices without consulting the Vatican Pusey House also has the best collection of Vatican documents in OxfordSome consider High Anglicanism to be a mimicry of Catholicism It’s not It is true English Catholicism or better said Catholicism in the English mode Many Oxford colleges conduct Evensong and Compline services daily during term using English Plainsong or Gregorian chant according to preference These are sensually pleasing one might call them erotic events They employ all the smells and bells of Catholic ritual but also emit a vaguely camp rebelliousness directed at both Low Church Anglicans as well as the straight laced historically Irish Catholic massesThis Anglo Catholicism provides a great deal of the dark green cotton wool comfort of The Bell The enclosed convent of Anglican nuns in Imber is not an antithesis to the repressed erotic desires of the characters who fetch up together across the lake in a half derelict country pile of Imber Court; it is a spiritual celebration of the erotic One is reminded of Teresa of Avila and her swooning for Christ her Spouse I know of at least three similar communities within 15 minutes drive of Oxford And I lived in one of these while I wrote my doctoral dissertationThis kind of community is not a place to escape desire but a place in which desire can be explored in a way that is uniuely English through patient ritual agricultural and industrial as well as religious As the medieval philosophers taught through practice one can act one’s way into a moral life “The great thing about a dog” says one of the residents “is that it can be trained to love you” And not just dogs Humans too can be taught to love trough practice; but not through conversation idle or therapeutic So “Meals were taken in silence at Imber”In a sense therefore sex is as much a religious practice in Anglo Catholicism as it is in the Buddhism of the Kama Sutra It needn’t be advertised as such that would reuire talk which would compromise the effort fatally But Murdoch makes the euivalence explicit in her description of the psychic state of her main character a homosexual “in some curious way the emotion which fed both his religious feeling and homosexual orientation arose deeply from the same source”English resourcefulness is to be found in this dance of sex and religion which is carried out as much to the rhythm of an English country house as of a Benedictine convent The mustiness of each is additive “There was a stale smell like the smell of old bread the smell of an institution” A concise summary really of the English Baroue Everything is surface but brightly lighted surface so that nothing is actually hidden “All the electric lights were so bright at Imber”The inhabitants are essentially misfits and are recruited as such “people who can live neither in the world nor out of it They are a kind of sick people whose desire for God makes them unsatisfactory citizens of an ordinary life but whose strength or temperament fails them to surrender the world completely” Each of these defective characters has a place a duty really in the overall choreography of an operatic ballet in Imber Court a definite role that fits snugly into an overall ensemble Dora is the dim beauty the soprano of the piece She has no comprehension of religion and only the most instrumentally sterile view of sex; but she is not malicious “That she had no memory made her generous” She is a central figure a sort of goddess of creation and of course therefore sex who tends to get lost in Murdoch’s narrative turbulence Paul Dora’s husband is the operatic baritone for whom neither sex nor religion is about passion but domesticity He desires Dora as housekeeper and mother for his children; and religion is part of an ordered family bliss His lust such as it is is paterfamilial and conventional not perverseThe directorproducer is Mrs Mark married to Mr Mrs Mark a somewhat beefy person in long skirts with “well developed calves” She is a type of English proto hippie perhaps an evangelical Mrs Danvers living a life of gentile procedural poverty on someone else’s dime never without a ‘cause’ Without her neither sex nor religion could flourish at Imber She is the liturgical and social hub the enforcer of strict adherence to the rubrics “It’s not like a hotel and we do expect our guests to fit in – and I think that’s what they like best too” she politely commands She also ensures that conversation never becomes intrusive “That’s another little religious rule that we try to follow No gossip” What takes place outside Imber remains outside ImberMrs Mark is the agent of Michael Meade the somewhat reluctant leader whose family estate Imber Court is In subseuent decades Michael would have been identified as the ‘cult leader’ of the residents not as sinister as Jim Jones or as commercial as Werner Erhard perhaps but still of some unaccountably charismatic incompetence Michael has been inspired by the Abbess of the Benedictine convent to ‘minister’ to folk who are neither clerical nor secular but what now might be called ‘seekers’ He is a homosexualCatherine is the mezzo soprano and innovatively the prima ballerina of the piece who is immediately identified by Dora as a rival Catherine is imminently to become a postulant in the convent; or as her twin brother perceives the situation to be swallowed alive by the institutional monster of religious passion Toby Catherine’s male sexual counterpart is the the pious virginal counter tenor He is the unsure novice spiritually as well as sexually unformedThe eponymous bell constitutes what Alfred Hitchcock called the McGuffin a motivating force whose function is to set the narrative in motion but that remains invisible Essential therefore although apparently trivial It is Dora and Toby at ends of the sexualspiritual spectrum who release the bell from the primal waters in which it has been hidden Driven by the ‘event’ of the bell the characters carom around the confines of Imber Court impelling each other to acts of spiritual lust and material folly in a marvellously English way And of course interrupting their lives profoundly not just for them but for all of Murdoch’s generation In fact this form of Anglo Catholic lay community was inspired by the so called Distributist Movement of the 1920’s and 30’s This was a Catholic attempt promoted by the likes of GK Chesterton and Hillaire Belloc to find a ‘middle way’ between Capitalism and Communism It’s ideal was a sort of medieval economy dominated by small agricultural producers who owned and worked their own land A few of Distributism’s ideological remnants still exist in Britain Canada and Australia

  2. Adam Dalva Adam Dalva says:

    I love Iris Murdoch I've come to expect certain things from her novels one astonishing humorous transition here it comes early on a train; at least 2 abrupt sexually centered plot twists that make me exclaim out loud on the subway; a few incredible lines that border on philosophy Most of all there's the sense in her novels that anything is possible as the excellent AS Byatt interview puts it she has the instincts of the 19th century novelist though she's thoroughly contemporary One caution DON'T READ THE BACK JACKET or any info if you are interested in this book The first surprise in the book is wonderful if like me you don't see it comingI didn't love THE BELL as much as THE SEA THE SEA or A SEVERED HEAD because it feels as if Murdoch is still shaking off some structural ghosts from conventional fiction This was her 4th novel and the set up is great very reminiscent of Black Narcissus A lay community has set up camp in a mansion and founded a spiritual community outside the gates of an old Abbey which is waiting for a giant bell In her eagerness to people the community Murdoch's generosity with supporting characters occasionally left me a bit confused lots of boring male names and the complexity of the set up and the slight wrapping up mid century feeling of the ending slowed me down The three perspective characters Dora a flighty aspiring painter with a harsh husband; Michael the leader of the community w a secret past; Toby a teenager of boundless energy carry this book and Murdoch uses various bells both metaphorical and actual to great effect There's a spectacular seuence with birds and the nuns sitting invisible on the grounds add a uniue tension to the actionOnce this gets going I don't want to spoil anything because it's so good once it turns Murdochian I was thrilled There is an incredible revelation from the headlights of a car a device she reuses almost identically in THE SEA THE SEA and things proceed from there with a relentless sexual logic that I adored And the writingToby had received though not yet digested one of the earliest lessons of adult life that one is never secure At any moment one can be removed from a state of guileless serenity and plunged into the opposite without any intermediate condition so high about us do the waters rise of our own and other people's imperfectionMemories of the previous evening returned to him vividly and he had a curious sense of being unfaithful followed by a feeling of the utter messiness of everything Violence is born of the desire to escape oneselfIf you're interested in Murdoch I'd start with A SEVERED HEAD so you can build trust in her capacity for insanity I might have put this down after 40 pages if I didn't have faith in her and I'm very glad that I didn't

  3. Jim Fonseca Jim Fonseca says:

    The main character is Dora a ditz but you gotta love her for her good heart She captures a butterfly from the floor of the subway so it doesn’t get stepped on but then has no idea what do with it She wears high heels for a walk in muddy woods and then loses her shoes She forgets her bag at the railway station She has to take a long bus ride into town to retrieve it takes the bus back home forgetting the bag again in a pub She’s an aspiring artist who is lazy and shows no signs of talentDora is married to a cold cruel man who is an art historian They have an on again off again relationship As the story opens she’s returning to her husband from a casual affair with an old flame “she could be happy neither with her husband nor without him” “It seemed to her that her husband was urging her to grow up and yet had left her no space to grow up into” Her husband the snot tells her “Of course I don’t respect youHave I any reason to? I’m in love with you unfortunately that’s all” How’s that for a sad state of affairs?Her husband is researching church records at a lay religious commune affiliated with an adjoining convent of cloistered nuns The religious commune serves as a buffer or an entryway depending on how you look at it between the religious world of the convent and the material world It’s for people who can’t find a profession like teaching or nursing endowed with spiritual significance One of the other main characters is a gay man who initially saw no conflict between his Anglican religion and his sexuality – they seemed to come from the same source until he decided he wanted to become a priest “He was conscious of such a fund of love and goodwill for the young creature young man beside him It could not be that God intended such a spring of love to be uenched utterably” The novel has a fairly frank discussion of male homosexuality given that it was published in 1958The main action in the book revolves around a new bell that is to be installed at the abbey It is to replace one that has been missing for centuries and that supposedly sunk in the lake Dora and a young man find the old bell and raise it as a “surprise” in a comedic farce All that serves to move the book along but it’s really a story of good and evil morality and people struggling to do the good thing Two uotes I liked“Violence is born of the desire to escape oneself”Here’s a variation on the theme of rising to your highest level of incompetence “One must perform the lower act which one can manage and sustain not the higher act which one bungles” The blurbs call it a “funny and sad” novel and I think that is accurate A good read although not the author’s strongest – I still prefer Murdoch’s The Sea The Sea My GR friend Bionic Jean has written a much detailed and thoughtful review of the book here if you are interested of Buckfast Abbey Dartmoor from britainexpresscomPhoto of the author from biographycom

  4. Bionic Jean Bionic Jean says:

    There is a story about the bell ringing sometimes in the bottom of the lake and how if you hear it it portends a deathThe Bell is an early philosophical novel by Iris Murdoch the Irish academic and Oxford professor of Philosophy who also wrote in total 26 novels This is her fourth novel first published in 1958 The first of her novels to be shot through with ethical considerations The Bell remains the one novel in her entire output where the moral conundrums are the most explicit Until now the characters in Iris Murdoch's novels had been concerned with having a good life rather than living one; a subtle difference perhaps but a profound one Interestingly Iris Murdoch once said I don't think philosophy influences my work as a novelist Yet The Bell clearly pointed the way towards her later novels all of which have a philosophical component Some later ones have hints of other realities myth and even a touch of Eastern philosophy despite her Western philosophical credentials The greater part of the action in The Bell takes place within a religious lay community living in a large house called Imber Court in a rural woodland area of Gloucestershire in England Next to Imber Court is a closed order of nuns in an Abbey presided over by their Abbess This very setting emphasises the nature of the book's concerns hinting that there will be some moral analysis through our view of the individual characters There are three distinct groups; the order of Benedictine nuns who live in accordance with their traditional set of moral codes a lay community grasping towards their own ethical system of moral purpose in life plus a third category various visitors all with their own troubled and burgeoning ethical issues and problems All these are carefully woven together into an absorbing story The novel begins enticingly Dora Greenfield left her husband because she was afraid of him She decided six months later to return to him for the same reasonInstantly the reader is engaged But we must not assume that the novel is going to be about Dora an unsuccessful middle class art student and how her life pans out after a possibly unsuitable marriage to an art historian of noble German descent Iris Murdoch does not write straightforward novels of that type Instead she makes it uite clear that her interest lies with the moral dilemmas we all experience and how each individual person is subject to different influences depending on their personalities Hence Dora obeying that conception of fatality which served her instead of a moral sense left himIris Murdoch has a knack for making her philosophical approach relatively seamless so that it is perfectly possible to just read her books as straight novels The reader can think of this simply as additional information about a character Dora or view it as a statement about psychological motives plus of course it is an ethical dilemma too Through Dora the reader is led towards the main focus of the book Dora has agreed to return to her husband Paul Greenfield who has temporarily joined the lay community at Imber Court to work on some 14th century manuscripts During the train ride there we are privy to Dora's inner turmoil She comes across as immature with little true self knowledge even rather limited in imagination but her very frustrations and blunderings are appealing Dora is perhaps the character least concerned with living a moral life yet even she is wrestling with her conscience right at the beginning We read a disjointed and absurdly lifelike set of internal arguments conveyed with typical Murdochian wry humour Dora hated pointless sacrifices She was tired after her recent emotions and deserved a rest She regarded her state of distress as completely neurotic She decided not to give up her seatShe got up and said to the standing lady 'Do sit down here please 'Such moral deliberations are contained in almost every page They are so true to life and the author here shows us that despite every care we take to think through the ethics there is always something in our imperative for goodness that we cannot reduce to rational discussionOn the train to Imber we are also introduced to the other impressionable young innocent of the story the gauche Toby Gashe who is also searching for life's meaning He too is going to stay at the community before he goes to Oxford University He is accompanied by a member of the community James Tayper Pace The book is redolent with literary motifs and metaphors which start immediately During the train journey Dora notices a butterfly crawling along the carriage and picks it up to protect it from being crushed Yet when she is met at the other end by her husband and releases the butterfly to its freedom she realises that she has left her suitcase on the train What does this portend? Clearly the butterfly originally trapped by its situation represents both freedom and fragility But what else?The section approaching Imber Court by car is very reminiscent of the drive to the great house of Manderley in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca which the reader also sees through the eyes of an insecure young woman with a low self image Her feelings towards her husband seem so similar In each case he is older assured and worldly wise Dora notices every little detail with mounting apprehension The drive in each case feels interminable Reaching the house itself Dora is introduced to all the members of the community the head of the community Michael Meade assisted by Mrs Mark Margaret Strafford Mark Strafford Catherine Fawley Peter Topglass and Patchway Dora is perplexed by what she perceives as the overly spartan and religious overtones of the community and feels increasingly oppressed The huge lake features greatly in the novel and an episode about her lost shoes is heavy with symbolism During that evening Paul tells Dora the terrible legend of the bell It was said that long ago a nun had taken a lover but refused to confess Because of this a bishop put a curse on the Abbey and the bell then plummeted into the lake where it had remained ever since The atmosphere and claustrophobia is now gently being cranked upAt this point we meet another add on to the community the twin brother of Catherine He is Nick Fawley a slightly worse for drink reprobate who lives slightly apart from the others He is clearly not one of the community but rather someone for whom they feel responsibleIt becomes clear that one of the community knew Nick from many years ago and that there is a dark secret We are now concentrating on each character in turn as they struggle to cope with their lives their fears and nightmares and their attempts to be true to the values they have decided on The landscape continues be described very vividly and one scene where Toby is inadvertently viewed naked in the grounds by two other members of the community takes on a feeling and impression of the garden of EdenThere is underlying sexual repression and feelings of guilt closely interconnected with the religious inclinations of the order Different members all have their own reasons for escaping from the world outside Michael the leader is subject to nightmares He is the one most challenged by his wish to become a priest Despite his unfortunate history which seems scandalous to the world but innocent enough to Michael the idea of priesthood seems increasingly to tempt him with its possibility But then it is uashed afresh and relegated to being merely a lost dream by ensuing events in the novel One enigma seems to be Catherine who to Dora's horror is destined to take her vows and become part of the closed order of Benedictine nuns Although Catherine insists she is joyful at the prospect Dora cannot believe this And Catherine's progress throughout the story too is not as clearly demarcated as it appears to be at the beginningA new bell is commissioned to be installed in the Abbey The book follows the story of the two bells old and new The old bell view spoileris discovered by Toby when curious he dives to the bottom of the lake He has a crush on Dora and confused he eventually shares the knowledge with her The two of them then decide to lift the bell from the lake and substitute it for the new one as a prank hide spoiler

  5. Candi Candi says:

    There were many people who can live neither in the world nor out of it They are a kind of sick people whose desire for God makes them unsatisfactory citizens of an ordinary life but whose strength or temperament fails them to surrender the world completely; and present day society with its hurried pace and its mechanical and technical structure offers no home to these unhappy souls Work as it now is can rarely offer satisfaction to the half contemplative In The Bell we find such a group of individuals seeking a sort of spiritual retreat at Imber Court a lay community attached to an enclosed order of nuns at Imber Abbey or as the Abbess puts it a buffer state between the Abbey and the world a reflection a benevolent and useful parasite an intermediary form of life Murdoch does a superb job of developing her main characters of the novel The reader becomes uite intimate with Dora the inexperienced unhappy wife who has come to Imber to try to make amends with her husband while he continues manuscript research at Imber; Michael the leader of the community who struggles with his sexuality and his religion; and Toby a carefree innocent young man on the verge of adulthood Also present at Imber are an assortment of secondary characters including Paul the bullying husband to Dora; James Toby's mentor and a sanctimonious member of the community; Catherine a somewhat taciturn young woman planning to take her vows to enter the adjoining convent; Nick brother to Catherine and a very unstable man with a history of a past relationship with Michael; and the Abbess a very forward thinking and compassionate nun The pace of the novel is slow yet luxurious; the writing is so elouent and descriptive I just wanted to sit somewhere uietly away from the chaos of my world and immerse myself in Murdoch's prose Descriptions of Imber Court the abbey the lake and the surrounding grounds were lovely She leaned on the balustrade between the pillars looking down across the terrace to the lake The sun had gone but the western sky to her right was still full of a murky orange glow glittering with a few feathers of pale cloud against which a line of trees appeared black and jaggedly clear She could also see the silhouette of a tower which must belong to the Abbey The lake too was glowing very slightly darkened nearby to blackness yet retaining here and there upon its surface a skin of almost phosphorescent light There is also a mystery about a centuries old bell rud to be sunk at the bottom of the lake The story surrounding this bell adds a level of intrigue and a sense of doom that I found very alluring This story seems to affect some members of the community in very curious ways These characters become uite caught up in the mystery and some have even perhaps developed a fateful link to this medieval bell The symbolism of a swinging bell also seems to represent the struggle with certain moral and religious issues with which some members of this lay community are confronted The bell is subject to the force of gravity The swing that takes it down must also take it up So we too must learn to understand the mechanism of our spiritual energy and find out where for us are the hiding places of our strength Who will come through their moral and religious crises on the up swing so to speak? Can Dora rise above her feelings of inferiority to Paul and stand on her own two feet as his eual? Can Michael ask for forgiveness and find peace with his God? Will Toby rid himself of his confusion and rise above what he sees as a threat to his innocence? When Catherine says There are things one doesn't choose I don't mean they're forced on one But one doesn't choose them These are often the best things What does this say about her calling to a life of devotion and seclusion? Can Nick function in a world without contact with his own sister and can he rid himself of a bitterness that has sunk him to a life of depravation? Before I wrap this up I have to say that I just adored the Abbess in this novel Despite her limited appearance in The Bell she seemed to have such profound insight and I would have loved to hear from her a bit She imparts to Michael these brilliant words of wisdom Remember that all our failures are ultimately failures in love Imperfect love must not be condemned and rejected but made perfect The way is always forward never back Rich and thought provoking I truly enjoyed this my first Iris Murdoch novel it most certainly will not be my last

  6. Laysee Laysee says:

    'This above all to thine own self be true And it must follow as the night the day Thou canst not then be false to any man’ Shakespeare HamletThe setting for The Bell is Imber Court a palladian country mansion that is home to an Anglican Benedictine commune in Gloucestershire just outside the walls of an Anglican convent The Imber commune consists of a group of lay religious people who seek a retreat from the world to live for a spell at least an ascetic and pious life Life here is intended to be simple – prayer and tending a vegetable garden But it is not to beImber Court belongs to Michael Meade the de factor leader who along with a handful of devoted Anglicans provide administrative and operational support for the commune Michael in his 30s the key character in this story was a former school teacher with a sketchy past in which his desire to be an ordained priest was foiled when he was dismissed for allegedly seducing his 14 year old student Nick Fawley Years later when the novel begins Michael is put in a uandary to accept into Imber Court this same young man now in his twenties who is given to alcohol and suicidal ideation Michael struggles excessively with his homosexuality and feels drawn again to Nick To complicate things into this commune comes Toby Gashe a 18 year old carefree youth who is seeking a religious retreat at Imber as preparation for Oxford The story that unfolds is a tragic one that has devastating conseuences for all involved Other characters provide the adrenaline that drives the plot in this masterfully narrated story The character that grew on me is Dora Greenfield a 21 year old errant wife who in her unhappy marriage has run away but is now compelled to return to her authoritarian husband the art historian Dr Paul Greenfield who is working on 14th century manuscripts that belonged to the Anglican convent Paul is an intensely jealous man who watches his wife like a hawk In a few pages Murdoch painted for us a sympathetic profile of a flighty woman not given to reflection yet keenly aware of her husband’s contempt for her and endearing in her scatter brained but spontaneous responses to things that happen to her It was a pleasure to see how Dora finds her own confidence and independence There is Catherine Fawley Nick’s twin sister an angelic young woman who will soon take vows to become a nun Beneath that fairy like exterior churns deep psychological issues that took the reader by surprise But what about the bell that carries the title of this novel? The Imber commune is looking forward to having a new bell installed and christened in the Abbey Tower Legend has it that the old bell is accursed It is said to be lying at the bottom of the lake And woe betide the village whenever it rings again from the murky depths Murdoch wrote a prose style that is richly evocative She created the stuffy and cloistered air at Imber court the charm of the forests with its profusion of bird song and the serenity and lure of the lake So the reader fleeing Imber Court with Dora or Toby senses the freedom that the natural world offers up as a foil to an artificially spiritual enclaveThematically this is a very difficult novel to read The Bell is about love and freedom; it is also about homosexuality and spirituality This book was published in 1958 It is hard to fathom how incredibly painful it must be sixty years ago to be gay and deeply religious not that it is necessarily easier now Michael is fettered by his spirituality so he is unable to love as he is inclined to and this is what makes this story extremely sad In his own words ‘Spiritual power was indeed like electricity in that it was thoroughly dangerous It could perform miracles of good it could also bring about destruction’A recurring theme is truth 'the truth telling voice that must not be silenced’ The tragedy in this story is the inability of several of its characters to be true to themselves and to be truthful The conseuences are severe view spoilerMichael does not come clean about his love for Nick; Nick pays the price for Michael’s reticence Catherine too loves and suffers in silence which precipitated her mental breakdown Thankfully Toby who has been brought up to be truthful unburdens his confusion after his encounter with Michael and is able to move ahead to university life relatively unscathed The other person who learns the hard way is Dora She wears her heart on her sleeve and is considered wanton and foolish but she bumbles her way to a better future hide spoiler

  7. Susan Susan says:

    This is the first novel by Iris Murdoch that I have read It was the author’s fourth novel published in 1958 The story begins with young wife Dora Greenfield who having left her husband Paul is now returning to reunite with him Paul Greenfield is staying at Imber Court while studying fourteenth century manuscripts at Imber Abbey a Benedictine Convent The lay community at Imber Court is headed by Michael Meade The group of people staying at Imber include a young student Toby Gash James Tayper Pace who had been a youth group leader in East London Catherine Fawley who is planning to become a nun and her twin brother Nick who has a drinking problem and a history with Michael the rather bossy Mrs Mark and others The Abbey is about to receive a new bell which is to replace the missing one from the bell tower There is a story that the original bell flew from the tower into the lake and it is this event which forms the central strand of the novels story However the novel feeds off the relationships between the characters of the lay community – that ‘buffer state’ between the Abbey and the world for those can’t live either in or out of the world As Dora and Paul play out their marital troubles in front of an audience it soon becomes clear to Dora that their past is all too well known to the other members of the community and meanwhile other relationships form and grow Michael troubled by the brooding presence of Nick drinking in the lodge by the lake is attracted to young Toby Then Dora and Toby become involved in a drama of their own concerning the bellAt first I found this novel difficult to get into I found some of the characters uite infuriating and nearly gave up However the writing was good enough to pull me in and gradually I fell into the pace of the novel This has the feel of a sultry English summer; when time seems to last forever and nothing ever changes I have stayed in communities such as these when I was younger – in my schooldays – and thought it was very well written and realistic complete with all the repressed passions undercurrents resentments and petty uarrels that erupt among any group of people living together I am glad I stayed with the book and eventually enjoyed it very much

  8. Algernon (Darth Anyan) Algernon (Darth Anyan) says:

    Opening lines Dora Greenfield left her husband because she was afraid of him She decided six month later to return to him for the same reason The absent Paul haunting her with letters and telephone bells and imagined footsteps on the stairs had begun to be the greater torment Dora suffered from guilt and with guilt came fear She decided at last that the persecution of his presence was to be preferred to the persecution of his absences Well colour me intrigued by this passage and thrilled to follow up on the tribulations of this young woman as she embarks on a journey of self discovery and of possible liberation from the expectations of conformity to social rules as set up by her husband and by the lay religious community he lives with currently Dora is an easy character to root for an instinctive rebel against oppresive morals and an energetic impulsive candid exponent of youthful exuberance Dora who had so lately discovered in herself a talent for happiness was the dismayed to find that she could be happy neither with her husband nor without him As she goes back to her husband by train she easily gets distracted by a passing butterfly enough to make her forget where she is and what she is supposed to do This early scene is a great set up of mood an early raising of the barricades between Dora and the lay community where she is headed I knew in advance which side I will root for but I will confess that I was still pleasantly surprised by the subtlety and the thoroughness of the investigation by Iris Murdoch of the conflict between living in the world of the senses and the retreat the isolation promoted by the members of the commune as a path to spiritual enlightenmentAs the Abbess of the neighboring enclosed order of nuns that encouraged and supported the establishment of the lay religious community explains There were many people who can live neither in the world nor out of it They are a kind of sick people whose desire for God makes them unsatisfactory citizens of an ordinary life but whose strength or temperament fails them to surrender the world completely; and present day society with its hurried pace and its mechanical and technical structure offers no home to these unhappy souls Work as it is now can rarely offer satisfaction to the half contemplative Dora's husband Paul is a visitor and not a full member of this community studying ancient manuscripts at the monastery He is so full of himself so conscious of his own intellectual worth that he has little sympathy to spare for the inner turmoil of his wife dismissing all her feelings as pitiful and misguided All he wants is an obedient admirer a pretty doll to show off to his friends and he is angry about the social scandal of her departure than of her apparent promiscuous adventures Paul hopes the rest of the members of the commune will help him bring Dora to order But like all men discover sooner or later women's logic is a lot convoluted and arbitrary that the reputed straight line train of thought of the male The past was never real for Dora The notion that Paul might keep her past alive to torment her with now occured to her for the first time This introduction to the struggle for domination in the couple dynamics would have been enough for me to enjoy the novel but Murdoch has a lot cooked up in this novel I like to imagine her as one of the greatest explorers of the twentieth century Instead of re discovering America she goes in deep like a spelunker with a powerful flashlight investigating the twisted tunnels and the dark caverns of the soul Here is Dora the sinner ready to love and to enjoy life held down by a jealous possesive husband Here is Michael a lay preacher torn apart between his thirst for divine absolution and his earthy attraction to young boys Here is James Tayler Pace the stern ascetic fundamentalist group leader who urges us to discard everything but the teachings of the Holy Book if we want to be saved Here is the angsty malicious young man Nick Fawley who hovers alone at the borders of the commune both wanting in and despising the conventionality of the others Here is his beautiful and reserved sister Catherine who is getting ready to renounce the world and join the convent And finally here is the young and innocent Toby attracted to the lay community by the promise of a spiritual life enthusiastic like Dora by the fields the forest the lake the mystery of the nuns hiding behind the tall wall of their monasteryWe get to spend uality time inside each of these people's minds unravelling their self justifications their self deceptions and their occasional honest efforts to become better persons In the age old dialectic between the sacred and the prophane we might conclude that real life is a muddle bringing the idealistic dreamers back with their feet on the ground exposing the lies and the sometimes malicious atitudes of the allegedly pure of heart yet a wonder to behold to those who are still ready for and accepting of new experiences I understand from the biographic notes on the author that she greatly admires Shakespeare and I can easily see why as I think back to all the comedy walking hand in hand with tragedy around the fields of Imber Abbey A comparison between A Midsummer Night Dream and The Bell may seem forced especially since the plots have little in common but my fancy refuses to listen to my voice of reason I laughed out loud as Dora and Toby the two exponents of irrepressible joy in life set out to rock the peace of the place with a little subversive action view spoiler by substituding the new bell for the Abbey with a famous old one they find at the bottom of the lake hide spoiler

  9. Manuel Antão Manuel Antão says:

    If you're into stuff like this you can read the full reviewRebarbativeness The Bell by Iris MurdochOriginal Review 2002“Toby had received though not yet digested one of the earliest lessons of adult life that one is never secure At any moment one can be removed from a state of guileless serenity and plunged into its opposite without any intermediate condition so high about us do the waters rise of our own and other people’s imperfection”In The Bell by Iris MurdochI first encountered the word 'rebarbative' in The Bell

  10. Laura Laura says:

    I liked this book immensely but other readers may find it dated It was published in 1958 and tackles through the character of Michael Meade the Church's dictum on homosexuality We are uickly introduced to the main theme when our hero Michael confesses to the Abbess of Imber Convent his past involvement with Nick Fawley The Abbess advises there is never anything wrong with loveHer answer however elides Michael's main concern which is what about physical love and opens the book to an exploration of this conundrum how to express love when a particular practice is condemned by your religious beliefs? The novel takes us back to Michael's relationship with Nick Michael is the teacher and Nick a student of 15 in a boys' boarding school nothing 'unseemly' happens but Nick feels compelled to confess and tells all to the principal Michael is dismissedSome 15 years later Michael is now in charge of his own lay religious project at Imber Court which is in fact his ancestral home an old manor house somewhere in the beautiful Gloucestershire countryside There are the remains of a Medieval nunnery within the grounds Imber Abbey which has been restored and houses an order of Benedictine nuns The purpose of the lay community is proposed to Michael by the Abbess who feels there is a need for an intermediary group to liase between the convent and the rest of the world At the point where our story begins this semi religious group has been in existence for a year run by Michael with help from a small group of his friends and acuaintancesFor me the success of this book spins on the character of Michael if anyone asked me this uestion about religion and homosexuality I would have dismissed it as of zero interest but because of Michael I was interested I liked his refinement and his sensitivity He is portrayed as a good person wanting to lead a useful and dedicated life but he is confounded by his essential nature and cannot reconcile it with the other half of his persona which is his belief in GodThe character who is used to contrast and help define Michael is James Tayper Pace an essentially straightforward religious person who works in a philanthropic way to provide schools and education for boys in need in London He is taking a break at Imber Court In contrast to Michael however his religious views are plodding and lacking subtlety He is of the good and honourable kind but boring in that he has not had to deal with intellectual or indeed religious complexities Murdoch naturally doesn't say he's boring; her character development has far too much finesseThe other uestion she tackles in relation to sex and religion is the one of Innocence and we have two characters who specifically embody this tradition of entering the World Dora who is married to the awful Paul Greenfield and Toby filling in his summer at Imber Court before going up to OxfordI loved all the passages and chapters which dealt primarily with Toby here's an example Toby undressed uickly and went to sun himself on the sloping stones before going in The sun warmed his flesh deeply First he tried lying flat on his face with his feet down the slope But the human body is not so constructed that when in that position the neck and chin rest comfortably upon the ground Our awkward frames deny us the relaxed pose of the recumbent dog Convinced of this truth Toby turned over and reclined on one elbow In this inviting position he was accosted by Murphy who came and laid his head against his shoulder In a kind of physical rapture Toby sat up and took the furry beast in his arms and cuddled him as he had sometimes seen Nick do The sensation of the hot soft living fur against his skin was strange and exciting He sat there motionless for a while holding the dog and looking into the lake It was deep there by the landing stage; and suddenly his eyes made out a large fish basking motionless where the sun penetrated the greenish water From its narrow length and its fierce jaws he knew it to be a pike Then his eyes began to close and only the hot sparkling of the lake pierced through the fringe of his eye lids He felt so happy he could almost die of it invited by the sleep of youth when physical well being and joy and absence of care lull the mind into a sweet coma which is the inviting since its awakening is charmed no less and the spirit faints briefly almost sated with delightIt's a long passage to uote but it gives you a good idea of the superb excellence of Murdoch's writing Basically the whole book is encapsulated in that section above As I wrote it I was struck by Nick's loneliness Yes Nick not Toby because the dog belongs to Nick I felt a profound stab of compassion for Nick there swift and sadNick Fawley turns up at Imber Court run down alcoholic needing lodging ostensibly drawn there by the presence of his sister Catherine but really seeking re auaintance with Michael Michael allows him to stay at the gatekeeper's lodge a safe distance from the main house and this is where Toby is also ensconcedEssentially Michael ignores Nick preferring to retain his isolation status and yes purity of character; and as we later find out with disastrous conseuencesToby is the youthful version of Nick full of the joys of youth and innocence But that pike in the lake may as well be a shark it's a symbol for all that will shatter Toby's innocence what lies waiting for him in the wide world There is a plot weaving it's way through this novel but really it is a very thinly disguised frame on which the real interest is hung which is Micheal's rejection of his love for Nick in order to pursue what he sees as the higher good his love for God He learns the significance of the old Abbess' words God can always show us if we will a higher and a better way; and we can only learn to love by loving Remember that all our failures are ultimately failures in love Imperfect love must not be condemned and rejected but made perfect The way is always forward never back Some might feel this is a compromise they would consider physical love an essential component of love in this type of adult relationship But there again we are not in Michael's shoes with his need to fulfill a higher callingThere are a couple of other stories running parallel with the main one of Michael and Nick There is Nick's twin sister Catherine who is determined to enter the nunnery She is esteemed and honoured by all the characters at Imber Court as the perfect example of goodness and innocence meanwhile her decision to enter the convent is her way of dealing with unreuited love And the other story of interest is between Dora and Paul essentially Dora's struggle to leave a marriage which is damaging to her sense of self Dora is presented as another type of innocent of the heart I think and her story is about how she is gradually able to develop a sense of what is important to herSo overall an excellent book I read it a very long time ago possibly when I was 18 and didn't have a clue what was going on probably I would have been looking for the love scenesOne final thing the title The Bell this is the action part of the book which eventually ties all the characters together into a final scene and decides the fate of the lay community The bell in uestion is an old medieval bell which has been lost in Imber lake Toby finds it while swimming and with Dora's help he raises it from the lake bed Proof of the bell's ancient heritage is confirmed by Dora whose husband Paul an art historian is working on some of the Abbey documents and knows its history On the side is carved Vox ego sum Amoris Gabriel vocor I am the voice of Love I am called GabrielAn author always chooses her characters' names with care Michael is the leader of God's heavenly warriors Because the ancient bell is named Gabriel we remember the role of Archangel Michael Murdoch's Michael Meade is drawn to the Crusade type pursuits of the Church and fails to see the individual suffering at his feet

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