The novel opens with a two-page foreword by the editor, P. Loxias. Loxias is responsible for bringing the book to publication, although he met the author after the events dramatized. He says that the text deals with man's creative struggle for wisdom and truth in art. For this reason, Loxias remarks, it is a love story.
Bradley Pearson introduces his novel by saying that the events in it took place a few years before, when he was fifty-eight. After having written three books, two novels and a book of "Pensees" or philosophical thoughts, he had decided to quit his lifelong job as a tax inspector in order to create a master novel. Unfortunately even with copious amounts of time, he found himself struck by writer's block. For this reason, he rented a cottage on the English coast for the summer, an action that just precedes the narrative of his tale.
Bradley further explains that he will tell his story in a "modern" chronological manner, and that good art, which he is trying to create, represents a form of truth. He dedicates his novel to an unnamed person who has inspired him towards creation.
From the Beginning to Bradley's departure from the Baffins
It is a late May afternoon and Bradley is about to leave for his rented seaside cottage. He hesitates for a few moments to check his bags once again. This hesitation sets the novel's events in motion. The doorbell rings. It is Bradley's ex-wife's brother, Francis Marloe. He looks dirty and disheveled and Bradley does not recognize him. Francis has come because Bradley's ex-wife, Christian, has just returned to London from America following the death of her American husband. Francis believes that Christian will soon visit Bradley and would like Bradley to put in a good word for him; Francis has debts and his sister has become rich. Francis once had been a doctor, but had his license taken away due to his illegal distribution of pharmaceuticals. Bradley feels repulsed to see his ex-brother-in-law and to hear about his ex-wife. Bradley insists that Christian will not visit him because they detest each other. Bradley then bluntly suggests that Francis leave, but before Francis can do so, the phone rings. Arnold Baffin is on the line and begs Bradley to come to his house immediately; Arnold fears that he may have killed his wife. Bradley agrees to come and invites Francis along.
Arnold Baffin is a very successful younger writer whom Bradley considers his protégé; Bradley helped him get his first book published. Since then, Bradley has not respected Arnold's novels because they lack artistry, and are produced yearly. Bradley notes to the reader that although some would later say he envied Arnold's fame and wealth, he never did since Arnold's art lacked a true connection to truth.
When they arrive at the Baffins', Arnold explains that he and Rachel got into a physical fight and after both hitting each other Rachel ran into the fireplace poker that he was holding. She passed out. When she woke, she locked herself in their bedroom and he fears that she might be dead inside. Bradley gets Rachel to open the door and finds her lying under a sheet with a bruise on her face, looking unwell. Francis Marloe determines that she will be fine. Rachel will not talk to Arnold. She privately tells Bradley that a certain brutality exists in marriage and that love can die within it, as it did for her long ago when Bradley first hit her. Bradley soon leaves her to rest and goes downstairs to get a drink with Francis and Arnold.
Arnold and Francis seem happy talking with one another, but Bradley rudely gets Francis to leave. Arnold likes Francis and has invited him to return again, a fact that upsets Bradley since he does not want Francis involved with his friends. Arnold tells Bradley that despite their fight, he and Rachel have a good marriage and that marriages endure in much more difficult times. He predicts that she will come down in a few hours. Bradley says nothing, but informs Arnold that he is soon leaving for Europe (he has kept the location of his seaside cottage secret for privacy). He leaves.
Murdoch has confessed that the mysterious editor of the novel "P. Loxias" is truly supposed to be the Greek God Apollo. In the novel's original publication, she provided a clue to his identity by placing a picture of Apollo on the book's cover. Without this clue, few people truly understood who Loxias was, since the correlation of the name to the God comes only from an obscure reference in Aeschylus's The Oresteia. Apollo's placement as the editor of the novel is appropriate perhaps because he is the God of Art and the novel primarily concerns the nature of art. Apollo's presence also helps to explain the book's title, since Apollo was known as "The Black Prince". The title also refers to Shakespeare's Hamlet, a character referenced frequently in the novel, because he too was called "the black prince". Furthermore, the initials of the "Black Prince", "B.P.", are also those of Bradley Pearson, suggesting that he may be a Black Prince of his own accord.
The two fictional forewords introduce the major themes of the novel and suggest its textual structure. The novel will be written by Bradley Pearson in a chronological format favored by "modern" novelists. While Pearson may tell his story in a straightforward manner, Murdoch does not. Murdoch herself thought modern novels inferior to nineteenth-century novels, once telling a London Times reporter that amongst her enemies were "tight, crystalline, first person novels." Murdoch prized nineteenth-century English and Russian novels, longing to recreate the complex characterizations of Tolstoy and George Eliot. By using the fictional forewords to frame Bradley Pearson's narrative, Murdoch allows her novel to address the act of telling the story at the same time it tells the story itself. The forewords demonstrate the importance of philosophy to the novel. Both P. Loxias and Bradley Pearson use their forewords to philosophize on the relationship between art, love, and truth. The inclusion of abstract philosophical discussions continues throughout the book. The philosophical comments lend the novel a fragmented style that requires us to switch between the story and the narrator's mind.
The relation between art, love, and truth discussed by Bradley and P. Loxias is addressed repeatedly. By discussing it in the foreword, Murdoch prepares the reader for its later articulation. Murdoch sees art as one of the avenues through which truth can be expressed. Through the experience of erotic love, Murdoch believes that we are able to get a glimpse of the eternal that then can be captured in art. Bradley Pearson's confrontation with love and erotic passion allows him to see out of his limited world and create art. His experience serves as a testimony to Murdoch's larger philosophical ideas.
Structurally, the opening of "Bradley Pearson's Story: A Celebration of Love", which is the novel proper, is significant as it will reappear as the final scene of the novel. The book opens with Arnold calling Bradley to say that he might have killed his wife. The book will close with Rachel Baffin calling Bradley because she just killed her husband. Furthermore, the opening conflict between Rachel and Arnold underscores the tension between them that shall lead to Arnold's murder. Although Arnold believes that their marriage can sustain anything, Rachel's analysis of the tension within their relationship shall prove more accurate. Between the lengthy period between the opening and closing domestic quarrels, the idea of marriage and its drawbacks shall be discussed numerous times.