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Iris Murdoch The Black Prince First published in 1973 To Ernesto de Marchi Contents Editor's Foreword Bradley Pearson's Foreword Bradley Pearson's Story Part One Part Two Part Three Postscript by Bradley Pearson Four Postscripts by Dramatis Personae Editor's Postscript Editor's Foreword I am in more than one way responsible for the work that follows. The author of it, my friend Bradley Pearson, has placed the arrangements for publication in my hands. In this humble mechanical sense it is through my agency that these pages now reach the public. I am also the «dear friend» (and such) who is referred to and at times addressed in the book. I am not however an actor in the drama which Pearson recounts. My friendship with Bradley Pearson dates from a time in our lives posterior to the events here narrated. This has been a time of tribulation when we needed and happily found in each other the blessings of friendship. I can say indeed with confidence that were it not for the encouragement and sympathy which I was able to give to Bradley, this story would probably have remained untold. Those who cry out the truth to an indifferent world too often weary, fall silent or come to doubt their own wit. Without my help this could have been so with Bradley Pearson. He needed someone to believe him and someone to believe in him. He found me, his alter ego, at the time needful. What follows is in its essence as well as in its contour a love story. I mean that it is deeply as well as superficially so. Man's creative struggle, his search for wisdom and truth, is a love story. What follows is ambiguous and sometimes tortuously told. Man's searchings and his strugglings are ambiguous and vowed to hidden ways. Those who live by that dark light will understand. And yet: what can be simpler than a tale of love and more charming? That art gives charm to terrible things is perhaps its glory, perhaps its curse. Art is a doom. It has been the doom of Bradley Pearson. And in a quite different way it is my own. note 1 P. Loxias editor Bradley Pearson's Foreword note 2 I am aware that people often have completely distorted general ideas of what they are like. Men truly manifest themselves in the long patterns of their acts, and not in any nutshell of self-theory. This is supremely true of the artist, who appears, however much he may imagine that he hides, in the revealed extension of his work. And so am I too here exhibited, whose pitiful instinct is alas still for a concealment quite at odds with my trade. Under this cautionary rubric I shall however now attempt a general description of myself. And now I am speaking, as I explained, in the persona of the self of several years ago, the often inglorious «hero» of the tale that follows. I am fifty-eight years old. I am a writer. «A writer» is indeed the simplest and also the most accurate general description of me. In so far as I am also a psychologist, an amateur philosopher, a student of human affairs, I am so because these things are a part of being the kind of writer that I am. I have always been a seeker. And my seeking has taken the form of that attempt to tell truth of which I have just spoken. I have, I hope and I believe, kept my gift pure. This means, among other things, that I have never been a successful writer. I have never tried to please at the expense of truth. I have known, for long periods, the torture of a life without self-expression. The most potent and sacred command which can be laid upon any artist is the command: wait. Art has its martyrs, not least those who have preserved their silence. There are, I hazard, saints of art who have simply waited mutely all their lives rather than profane the purity of a single page with anything less than what is perfectly appropriate and beautiful, that is to say, with anything less than what is true. As is well known, I have published very little. I say «as is well known,» relying here for my fame upon publicity deriving from my adventures outside the purlieus of art. My name is not unknown, but this alas is not because I am a writer. As a writer I have reached and doubtless will reach only a perceptive few. The paradox perhaps of my whole life, and it is an absurdity upon which I do not cease to meditate, is that the dramatic story which follows, so unlike the rest of my work, may well prove to be my only «best seller.» There are undoubtedly here the elements of crude drama, the «fabulous» events which simple people love to hear of. And indeed I have had, in this connection, my own good share of being front-page news.» note 3 I shall describe myself a little more. My parents kept a shop. This is important, though not as important as Francis Marloe thinks, and certainly not in the way that he thinks. I mention Francis first of any of my «players» not because he is the most important: Francis is not important at all and has no deep connection with the course of these events. He is a subsidiary, a sidesman, in the story as I fear he is generally in life. Poor Francis will never be the hero of anything. He would make an excellent fifth wheel to any coach. But I make him as it were the mascot of the tale, partly because in a purely mechanical sense he opens it, and if on a certain day he had not, and so on, I might never, and so on. There is another paradox. One must constantly meditate upon the absurdities of chance, a subject even more edifying than the subject of death. Partly too I give a special place to Francis because he is, of the main actors in this drama, probably the only one who believes that I am not a liar. My gratitude to you, Francis Marloe, if you are still among the living and should chance to see these words. That another, later, believed me has proved of infinitely greater value. But you were then the only one who saw and understood. Across the aeons of time which have passed since that tragedy, I salute you, Francis. My parents kept a shop, a sort of paper shop, down in Croydon. The shop sold daily papers and magazines, writing paper and so on, and horrible «gifts.» My sister, Priscilla, and I lived in this shop. I do not mean that we actually ate and slept in the shop. We did in fact often have our tea there, and I have a «memory» of sleeping under the counter. But the shop was the house and the mythical domain of our childhood. Some fortunate children have a garden, a landscape, as the «local habitation» of their early years. We had the shop: its drawers, its shelves, its smells, its endless empty cardboard boxes, its particular dirt. It was a shabby unsuccessful shop. Our parents were shabby unsuccessful people. They both died when I was in my thirties, my father first, my mother not long after. They lived to see my first book published. They were proud of me. My mother filled me with exasperation and shame but I loved her. (Be quiet, Francis Marloe.) My father I simply disliked. Or perhaps I have forgotten my affection for him. One can forget love, as you will perceive that I shortly find out. I will not go on about the shop. I still dream about it at least once a week. Francis Marloe thought this very significant when I told him once. But Francis belongs to that sad crew of semi-educated theorizers who prefer any general blunted «symbolic» explanation to the horror of confronting a unique human history. Francis wanted to «explain» me. In my moment of fame, a number of other and much cleverer people attempted this also. But any human person is infinitely more complex than this type of explanation. By «infinitely» (or should I say «almost infinitely»? Alas I am no philosopher) I mean that there are not only more details, but more kinds of details with more kinds of relations than these diminishers can dream of. You might as well try to «explain» a Michelangelo on a piece of graph paper. Only art explains, and that cannot itself be explained. We and art are made for each other, and where that bond fails human life fails. Only this analogy holds, only this mirror shows a just image. Of course we have an «unconscious mind» and this is partly what my book is about. But there is no general chart of that lost continent. Certainly not a «scientific» one. note 4 I am not, then, proposing to describe my life as a «taxman.» For some reason which I cannot fully understand the profession of «taxman,» like the profession of «dentist,» seems to excite laughter. But this laughter is, I suspect, uneasy. Both taxman and dentist only too readily image forth the deeper horrors of human life: that we must pay, perhaps ruinously, for our pleasures, that our resources are lent, not given, and that our most irreplaceable faculties decay even as they grow. And in an immediate sense, what makes a man more obsessively miserable than income tax or the toothache? No doubt this accounts for the defensive covertly hostile mockery with which one is greeted when confessing to either of these trades. I used to think however that no one but fools like Francis Marloe actually believed that tax inspectors chose their profession out of secret sadism. I cannot think anyone less sadistic than myself. I am gentle to timidity. Yet latterly even my quiet and respectable calling has been used as evidence against me. When this story starts-and I will not much longer delay its inception-I had already retired, at an earlier age than is usual, from the tax office. I worked as an Inspector of Taxes because I had to earn a living which I knew I should never earn as a writer. I retired when I had at last saved enough money to assure myself a modest annuity. I have lived, as I say, until latterly, without drama, but with unfailing purpose. I looked forward to and I toiled for my freedom to devote all my time to writing. Yet on the other hand, I did manage to write, and without more than occasional repining, during my years of bondage, and I would not, as some unsatisfied writers do, blame my lack of productivity upon my lack of time. I have been on the whole a lucky man. And I would say that even now. Perhaps especially I would say it now. The shock of leaving the office was greater than I had anticipated. Hartbourne warned me that it would be so. I did not believe him. Perhaps I am, more than I realized, a creature of routine. Perhaps too, with scarcely pardonable stupidity, I imagined that inspiration would come with freedom. I did not expect the complete withdrawal of my gift. In the years before, I worked steadily. That is, I wrote steadily and I destroyed steadily. I will not say how many pages I have destroyed, the number is immense. There was pride in this as well as sorrow. Sometimes I felt at a (terrible phrase) dead end. But I never despaired of excellence. Hope and faith and absolute devotion kept me plodding onward, ageing, living alone with my emotions. And at least I found that I could always write something. But when I had given up the tax office and could sit at my desk at home every morning and think any thoughts I pleased, I found I had no thoughts at all. This too I suffered with my bitterest patience. I waited. I tried to develop a new routine: monotony, out of which value springs. I waited, I listened. I live, as I shall explain soon at more length, in a noisy part of London, a seedy region that was once genteel. I suppose I have myself, together with my neighbourhood, made my pilgrimage away from gentility. Noise, which had never distressed me before, began to do so. For the first time in my life I urgently wanted silence. Of course, as might be pointed out with barbed humour, I had always in a sense been a devotee of silence. Arnold Baffin once said something like this to me, laughing, and hurt me. Three short books in forty years of sustained literary effort is not exactly garrulity. And indeed if I understand anything that is precious, I did understand how important it was to keep one's mouth shut until the right moment even if this meant a totally voiceless life. Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck. I hate, in any context, an intemperate flux of words. Contrary to what is modishly thought, the negative is stronger than the positive and its master. What I needed now however was literal silence. note 5 As I now read this Foreward through I see how meagrely it conveys me. How little perhaps can words convey except in the hands of a genius. Though I am a creative person, I am a puritan rather than an aesthete. I know that human life is horrible. I know that it is utterly unlike art. I have no religion except my own task of being. Conventional religions are dream stuff. Always a world of fear and horror lies but a millimetre away. Any man, even the greatest, can be broken in a moment and has no refuge. Any theory which denies this is a lie. For myself, I have no theories. True politics is simply the drying of tears and the endless fight for freedom. Without freedom there is no art and no truth. I revere great artists and the men who say no to tyrants. It remains to record a dedication. note 6 A celebration of love Part one note 7 I lived then and had long lived in a ground-floor flat in a small shabby pretty court of terrace houses in North Soho, not far from the Post Office Tower, an area of perpetual seedy brouhaha. I preferred this genteel metropolitan poverty to the styleless suburban affluence favoured by the Baffins. My «rooms» were all at the back. My bedroom looked onto dustbins and a fire escape. My sitting– room onto a plain brick wall caked with muck. The sitting-room, half a room really (the other half, stripped and degraded, was the bedroom), had wooden panels of that powdery dignified shade of green which can only be achieved by about fifty years of fading. This place I had crammed with too much furniture, with Victorian and Oriental bric-a-brac, with tiny heterogeneous objets d'art, little cushions, inlaid trays, velvet cloths, antimacassars even, lace even. I amass rather than collect. I am also meticulously tidy though resigned to dust. A sunless and cosy womb my flat was, with a highly wrought interior and no outside. Only from the front door of the house, which was not my front door, could one squint up at sky over tall buildings and see above the serene austere erection of the Post Office Tower. So it was that I deliberately delayed my departure. What if I had not done so? I was proposing to disappear for the whole summer, to a place incidentally which I had never seen but had adopted blind. I had not told Arnold where I was going. I had mystified him. Why, I wonder? Out of some sort of obscure spite? Mystery always bulks larger. I had told him with a firm vagueness that I should be travelling abroad, no address. Why these lies? I suppose I did it partly to surprise him. I was a man who never went anywhere. Perhaps I felt it was time I gave Arnold a surprise. Neither had I informed my sister, Priscilla, that I was leaving London. There was nothing odd in that. She lived in Bristol with a husband whom I found distasteful. Suppose I had left the house before Francis Marloe knocked on the door? Suppose the tram had arrived at the tram stop and taken Prinzip away before the Archduke's car came round the corner? note 8 Then the front doorbell (already too long delayed by my rambling narrative) rang. The person who stood outside (within the front door of the house, but without my subsidiary front door) was strange to me. He seemed to be trembling, perhaps from the recent attentions of the wind, perhaps from nerves or alcohol. He wore a very old blue raincoat and a stringy fawn scarf of the throttling variety. He was stout (the raincoat failed to button) and not tall, with copious greyish longish frizzy hair and a round face and a slightly hooked nose and big very red lips and eyes set very close together. He looked, I later thought, rather like a caricature of a bear. Real bears, I believe, have eyes rather wide apart, but caricatured bears usually have close eyes, possibly to indicate bad temper or cunning. I did not like the look of him at all. Something significantly ill-omened which I could not yet define emanated from him. And 1 could smell him from where he stood. Perhaps I might pause here yet again for a moment to describe myself. I am thin and tall, just over six feet, fairish and not yet bald, with light fine silky rather faded straight hair. I have a bland diffident nervous sensitive face and thin lips and blue eyes. I do not wear glasses. I look considerably younger than my age.