Review of Iris Murdoch’s The Green Knight

‘Glastonbury Romance’ by Powys is being read by a character.

One of the characters wants to become a monk and writes letters to a confessor in which he discusses Christ who didn’t himself megalomaniacally claim to be god, he avers, though the lying gospellers retroactively do claim he does. There’s no evidence for a resurrection, he says, and hardly could be; the Jews and Romans would’ve laughed at the preposterous idea. Paul invented the whole thing, he goes on. Faith in Christ doesn’t depend on historical evidence but on the living Christ whose reality we experience. Speak for yourself. The author has a thing about Christ and the ontological proof of god and this febrile character expresses it, ‘there is no god but what I am feeling now is what god is.’ Okay, at one point I did myself consult a Jesuit priest. It’s an aspect of searching for who you are when young, shopping around to see what suits. This one takes too much on himself, taking the blame for another’s accident, as if he were god.

Murdoch doesn’t believe in accidents. His mother says of the character who had it that he smashed himself up accidentally on purpose, much to his regret, though he does eventually think there was purpose behind it and no accident. If his purpose, unconscious. If not, unconscious anyway. Murdoch believes in the unconscious though she can’t figure it out. She has her erroneous theories, one of which is exemplified by a character thinking another has consciously switched off consciousness as if it had control of manifesting unconsciousness.

With ‘you don’t want to explain the world, you want to change it’, Murdoch invokes Marx.

‘No sexuality, no spirit.’ It’s the other way about: no spirit, no sexuality.

‘Ça revient au meme de s’enivrer solitairement ou de conduire les peuples’ is by Sartre

Who the green knight is is evident from his wearing green. Even a green girdle is involved. I didn’t twig he was involved in the fracas between two ‘brother’ characters. Eventually it bore in upon me the title referred to an old poem. If the green knight is the character whose name means world peace, and rooms in a pub called The Castle, then one of the ‘brothers’ has to be Sir Gawain, neither a likely candidate. She does have the poem’s plot fairly closely followed eg ‘He doesn’t want my money, he wants my head,’ and through a brother character analyses how close and where divergent.

The false god punishes, the true god slays is from Elijah.

As the hart panteth over the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee is from Psalm 42.

The author doesn’t put a foot wrong until the sex scene where the two characters involved are both pompous, I thought, if that’s the exact word, and the whole thing psychologically implausible. I couldn’t help but summon up a like experience when Billy Macbrayne appeared in my room saying he’d just had a bath; he’d come for sex, and I set obligingly about it only for him to wince and say he might have a broken leg. I ran through the scenario, considering It was possible to go ahead if intricately to avoid hurting the leg, a challenge I could meet, to give what he wanted, but he was making it unnecessarily difficulty, so I desisted, advising he see a doctor to determine what he’d been walking on was broken. Right enough, there might’ve been something like pomposity in the way I said that but the scene was real because unconsciously directed in life whereas… the scene in the novel was imagined by an unconscious filtered through the one consciousness. From a subsequent scene I think the author was deliberately and to her artistic credit making this first one false-seeming, and mine, in life, isn’t directly comparable since I, being male, could’ve proceeded regardless of Billy’s capability whereas the female character in the novel couldn’t. Like the scene in the book, however, that in life wasn’t meant to succeed.

Murdoch believes in chance, exemplifying its ‘vast play …in human life’ by a character’s not sighting a dog whose capture by another character alters ‘the fates of a number of people in this story’ or maybe she doesn’t since she’s the author of her characters’ ‘fates’. She certainly seems to be using ‘dog’ as a mirroring of ‘god’, at least to readers of English, because the wonderfully well characterised dog proves to have a most responsive soul, acting along Augustine’s line of ‘ama et fac quod vis’, love and do what you want. She believes in love. A whole section is devoted to Eros.

She has a page of duologue without any need to say who’s talking. When she says, ‘Cora covered her face,’ she doesn’t need to say any more.

Everything deep loves a mask is from Nietzsche.

“Numeros memini si verba tenerent” is from Virgil.

‘Unlucky love should last, when answered passions thin to air’ is from Housman.

Not to have been born is best from Sophocles and from me, in a school magazine.


About johnbrucecairns

I'm a retired history teacher who's written for most of his life with a book readied for publication.
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