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The Black Prince

Iris Murdoch

Part Three of Bradley Pearson's Story, 2

Part Three of Bradley Pearson's Story, 1

Postscripts

From Priscilla's funeral to the end of Part Three

Summary

Christian, Francis, and Bradley attend Priscilla's funeral together. Francis explains that Priscilla managed to overdose when he left her alone to go drink with a homosexual neighbor of Bradley's. She was dead when Francis returned. Bradley sees Roger at the funeral and observes that Roger looks very upset.

Leaving the funeral, Bradley discusses Julian's departure with Christian. He believes that Arnold returned later that same night and forced Julian to leave. He now thinks that Arnold has hidden Julian someplace, so she cannot get to him. Bradley has searched all over but cannot find her. Christian treats Bradley kindly but seems skeptical about his theories. When Bradley gets home, he weeps in misery over Julian's disappearance. He proceeds to lie in his bed for days, due to his grief. Eventually, he writes to Christian, asking her if she knows anything. She does not, but she suggests that they take a trip together to continental Europe so that he can forget everything. Bradley declines her offer. He also writes Arnold a slightly threatening note, about keeping Julian from him.

Rachel eventually visits Bradley and offers her condolences for Priscilla. She explains that Julian left Bradley because Julian found out about Bradley's recent sexual interaction with Rachel (which Rachel had described in the letter that Arnold delivered). Bradley feels so angry at Rachel's actions that he shows her Arnold's letter, which says that he is in love with Christian. Rachel becomes furious and vows that she will never forgive Bradley. As Rachel is leaving, the postman delivers the collected works of Arnold Baffin that Bradley ordered. Now angry with Arnold, he and Francis gleefully tear each of books to shreds.

Two days later, Bradley receives a letter from Julian. Her tone is casual and she says that she is with her father in France, but will soon be staying with a fan of his in a small Italian village in the mountains. She says that she would have written earlier, but she felt confused. Now she understands herself better and believes that all will be okay, especially after she has some more time away. She hitchhiked from the cabin back to London the morning she left Bradley. She hopes that he is not angry with her for going and suggests that they might someday see each other again and can become friends.

Bradley decides that Julian's letter is written in secret code to keep Arnold from understanding it. He interprets Julian's statement that she is going to a small Italian village in the mountains to mean that she is going to Venice. He feels convinced of her love. He decides to go to Venice and accepts Francis's offer to come along. He gives Francis money and Francis goes to buy their tickets. As soon as Francis leaves, the phone rings. It is Rachel. She urgently begs him to come to her house. When he gets there, he finds her hysterical. Arnold is lying dead on the floor. His head is in a pool of blood and there is a bloody fire poker beside him. Bradley tries to cover up Rachel's crime by destroying Arnold's love letter about Christian and wiping her fingerprints off the fireplace poker. Bradley then calls the ambulance and the police. When the police come, they question him about what happened, take him downtown for further questioning, and eventually accuse him of the crime.

Analysis

Arnold's death resolves the tension between Arnold and Bradley. Although the book may seem to be about Bradley's experience of love, his competitive relationship with Arnold plays a prominent role that affects all of his decisions. Bradley's struggle to reconnect to his creativity stands in contrast to Arnold's ease at constantly being creative. Even Bradley's love for Julian can be seen as a competitive reaction to Arnold. By possessing her, he takes her away from her father. Furthermore, Bradley's ability to love Julian relates to his ability to create art. By loving Arnold's daughter, he is inspired to create the art that challenges Arnold's art.

The desire for Julian deeply relates to the issue of aesthetics. When Arnold takes Julian back, Bradley takes revenge upon Arnold's books. Arnold's death will finally end the tension and Bradley himself plays an important role in the murder. Although Rachel physically wields the poker, Bradley's efforts push her to do kill Arnold. Many critics suggest that the competition between Arnold and Bradley is a modern retelling of the Greek story of Apollo and Marysas. The two once competed to see who was the better musician. Not surprisingly, Apollo won and punished Marysas by flaying him alive. Murdoch frequently discussed this myth in her other writings. She also refers to Apollo through the character of P. Loxias in the novel.

The end of the novel is both surprising and expected, since it has been foreshadowed. Rachel's final telephone call to Bradley mirrors Arnold's initial call to Bradley. This time, however, the fireplace poker has killed its victim. Beginning and ending the novel with the same scene creates a structural mirror. The final scene is Murdoch's definitive comment on the institution of marriage. Since the scene involves the death of one of the married partners, it seems fair to say that Murdoch views the possibility of marriage skeptically. Arnold's sudden death provides an ironic contrast to the opening domestic quarrel after which he argued that his marriage had the strength to sustain any blow. With the opening and closing domestic quarrels, Murdoch uses the novel in between to articulate the often-difficult dynamics of married life.

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