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The Black Prince

Iris Murdoch

Study Questions and Suggested Essay Topics

Key Facts

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Study Questions

The entire novel is narrated by Bradley Pearson. Does his account of events appear to be true or untrue? Discuss the effect of his narration upon the novel.

Iris Murdoch frequently points to the ambiguous nature of Bradley Pearson's truth by reminding the reader that Bradley is writing his own story. His foreword and his postscript, as well as his lengthy contemplations in the novel all confirm his strong presence as storyteller. By creating a character who is writing the novel that we are reading, Murdoch plays with the idea of truth altogether. Ultimately, we know that the entire book is not true because it is a novel, but the portrayal of Bradley Pearson's "true" tale makes one think that it is. Because Bradley Pearson tells his own story, there is no way to know if he tells it honestly or not. The only externally confirmed fact is that he did actually have some type of relationship with Julian. In her postscript, Julian herself confirms that she did once love Bradley, so it seems fair to say that they did have some type of affair. Still, even though we know that something happened, it cannot be proven that the affair with Julian happened the way that Bradley describes it. It is possible that he exaggerated her love or left out scenes, because it thought that it made him sound better. Such subjective always exists in storytelling.

What exactly does the title of the The Black Prince mean?

"The Black Prince" most frequently references Hamlet, a character frequently mentioned in the novel. Iris Murdoch herself suggested that the title referenced the Greek God Apollo, whose picture she put on the cover of the novel. Apollo appears as "P.Loxias" the editor; furthermore, the main subject of the novel, the nature of art, exists in his purview, since he is the God of art. Peter Conradi in his recent book, The Saint and the Artist, also suggests that the title could be a reference to a line from Shakespeare's All's Well that Ends Well: "the black prince, sir, alias the prince of darkness, alias the devil." This line fits with Bradley's own experience of Eros, since the style of Bradley's own erotic love touches upon some of the darker qualities of lust and jealousy. All's Well that Ends Well additionally concerns a series of unlikely couplings and reversals in amorous affairs, as does Murdoch's novel. Finally, it should also be noted that the initials of the "Black Prince", "B.P.", are Bradley Pearson's own initials, which indicate that he is a black prince of his own.

Several different marriages are profiled in the novel with substantial commentary upon the nature of marriage. What is Murdoch's feeling on the subject.

Iris Murdoch portrays the idea of marriage bleakly in The Black Prince. There are three marriages discussed between Arnold and Rachel, Christian and Bradley, and Priscilla and Roger. All of them end painfully. The best marriage is that of Arnold and Rachel, but even that is not very strong. Arnold and Rachel believe that their union has the strength to survive, but then they both want to have affairs and Rachel kills Arnold. The nature of Priscilla and Roger's marriage is far worse. It was a failure from day one, when Roger married Priscilla only because he believed her pregnant. Although they did not love each other and had no child, they stayed miserably together for the next twenty years. Priscilla's ruined state after she leaves her husband seems to result in her having stayed in a married couple for so long: marriage ruined her. In addition to exposing several flawed marriages, Murdoch also comments directly on the subject, having Bradley suggest that marriages are inconsistent with human nature because human souls cannot always live in such close proximity with one another. Given Murdoch's exposition of how marriage fails in her novel, it seems likely that she does not always believe it to be a fruitful institution.

Suggested Essay Topics

Hamlet is referenced numerous times in the novel. How does that play relate to the plot of The Black Prince?. Which character in the novel most clearly appears to embody Hamlet's dilemma, and why?

Rachel and Arnold Baffin continually insist in the novel that Bradley is in love with Christian. How do you think that Bradley truly feels about Christian and why?

Discuss the plot of Der Rosenkavalier and analyze it in relationship to the plot of The Black Prince. Why does Murdoch bring the plot of Der Rosenkavalier up in the final postscript right before Bradley Pearson dies.

Christian Evansdale has lived in America for many years. In what way does her character reflect an American identity?

Discuss the character of Francis Marloe. What is his importance in the novel?

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