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The Black Prince

Iris Murdoch

Part One of Bradley Pearson's Story, 2

Forewords and Part One of Bradley Pearson's Story, 1

Part One of Bradley Pearson's Story, 3

From Bradley's departure from the Baffins' to Priscilla's arrival at the hospital

Summary

It is eight in the evening when Bradley leaves the Baffins' and he wonders when he will leave on his trip. As he nears the subway, he sees a young man throwing white petals in the wind and chanting words. Getting closer, he realizes that it is Julian Baffin, the twenty year old daughter of Arnold and Rachel. Julian explains that the white petals are pieces of paper, the remains of love letters send to her by her ex-boyfriend. By tossing them and saying his name, she believes that she shall be rid of him. Julian never was successful in school, but now attends a teaching college and is in London to do her student teaching. She tells Bradley that she has decided to become a writer. She would like him to tutor her because she thinks he is a better writer than her father. When she asks for a list of books to read, Bradley suggests The Iliad and The Divine Comedy, but Julian comments that she does not like poetry. Bradley thinks to himself that he is too busy to help her, but he vows to send her a list.

The next morning, Bradley writes several letters, because he prefers writing to using the telephone for serious matters. To Arnold Baffin, he apologizes for intruding on their private affairs the day before and then asks him not to receive Francis Marloe in the future because Bradley does not want Arnold to become his friend. To Julian Baffin, he suggests that she read The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Divine Comedy, as well as the greatest English and Russian novels of the nineteenth century. He then says that he will not have time to teach her, because he is busy and going away. To Francis Marloe, he writes a rude note asking him to never visit again, telling him that his first visit was unwelcome, and assuring him that the Baffins will not receive him. Finally, he decides that he should write to his ex-wife Christian, Mrs. Evansdale. He writes a quick note saying that he heard she was back in London, but has no wish to see her because he did not like her when they were married and he does not like her now. After finishing these letters, he decides to send only the one to Francis and to save the others. Bradley also thinks about a scathing review of Arnold's new book that he has just written, and wonders what he should do with it.

Bradley's sister Priscilla unexpectedly arrives at his house. He and Priscilla are not close. She lives in Bristol with her husband, Roger Saxe. Priscilla never finished college and dated many men in her youth before marrying Roger. Bradley dislikes Roger because he got Priscilla pregnant before their marriage and insisted that she have an abortion. The abortion scarred her so she cannot have children.

Priscilla tells Bradley that she has left her husband for good. She is an emotional wreck, moaning about her ruined self, and lamenting her failure to bring her jewels with her to Bradley's. Bradley tries to console her but feels worried about how Priscilla's arrival will affect his plans to leave. When he goes into the other room, Priscilla swallows a bottle full of sleeping pills. Bradley tries to call an ambulance, but the Baffins call instead. After he hangs up on them, Arnold, Rachel and Julian appear, as does Francis Marloe. Priscilla starts vomiting. Someone calls an ambulance. Julian sees the letters Bradley wrote and, with permission, takes the ones for her and her father. Upon request, Bradley also gives her a small sculpture of a water-buffalo girl that she admires. The ambulance takes Priscilla away. When she is gone, Bradley finds out that his ex-wife, Christian, arrived during the confusion and Arnold has taken her away to a pub.

Analysis

Bradley's initial encounter with Julian shows her to be a youthful and somewhat naïve girl. Her act of tossing throwing ripped up pieces of love letters while chanting her boyfriend's name as to rid herself of his spirit can scarcely be considered without a mild smile at her youthful mysticism. Murdoch provides a wry comment on Julian's intelligence with her comments on writing. Julian, who has never excelled at school and thus far pursued several different possible careers, suddenly decides to become a writer and asks Bradley for reading recommendations. When he recommends Homer and Dante, she is delighted, but later comments that she can't read poetry, not knowing that Homer and Dante are poets. The other fact worth noting about Julian is her initial androgynous appearance and the androgynous quality of her name. This motif of androgyny will appear later in the novel in regards to Julian and also to other characters.

Bradley himself appears to be a cold character. Particularly cruel are the letters that he writes to Christian and Francis Marloe. Both rudely tell the others that he is not interested in ever seeing them again and basically detests them. Even Bradley's letter to Julian is fairly blunt, explaining to her that he cannot teach her and referring her to her father. In addition to articulating Bradley's character through these letters, Murdoch also reveals his internal dialogue, which is often inconsistent with the politeness of his actions. While talking to Julian, for example, he is friendly, but is busy thinking about the impossibility of teaching such an unimportant girl. Likewise, he attempts to console his sister but is fixated upon getting away as soon as possible. Bradley's internal dialogue reveals him to frequently not be the kind character that others believe.

Textually, this section demonstrates the classic Murdochian technique of pressing together as many coincidental events as possible. This trend had already been seen in the first section with the arrival of Francis Marloe and the telephone call of Arnold Baffin. Here, the coincidences continue with the random encounter with Julian Baffin, who Bradley had believes was in school outside of London, the unexpected arrival of his distanced sister Priscilla, and by the arrival of Arnold, Rachel, Julian, Francis, and Christian at the exact moment that Priscilla has tried to commit suicide and is retching all over the floor. These random occurrences are widespread throughout Murdoch's fiction, and reflect her belief that one's life does not proceed with a pre-scripted purpose, but rather is the result of a series of coincidences and accidents that all conjoin together. These random juxtapositions of these six characters introduced in this chapter shall continue in the novel.

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