Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark: Freedom and Constraint in The Bell and Robinson


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Elliot Slater and Sir Martin Roth enjoyed, respectively, distinguished careers as exponents of neurogenetic determinism and neuropathological determinism. These pathways are the only ones worth developing for the dementias. Perhaps the most astounding example is Roger Sperry , the neuro-anatomist who won the Nobel prize for his split-brain research, before developing a career in the philosophy of consciousness.

Sir William Osler [17] is a further example from the century before and Dr Raymond Tallis an example of today. Meyer rightly objected to rigid formulations and one-sided insistence on limited factors, such as sexual difficulties. He was correct that Freud who also started out as a pathologist was a sham. He discouraged most of his residents from pursuing analytic training. Indeed, Meyer generally disliked public conflict and ran toward-at least public-compromise.

In developing the medical curriculum at Johns Hopkins, Meyer placed the study of the personality in a much more prominent position than at that time was given to it by any other medical school worldwide. Research that I have undertaken into the Aberdeen Asylum [19] has shown that from the outset of Institutional care, psychiatrists found that professional respectability within medicine was tied to looking for pathology, cellular or otherwise, creating a defensiveness that rears when any challenge is made to its foundation.

In a rather lovely article, S. William James once remarked that the basis for all philosophies lies in the personalities of philosophers. He seems to have recognized this himself in a heartfelt note written in the early hours of the morning in November , toward the end of his life: [23].

Why did I fail to be explicit? I should have made myself clear and in outspoken opposition, instead of a mild semblance of harmony. That is as absurd as it is twisted! Furthermore it is not true that Meyer had no framework, his principles are clear:. All this has been lost, but some of it re-framed by Engel , in his wonderfully eloquent but terse paper in Science: The need for a new medical model. The model was not only a challenge for psychiatry, but also for medicine in general. However, it is indisputable that the founding influence for the biopsychosocial model was Meyer and its continuing appeal is the critique of biomedical reductionism.

The situation would be quite comic if it should not involve deep political and ideological consequences and, more importantly, the way our society faces the sufferings of real people. The streetlights not only have this alarming colour, but they march in strict ordered lines along the dark road.

The sinister authoritarian predictability of the streetlights is contrasted with the sudden unpredicted almost wordless voices of the two girls singing on the bus. Dec Neurogenetic determinism and the new euphenics ; British Medical Journal; But such positions are necessities of convenience and should claim no loyalty. We must not weep when we are forcibly moved on, or compelled to retreat. Scottish Division. Winter Meeting, Edinburgh. April The need for a new medical model: a challenge for biomedicine ; Science, Vol , Issue , Alas both traits disappeared beyond the first six years that Alfred Adler so poetically described as the style of life.

This is a telling reminder to the author of how we change, shape, and reveal our true selves. It is far more complex than that erroneous divide of nurture versus nature. Much returns to family, and communication patterns and the retreat we all take into imagination with thoughts arising but rarely spoken. It is doctors like Langdon-Brown, shaped by an understanding borne of treating every malady of man, who choose to peer beyond that dark-mirror, who instinctively embrace the glow of the humanities as expressed in art, poetry, story and song.

Art lives from constraints and dies from freedom. ~ Leonardo Da Vinci | %author% | sparks!

That glow has been lost to much of modern medicine. Between its opening in May and closure in , Mavisbank the Hospital, was served by at least nine different Superintendents. It seems that all the medical and administrative records have been lost, though who knows, perhaps one day some might turn up in family attic or, more likely, legal basement.

Research for this manuscript has thrown up just one file covering Mavisbank Nursing Home Ltd between till His appointment was a coup, as he was brought from the newly refurbished Lincoln Asylum. The first reference, amongst sparing few, to Allan Philip, is a letter he wrote to the Lancet, in response to an article on the treatment of Dipsomania.

In , in Turriff, Allan Phillip married the daughter of an Aberdeenshire minister: Katherine Cruickshank, and in June , at Mavisbank, she was delivered of a daughter. Shortly after the young family move on from the auld Mansion House and institution and disappear from record. The second Superintendent of Mavisbank was Dr John Keay , and he served the asylum for two years between and Keay was a prominent member of his profession, and, having graduated in Glasgow in , crowned his career by becoming, in , President of the Royal Medico-Psychological Association.

Like so many of our past great figures he was brokered first in Crichton Royal, Dumfries and gained his appointment in Mavisbank directly following. In March , from Mavisbank, Dr Keay reported his experimentation with a new medicine, an anti-histamine called Chlorobrom that had first been introduced to Scotland by Dr Charteris. When the First World War broke out he was entrusted with the task of converting Bangour into a bed MilitaryHospital.

His military bearing survives record: he was apparently unflappable, precise and unnerving in his administration and his pride in his hospital reflected in his belief that to ease suffering his staff must feel belonging and heartfelt support from their Superintendent. Sadly his life was cut short, aged just 42 years, by insidious breathlessness with mycoplasma concluding victory. This bacterium felled a giant, a man once vigorous in youth, when he had played rugby football for Scotland. His talent for sport had no limit: he was a scratch golfer, and as such is listed victorious, year after year in the British Medical Association Tournaments.

He was also a fine curler and cricketer. A rather vivid impression has been left of Dr Wilson, surviving in his own words. In he wrote his most notable work: Clinical studies in Vice and insanity. Dr Wilson was a man of wide interest. Having been born in Kilmaurs House in Duns, the son of a family of renowned weavers, Wilson appears to have shared in family suffering as his father was pensioned after serving for the Royal Artillery and his grandfather James Smith never the same after his life in the 20 th Dragoon Guards.

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George was a religious man, well travelled, who was in his day considered a man of letters, a writer and publisher. One can assume he was popular as his writing brought him wealth. In , we find Wilson living with his uncle in a mansion house in Newington, along with three other lodgers. In the fifty-seventh annual meeting of the Medico-Psychological Association met in Edinburgh and one of the speakers was Dr Wilson, in advance of the book he had written, and was just about to publish, entitled simply: Drunkenness. The paper gave rise to much and varied discussion. His literary style was all his own, and his case descriptions were as vivid as they were dogmatically astute.

Secondly, they reveal the house of healing that was Mavisbank, and the understanding, largely since lost, that natural environs, beautiful surroundings and a feeling of belonging can restore purpose when it has been lost to drink. He was the kind of man one would suppose some of the disciples to have been, for he was a determined man in matters of conscience, and of a mild, persuasive eloquence.

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His habit had got past the stage of concealment before his wife died, and more than once or twice she endured the pain of seeing her husband drunk beside her death-bed. When his wife died Andrew was drunk, for the next few days he was drunk, and he was drunk at her funeral. Then he came to us. But to him drunkenness was a sin, and nothing more and nothing less than a sin; and a due repentance was the only possible cure for it. It had been ordained by his relatives that Mavisbank was to be his wilderness, and his humility forbade him to rebel.

Everything that was suggested he fell in with in a spirit of submission, except a very few things, like cards and dancing, which were against his conscience. He took the regulation walks within and without the grounds, he accepted the constant supervision of an attendant, he went to bed at ten and rose at half-past seven, he went to the drawing-room on the nights prescribed. He curled, and golfed, and played bowls, — all with the same cheerfulness and docility and repentings. One thing preyed constantly upon his mind and told against his recovery.


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The idea of his neglect took on the nature of a delusion in his mind. And so, before many weeks had gone, he had drunk himself into the grave which he had been so eager to visit. Case Study Two: Alcoholist, Husband, Gentleman Mr Erythema came to us under an assumed name, he quarrelled with us seriously within a fortnight, but he stayed on because he had paid to be treated, and he liked value for his money; and after four months he was discharged recovered with good results. These things were characteristic of the man. Secretive and a little sly, exacting and irritable, not afraid to speak his mind, very business-like and methodical, he had plenty backbone left, though drink had worn off the layers which make life pleasant.

He had taken seriously to golf, and if any one thing can be said to have saved that man, golf must get the credit. He practised assiduously, first here and then on other greens, and he also did a great deal in exploiting all the places of interest in the county and beyond it. He roamed all over the countryside, taking prodigiously long walks; he planned all sorts of improvements in our household arrangements; he devised a new golf club and laid out our course on a new pattern; he tried to convert me on politics, went to the theatre, doctored the horse, called frequently upon friends whose acquaintance he had made since coming to us, and was altogether very busy and very cheerful.

Dr Wilson died at Allantown House, Newmains, Lanarkshire in March , he was 41 years old and had only a few years before purchased the Mansion House to form his Sanatorium for the treatment of Neurasthenia and other mental disorders. He left behind a beautiful widow and two little daughters. His early death was a great loss to medicine and a blow to the scientific treatment of alcoholism. It really would seem that comparatively few men in medicine have appeared since with such widely reaching outlook framed always through earnest scientific scrutiny.

His vision seemed to fail him as to the future capabilities of that, the most accurate and indisputable of all the investigations. However the pathological certainty of alcohol brain damage apart, Wilson was surely correct to return to man and womankind, considered not in isolation from, family, environment and life. Batty-Tuke, however recognised that alcoholism was a problem to be addressed not just by the medical profession, but by mankind in general:. This was the year that colour came to Mavisbank Institution for the Nervous. It was the year that Rudyard Kipling won the Nobel prize for Literature; however it is for the invention of colour photography by Louis Lumiere and his brother that the world celebrates Yet, scholars of the history of photography will know this to be a record certainly misplaced.

For colour photography, and the true brightening of today forget religion and metaphysics we must return to James Clerk Maxwell , the Edinburgh great-great grandson of Baron Clerk. Above, recorded in splendid colour is a postcard of Mavisbank dated However if you look closely, you will see that, inset in type, it is denoted otherwise. In doing so, the Institution was renamed as the less than imaginative, New Saughton Hall. Was it then, that after years, the mavis had lost her song of love, and the Baron, from his poem, his stone villa?

The Scotsman advert makes it evident that considerable alterations had been at Mavisbank by the Batty Tukes, so that their New Saughton Hall compromised 90 beds an expansion of more than a third. Sir John Batty Tuke was easily the brightest and certainly the most colourful Superintendent of Mavisbank, and Dr Thomas Clouston apart, was the most influential Scottish Psychiatrist of the late Victorian epoch. Yet today, years on, it must be remarked that the doors — in a culture where risk must be calculated — are once again locked : whether it be dementia homes or forensic wards.

Two years after moving to Mavisbank, the new Asylum housed 28 male patients and 44 female patients. Born in Surrey in , Batty Tuke spent his early boyhood in Beverley, Yorkshire, and lifelong retained the characteristics of the Yorkshireman. In circumstances that are not clear, he came to Edinburgh before the age of ten to live with his uncle, Dr. John Smith , one of the proprietors of Saughton Hall. He followed his uncle into medicine and gained his degree in Edinburgh in but soon after left for New Zealand where he served as senior medical officer in the Maori War until Nobody who met Batty Tuke thereafter had any doubt, that his fortitude and forbearance in war had left its stamp upon him.

However, in terms of medical outlook, Batty Tuke was guided by the charismatic Dr David Skae of Royal Edinburgh Asylum, under whom he served for several years as assistant physician. The pathological framework for Insanity, that holds sway to this day, had in its roots Dr Skae. He was also wonderfully charming. His influence reached well beyond Batty Tuke, and Asylums across the British Isles adopted the pathological clarity of his Annual Reports from Morningside.

It is interesting to note that Dr Skae, more than a generation before Batty Tuke, was also raised and mentored by his doctor uncle. He was careless to a fault in his dress, was a great smoker, and did not despise the good things of this life. Figure 4: Dr Skae — he had a massive head; he was loved but his legacy was pathological; T. Clouston followed. He was the first physician in Scotland to learn the new methods of staining methylene blue and section-cutting which then revolutionised normal and morbid histology.

His microscope was carried everywhere and he advanced new microscopic understanding of the dementias in a way that really has not properly been acknowledged. He thereafter advocated a uniform system of recording post-mortem examinations in the insane, and he himself reported thirty cases on that system.

Lowe, his partner, at Saughton Hall. This development was epochal in the medical science of Edinburgh and many who went on to be famous and contributing Professors of science were borne of this laboratory. Continuing the colourful theme of this chapter, yet here again the kaleidoscope of time reveals itself marvellous. Through no more than elementary research it has emerged that when John Batty Tuke came to live with his uncle, Dr John Smith in Edinburgh, he lived in the family home, number 16 India Street.

Next door, at number 14, James Clerk Maxwell was born and lived a good part of his life. Lowe, [9] ministering to the insane at Saughton Hall. Dr Lowe time has forgotten completely we cannot remember all but survives in the flower gardens of Saughton. Dr John Smith the uncle of Batty Tuke, and immediate neighbour of Clerk Maxwell, chose to minister not just the insane but also the poor. He was for nearly fifty years physician to the city workhouse in Forrest Road, Edinburgh, and gave all for no charge.

His reward for such selfless ministering was to be completely forgotten by the good folk of Edinburgh. My bodily organization. My days tae a sift termination. A Clinical examination. After Sir Batty Tuke died in , his son who carried his name and shared his profession, continued at Mavisbank up until his death in Batty Tuke junior submitted an interesting Mavisbank case for discussion: it related to a 57 year old unmarried woman who was admitted to the Institution on the 24 th August She was suffering from chronic delusions that she was the Bride of Christ.

One year and five days after her admission to Mavisbank she received a message from Christ commanding her not to take food or drink of any kind. Such was her life at Mavisbank for 9 years. Simone Weil was a strange lass, precocious, bookish and ascetic. She was the product of a strange family with a parental admixture that was the Nobel prize winning microbiologist father who discovered phagocytosis cellular eating and a mother who had a morbid fear of germs, so that she would not allow anyone outside the family to kiss her children, a fear that she successfully communicated to her daughter Simone.

Before concluding this chapter let us return to and colour. It was the year Mavisbank was advertised in colour as New Saughton Hall. Einstein kept a picture of Clerk Maxwell on his wall, and revealed that he felt as a scientist he sat not upon the shoulders of Newton, but in fact Clark Maxwell. At number 14 India Street, the house in which Clerk Maxwell was born, there is now a museum to him which includes the three glass plates in red, green and blue of tartan ribbon. Taken in , they were projected by Clerk Maxwell and focussed onto one screen to form the first true colour image.

However this was only a prelude to one of our greatest advances in knowledge; for before Clerk Maxwell there was only the Newtonian view of the world as consisting of matter in space. In developing this, Clerk Maxwell pointed the way to the existence of the spectrum of electromagnetic radiation and the truth then unknown that energies reside in fields as well as bodies.

This pointed the way to the application of electromagnetic radiation for such present-day uses as radio, television, radar, microwaves and thermal imaging.

As the basis of electronics, they shape our lives and the ideas that he formulated almost years ago touch us all. Clerk Maxwell loved poetry, and wrote his own poems throughout his academic life, and he even went on to develop complex mathematical problems and their solutions in verse!

The best known is Rigid Body Sings. Gin a body, hit a body Will it fly? And where? Tallis recently sent this writer a manuscript before publication, not for considered review this writer is not up to that but out of kindness, realising that we shared equal disappointment that science had marginalised consciousness. His work in this field would appear to this writer, to carry forward Clerk Maxwell, with similar imagination to the great physicist who could see beyond matter to the energy fields that now govern our everyday life.

There are bearers of the Enlightenment in every generation: Gin a body meet a body. Such metaphors are powerful, and may be helpful. But too often their seductive powers blinker our capacity to see the world. As I will argue, brains are not computers, and genes are not selfish. Rose [18]. Clouston; — With Illustrations and Diagrams.

Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd. London: Simpkin, Marshall, and Co. H; Report, together with rules and regulations, of Saughton Hall private lunatic asylum near Edinburgh; Book; Record number Macphail was a loyal son of Skye. He knew its songs and stories, and was learned in its Gaelic language and traditions. In his younger days Macphail was a good Rugby forward. He played for EdinburghUniversity and the Greenock Wanderers.

He retained his interest in the game to the last, and used to be seen frequently supporting his old school or university on a Saturday afternoon. Late in life he became an enthusiastic member of the Edinburgh Medical Curling Club. In July he reported on the sedative and hypnotic effects of Sulphate of Duboisin. Dr Skeen argued that the quick response to stramonium indicated that this was a case of encephalitis lethargica.

Dr Skeen was not the only psychiatrist trained in Larbert to end up living on the Esk. Dr William Wotherspoon Ireland , of a previous generation of medics, had retired to Mavisbush after serving for ten years as Medical Superintendent of the Larbert Institution for Imbecile Children. You will recall that Mavisbush in the century before had been the recuperative home for Thomas De Quincey. After seven months service, when doing his duty like a hero, he was shot in the head; the bullet entered and destroyed the eye and passed out behind the ear; at the same time a bullet entered his shoulder and lodged in his back, this was afterwards extracted by the surgeons.

It was a year before he could leave his bed, three years before he could undertake the voyage home, and ten years before he could enter on further professional work. From the beginning Dr. Ireland showed a capacity for literature, general and professional. He had an individuality in his appearance, laugh, walk, and character. He was never carried away by new theories at once, and indeed, even as to facts that professed to be new he always took the position that they would have to be confirmed before they took their place in medical science. This last chapter, voiced through the warm humanitarianism of the last Superintendent of Mavisbank, Dr Bill Harrowes, will explain why Pinker is preposterous in his metaphor worthy only of Dawkins.

I never met Dr Harrowes in life. Of these none is more faithful than Dr Harrowes. The author gives the impression of being thoroughly sensible rather than penetrating, safe and wise but not particularly illuminating; if his oracle is not sibylline or deceitful, neither is it far removed from what ordinary men say when called into counsel. Time has proved Moodie wrong, and whilst biology has advanced much, mankind is at last realising that we are not simply mannequins of selfish genes, operating out-with family, environment and history. Benjamin, surely a rare youthful gem, concluded rightly that Porter succeeded where others have failed in trying to understand our medical past without, as Edward Shorter does, passing judgement on them.

It is curious to me why intellectual thought is sometimes not recognised in the age in which it was reasoned. Even in this short manuscript, and restricted largely to Edinburgh, we have examples of those unappreciated in life : David Hume, James Clerk Maxwell, Reverend Allison, and so forth. The digital age is now helping in this by making works and thoughts more accessible, and perhaps at last, limiting the growing specialisation and sub-specialisation not just of medicine but of science generally. The task is not to get rid of the boxes, but rather to see the info rmation in those boxes not just from the inside but from the outside as well.

Young developed the theory of elasticity, explained capillary action and hydraulics as well as his work in linguistics examining the origins and derivations of some languages. He even found time to compile the second volume of his Natural Philosophy, based on a critical review of medical practice stretching back to Hippocrates and Galen. Yet Young was not considered by his medical contemporaries.

Sadly, it appears that Young felt that he had been rather a failure as a physician. In this epoch biomedicine has tended to think about disease in terms of a linear cause-and-effect model. Infectious diseases served as a paradigm of this thinking. That is to be celebrated; for vaccination, antibiotics, and now antivirals have saved more lives than any other galencial. Science and technology are crucial in medicine of today, and as societies we devote enormous amounts of time, money and effort to developing new diagnostic and therapeutic procedures.


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Modern medicine is based on a materialist principle, in which psychosocial processes may have a role in the genesis of disease, but only insofar as they affect biological processes. This biological reductionism has made possible the investigation of the human body at the cellular level and has brought huge advances both in positive and negative findings.

Alcohol consumption, dietary habits, drug use, reproductive and sexual behaviour are all responsible for well-defined pathological effects. However, separating biological and psychosocial risk factors is almost impossible. Gilbert Farie revisited from omphalos on Vimeo. Here commentary must be made about a most recent debate in Scotland relating to antidepressant prescribing in Primary Care settings General Practice for mild to moderate depressive illness.

However my view of mood and its disorder is that it cannot squeeze in all its social diversity into one box marked biological. We must be wary of medicalising all human distress a reminder that Roy Porter, and who can argue against his wisdom, made often. That does not mean we do not care or support, as Professor Christopher Dowrick so wonderfully sets out in his writings on this subject. Doctors of the future cannot be expected to know everything.

However surely we can train our doctors how to focus on the appropriate selection of information, using to our advantage the ease of communication of the digital age. It is my belief that this is already happening. The didactic lectures that were fodder to my generation have been replaced by curricula centred upon problem solving in small groups.

This undoubtedly stimulates the student to take a more active part not only in learning answers to questions, but also in formulating the questions themselves. Another very helpful trend has been the introduction of students to patient care early in their studies. Only in the clinical setting can students gain a real appreciation of the basic principles of the natural and behavioural sciences that they are learning in the classrooms and laboratories. It is amusing to think that we have compared the fatty substance in our heads, depending on the era, to the inventions of man.

However the Life Chart that Dr Meyer developed, has been adopted in a modified form by the more diligent within our profession, and serves to usefully record the main episodes in the history of the individual. Dr Bill Harrowes, in wrote to the British Medical Association offering a Meyerian overview but his plea for an audience rejected. Richard Webster in his biography: W hy Freud Was Wrong Sin, Science and Psychoanalysis , reveals the pitiful truth, and always taking pains to give Freud the benefit of the doubt, the picture revealed is all the more harrowing.

The tragedy is that at the turn of the century before last, Freud corrupted the understanding of the world, and worse still diverted the energies of his colleagues and followers thereafter, those who actually wished to ease suffering. Within the psychoanalytic tradition you only have to look at the work of John Bowlby and the wonderful progression of his considerations on shaping in childhood through Sir Michael Rutter to realise where we should surely be developing research.

Eisenberg Sept who died this autumn was easily the best medical writer of his generation and had wisdom beyond match. By vocation he was child psychiatrist, but it was his graceful and eloquent social commentaries that carried him as the medical educator of his day. It is perhaps not so curious that the best writers in psychiatry stem from child psychiatry, for like Bowlby and Rutter, Eisenberg transformed child psychiatry by advocating research into developmental problems.

This the very same message, that in the century before had been carried by Meyer. The British establishment will remember Eisenberg for his lecture given in London Mindlessness and brainlessness in psychiatry , it is a classic text. Edinburgh ; Bell and Bradfoot. Dec Physicians of the future: Renaissance of Polymaths? In The Fire and the Sun she explains her opposition to Plato's view: Good art, thought of as symbolic force rather than statement, provides a stirring image of a pure transcendent value, a steady visible enduring higher good, and perhaps provides for many people in an unreligious age without prayer or sacraments, their clearest experience of something grasped as separate and precious and beneficial and held quietly and unpossessively in the attention.

Art which we love can seem holy and attending to it can be like praying. Our relation to such art though 'probably never' entirely true is markedly unselfish. Love is the perception of individuals. Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality" Sovereignty She uses the term fantasy to describe the imaginative exclusion of others from one's reality.

Others become dream objects whose freedom is restricted by the power of the fantasist.

Iris Murdoch on Philosophy and Literature: Section 3

The artist, immersed in fantasy, ignores reality, creating a world which conforms to his self- ordained illusions. Instead, the artist should give the world of art "an independence and uniqueness which is essentially the same as that conferred upon, or rather discovered in, another human being whom we love" Sovereignty In her early critiques of modernism, Murdoch criticizes the lack of independence in the characterization of twentieth-century novels. She emphasizes the need for more naturalistic characters like those in nineteenth-century novels "with real various individuals struggling in society" "Against" She criticizes the "neurotic modern novel" Wolfe 2 6 for its lack of concern with the real world outside the self-conscious concerns of the artist.

While the nineteenth-century novel succumbs to certain conventions, this tendency is "less deadly" than the solipsistic concerns of the modern novel Sovereignty She has argued, for example, with the existentalist notion of freedom which overemphasizes the personal will in conflict with the universe. True freedom, for Murdoch, must be achieved by respecting the freedom of others, which requires self-discipline. In Sartre: Romantic Rationalist she finds Sartre's weakness as a novelist to lie in his failure to present "the absurd irreducible uniqueness of people and of their relations with each other" Elizabeth Dipple sees a distinction between Murdoch's brand of realism and the nineteenth-century realist tradition.

Murdoch, she claims, has developed a "radical idea of realism" which requires on the artist's part a "commitment to look clearly. He should not succumb to the "consolations of form" but his representation of reality should resist fantasy while showinq "a respect for the continqent" "Aqainst" Numerous critics have pondered Murdoch's notion of continqency as an important criterion for the novel, but perhaps the best explanation of her concept of the term comes from her own work.

She emphasizes, for example, the incompleteness of the world, its inexplicability, claiminq that art should concern itself with "whatever is continqent, messy, boundless, infinitely particular, and endlessly still to be explained" "Sublime" Thouqh Murdoch applies this term to reality in qeneral, she emphasizes the importance of viewinq others as real, and thus believes that the novelist should create continqent characters who reflect "the real impenetrable human person" "Aqainst" Murdoch's concept of myth derives, to a larqe extent, from these early critiques of modernism, particularly that 8 of the existential hero whose monomanical preoccupation with his own subjective experience leads him to appropriate others as a part of his ongoing delusion.

Richard Wasson describes this type: "To this man the only thing that matters is his own consciousness; the world, its objects and people have no reality as separate, contingent beings, but exist only as symbols in his internal drama" This type of character freguently appears in Murdoch's fiction as a selfish power-monger whose personal drama inevitably brings harm to others. My reading of Murdoch's myths focuses on how her characters appropriate the otherness of the world and how the mythical framework of her novels recapitulates this appropriation, emphasizing the self- centered subjectivity which denies the reality of anything other than the self.

Although myth remains the central focus of the three chapters, my theoretical approach changes to accommodate different ways of applying the term. In the first chapter, I show how the language of love, evident in letter-writing, is used to defer contingency through an effort to find meaningfulness and truth in the other. I analyze the mythical nature of letters in five of the novels: Under the Net. In Under the Net the sending and receiving of letters reinforces the book's preoccupation with the inherent deceptions of language. In this first novel Murdoch establishes the importance of letters as a literary device that she will frequently use to reveal her characters' abundant myths.

In the other four novels, written during the 's, Murdoch relies on letters not only to reveal her characters' fantasies about reality, but to motivate much of the plot. Although Murdoch frequently uses letters to support her novels' mythical frameworks, in these novels letters become a substantial supplement to the developing narratives. My analysis is not concerned with chronologically placing these novels in Murdoch's canon, but it is of interest that during this period she utilizes letters to fuel the love entanglements.

The second chapter, a discussion of The Unicorn r The Bell, and A Sever ed Head , examines the way in which the spiritualized image of woman takes on a transcendent value to other characters. In the first two books, women are the center of the allegorical structure, indicating their entrapment within a power system. A Severed Head differs from these in its employment of a male narrator, but it finds kinship with them in its self-conscious mythification of women through this character's point of view.

Her novels describe human thought and behavior as mechanical while language entraps her characters, compelling them to repeat patterns of behavior which are harmful to themselves as well as others. The pattern might be the construction of an ill-conceived fantasy, which the character uses for his egotistic purposes, or he may simply be reciting and living the culturally given language of morality and myth. In any case, his actions arise from language's iterability: the machine fosters a variety of behavioral codes, traps which keep the character oblivious to reality. Murdoch's notion of reality centers, to a large extent, on her concept of love, as evident in her novels' preoccupation with the characters' usually vain efforts to love one another.

Through the sending and receiving of love letters, the encoded nature of language establishes and perpetuates a love-myth, constituting a denial of reality in Murdoch ' s schema. When the fantasist in Murdoch's novels uses letters to establish and perpetuate a false image of the loved one or to control another, he fails to recognize the otherness of 11 12 that person or her reality. In "Against Dryness" Murdoch proposes that characters should be real, claiming that "Real people are destructive of myth, contingency is destructive of fantasy and opens the way for imagination" Murdoch's notion of what constitutes real people depends on giving characters a certain depth.

She refers, for example, to the "real impenetrable" nature of the human personality and the "opacity of persons" Murdoch's novels suggest that the human personality is subject to certain contingencies which complicate our efforts to give meaning to human behavior and events. These contingencies vary in nature, but have in common the unknowable, unpredictable guality of human consciousness. It is not surprising, then, that Murdoch's novels depict characters who are deluded by the myth of the other.

Further, her plots unravel these myths as characters show themselves to be less predictable than the fantasist would imagine. This unpredictability constitutes a hidden contingency which the fantasist ignores in the fabrication of his fictional other. While the contingent nature of the loved one is absent in the language of the love myth, it is present in real characters whose use of language disrupts the fantasy. Murdoch suggests that since language is the creation of human beings, it comprises not only their myths but their contingent nature as well.

In The Sovereignty of Good Murdoch explains that human love and art are evidence of a transcendent principle of 13 good, noting, however, the tendency for human love to be "profoundly possessive" and "too mechanical" Her novels reveal this same cynicism, evident in the comic as well as tragic escapades of her aspiring lovers. The love letter in Murdoch's fiction motivates and complicates the love entanglements, freguently embroiling the letter-writer in unpleasant if not tragic circumstances. Freguently, the letter operates to console the sender, by encompassing him in a love-fantasy or functioning as a defense to keep out unwanted affection.

Love letters show the language of love at its worst, commenting on humans as compulsive writers who formulate fictions about themselves and live as if the fictions were true. Freguently, letters pursue an ideal — embodied in the beloved — or conversely, create a barrier between the writer and a threatening intruder. The love letter creates romance where there is none and fires the embers of romances which are based on vanity and self-interest. While the letter motivates and feeds romance, it seldom produces the response that the writer intends. The loved one may respond in a desireable way — continuing the drama at least temporarily — but eventually the letter comes back mechanically, wrecking lives and inviting accidents which might have been avoided.

As the machine operates to give form to an erstwhile chaotic universe, letters attempt to restrain the contingent nature of existence by imposing order on a random world. Parodoxically, however, once the machine of language is set 14 going, it exacts a kind of karmic retribution insuring that the perpetrator reaps the language she sows. Contingency, then, is inherent in the operation of language and has the effect of demythologizing it.

In "The Sublime And The Good" Murdoch explains how her notion of freedom relates to love: "Freedom is exercised in the confrontation by each other, in the context of an infinitely extensible work of imaginative understanding, of two irreducibly dissimilar individuals. Murdoch's novels have a great deal to do with attaining such freedom through the experience of loving another. In "Against Dryness" Murdoch posits that one can attain "degrees of freedom" in the world while in her novels we see that freedom, to any degree, eludes most of her characters.

In this chapter, I will examine five of Murdoch's novels from the 70 's along with her first novel Under the Net. This novel presages the later ones' use of letters as a literary device to establish Murdoch's fantasy myths. Although this chapter is not meant to be a chronological study of Murdoch's books, 15 it is to some degree an analysis of how her dispensation of freedom varies in the five novels as evident in the characters 1 sending and receiving of letters. Under the Net "The whole language is a machine for making falsehoods" Under the Net contemplates the inadequacy of language as a method of discerning reality.

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Metaphorically, Murdoch uses the net to represent theories which Jake, a writer, attempts to get "under" in order to find the essence of reality. Murdoch has said that she was thinking of Wittgenstein's net of discourse when she wrote the book and in an interview with Frank Kermode explains that the novel presents "the problem of how far conceptualizing and theorizing, which from one point of view are absolutely essential, in fact divide you from the thing which is the object of theoretical attention" In Under the Net Jake's pursuit of reality is inhibited by language, the net which he uses to trap truth, and which paradoxically traps him.

When the net is used to trap meaning, it ensnares the one who wields it — being trapped goes along with the territory of trapping. The plot develops the philosophical metaphor of the net as the characters attempt to capture the possessions of others. Kidnapping, stealing, illegal entry, eavesdropping and plagiarism make up the comical escapades of the novel — netting activities primarily perpetrated by Jake, the narrator. All of these activities describe, 16 metaphorically, the mimetic nature of language.

Acts of thievery are acts of copying: the mechanical net endlessly repeats itself by replicating the myths that are inherent in the language system. While Jake believes that such efforts will reveal the mystery of reality, in fact, he is merely caught up in the mimetic production of language, a situation which is evident in his desire to copy the ideas of others or to simply repeat patterns of behavior. The operation of the tautological net is also evident in the postal network which gives impetus to much of the plot. The sending and receiving of messages show how Jake is seduced and controlled by the powerful influence of the language of the other, particularly the language of love.

Jake's eager response to the love message leads him in pursuit of a former girlfriend, Anna, a chase around which the entire novel revolves. In his first encounter with her at the theatre, letters are established as seductive messages prompting his pursuit. Trying to reestablish a bond between them, Jake brings up the subject of letter writing. First he asks to see her again, but she responds uninterestedly, "If I need you I'll call for you" He then attempts to elicit a more definite response: " 'May I write you?

In my experience women who have any interest at all in keeping a hand on you will rarely refuse this. It binds without compromising. Jake believes that by writing letters, he can seduce the loved one. He believes, therefore, that he has some control of language, and thereby control of the beloved. It is soon obvious, however, that the opposite is true: Anna and language control him, as is evident in her instructions as they part company, " This comment marks the beginning of a series of summonses to which Jake eagerly responds.

In the first one she summons him to the theatre where he finds a letter announcing her departure, but leaving no clues as to her destination. With her disappearance, she takes on the attraction of the elusive love-object. This note prompts Jake's search for Anna, which traverses London and even takes him to Paris at one point, a trip inspired by a telegram from his former girlfriend Madge.

Hoping to find Anna in Paris, Jake responds to this love message as if it held some clue to the whereabouts of the elusive other. In this way, he believes that language can unveil Anna's mystery. In a parallel pursuit, Jake tries to uncover the whereabouts of Hugo Bel founder, a former friend whose theories Jake has plagiarized in a book entitled The Silencer.

Jake regards Hugo as a god-figure, referring to him as his "destiny"; his pursuit of him is a pursuit of 18 truth. In short, Jake wants to discover the whereabouts of these two characters to uncover their separate mysteries. Jake compounds the mystery, however, when he mistakenly decides that Hugo has fallen in love with Anna.

In actuality, Anna loves Hugo, while he loves her sister Sadie. Fearing that to find Hugo is to find Anna, Jake heightens the separate mysteries of the two while exaggerating the importance of his desperate pursuit. Hugo, however, does not send alluring messages as does Anna. As Jake explains: "Hugo is not a great hand at letter-writing and finds it very hard to express himself on paper at all" Hugo's inability to write letters derives from his attitude toward language, a notion which Jake reiterates in his book The Silencer.

Jake interprets Hugo's distrust of language as a "truth" and his silence as a kind of godliness. He does not expect, then, a seductive message from a god-figure, one who operates outside the machine of language. Hugo's silence, in fact, makes him even more compelling. Jake's simultaneous pursuit of the love message and of silence indicates his contradictory belief that language can evoke the truth of godly silence.

A similar contradiction is evident when he uses language to declare the falseness of language in The Silencer. Jake's actions, 19 then, contradict his theories, activating the machine-net and perpetuating lies. Viewing truth as elusive and seductive, Jake cannot compose letters to attract the attention of the absent lover. He writes only one love letter to Anna, a scribbled note written while he is drunk. As he begins to write, he experiences a dearth of sentiment: "I started to write to Anna,. I added, you are beautiful and sealed the letter" Jake not only lacks the ability to write a compelling message, he repeats the love sentiment, indicating his lack of originality and his entrapment in the machine-net.

By the time Jake mails the letter, Anna has left town and, henceforth, he has no idea of her whereabouts, a fact which precludes the possibility of sending her another letter. The sole participant in the creation of his fantasy, he has no one with whom to share his discourse. Anna's absence is absolute: to write compelling messages, one must have a willing recipient in the love-dialectic. Further, Jake cannot write original messages but appropriates the language of others. His dependence on Hugo for the ideas in The Silencer , his emulation of Hugo's silence, and his translations of Jean-Pierre's books exemplify his plagiaristic tendencies.

This desire to appropriate the language of others corresponds to his desire 20 to possess Anna. His pursuit of the elusive other is a plagiarism, a copy of the myths inherent in language. When Jake returns from Paris, disappointed at not having found Anna, he cloisters himself in a room at Dave's where he awaits the daily visit of the postman, "the only real moment of the day" Without messages to compel him, Jake is rendered immobile: forlornly he awaits news of his beloved, fearing the possibility of her eternal absence. Roland Barthes defines the lover's absence: "Any episode of language which stages the absence of the loved object — whatever its cause and its duration — and which tends to transform this absence into an ordeal of abandonment" A Lover ' s The absence of love messages indicates the one-sided, fantastical nature of Jake's pursuit; his feelings of abandonment, though painful, are self-created since there is no real person to return his love.

When Jake finally stops waiting for the love message and takes a job at the hospital next door to Dave's apartment, he discovers Hugo and thereby the truth which he has been so desperately seeking. By changing his repetitious behavior, Jake enters Murdoch's contingent world where unpredictable events bring about unexpected circumstances. Early in the novel Jake claims that he understands the contingent nature of reality: "My fates are such that as soon as I interest myself in a thing a hundred accidents happen which are precisely relevant to that thing" We can see, however, that Jake interprets contingency 21 as a component of his ongoing fantasy — he believes that everything that happens is relevant to it, including the behavior of other people.

The irony of Jake's discovering Hugo where he least expects to find him reflects the true irrelevance of contingency in Jake's pursuit. At this turning point in the novel the unstable world of Under the Net begins to unravel Jake's fantasy, revealing the eguivocality of language. In Murdoch's schema certain contingencies operate within language which disrupt the mythopoeic structure. When Hugo informs Jake that not only does he love Sadie, but that Anna does indeed love him, Jake discovers the true irrelevancy of his pursuit.

The letters which Jake has been expecting from Anna have already been written to Hugo. This unexpected revelation reveals the contingent nature of humans that is inherent in their language. Jake's fantasy is then upset, forcing him to reexamine his conception of reality. Peter Wolfe points out that in Murdoch's novels "the world's radical instability" plays havoc with the character's efforts to distort the contingent, reawakening "the individual to the responsibility of his freedom" Certainly Jake achieves some measure of awareness when he discovers after his conversation with Hugo that his pursuit has been based on false perceptions.

But it is difficult for Jake, even with this knowledge, to end his saga. When he burglarizes Hugo's apartment, he wrestles with the desire to steal Anna's letters which he finds in Hugo's safe. No 22 longer compelled by Anna's mystery, he resists the urge, viewing her "as a separate being" These references suggest that Jake experiences some measure of awareness or a "degree of freedom" but it is not a triumphant epiphany which exempts him from the charm of the net. He wonders, for example, if he "had finished with Hugo" , and when he hears Anna's voice singing over the radio at Mrs.

Tinckhams' he responds "mechanically" to her voice. His receipt of four letters at the end of the novel, however, suggests that at least this particular fantasy has ended: when Jake's desperate desire for the message has paled, he receives a plenitude unexpectedly. With this final irony, Murdoch suggests that communication is only possible with real, contingent people. Once Jake has removed himself from the trance of the net, he can then receive letters—although they are not the seductive love letters he has hoped for.

Jake writes the last love letter of the novel when he responds to Sadie's reguest that he settle the Mars controversy by buying the dog. Responding to her solicitor with a letter and the lbs. In this comical ending, Jake loses his fantasy-love while gaining the love of a true friend — Mars, his canine companion. In this first novel Murdoch responds to the kind of solipsistic protagonist, like Sartre's Roguentin, whom she has criticized in Sartre: Romantic Rationalist.

According 23 to Murdoch, Roquentin's awareness of contingency isolates him from the reality of others, constituting an escape into the myth of the self. In Under the Net Murdoch mocks this notion by creating a protaganist who is similarly self-absorbed in such a myth. Jake's dead-end pursuit, however, describes the construction and final dissolution of that myth. When Roquentin encounters contingency, he realizes his personal freedom in an absurd world. Jake, on the other hand, realizes the mythical nature of his self-constructed reality. A Fairly Honorable Defeat "Human beings should be awfully careful about letters.

They are such powerful tools. Yet people will write them, in moments of emotion too, and other people will fail to destroy them. In this novel she creates characters whose failure to love arises from their self-deception and dissatisfaction. The most self-deluded characters are particularly susceptible to the illusory love message and, like Jake, interpret it for the purpose of creating or nurturing a love drama. While the characters' vulnerability arises from their own weaknesses, the consciously manipulative Julius King controls their behavior by recognizing the powerful influence of language and its ability to produce predictable responses in aspiring lovers.

With such a power figure, Murdoch shows how easily people 24 can be manipulated and controlled by one who understands the language codes which evoke certain mechanical responses. Julius, who understands what "powerful tools" letters are, creates a love drama for the purpose of his own entertainment.

Julius functions as an unwelcome interloper in the patently bourgeois lives of Rupert and Hilda, a married couple who live in Priory Grove, an upper-middle-class neighborhood in London. Rupert leads the orderly life of a self-satisfied civil servant, who fancies himself an expert on morality.

Hilda, an uneducated but intelligent housewife, adores her husband and savors the comfortable life they lead. Julius undermines this life when he makes a wager with Morgan, Hilda's sister and his former lover, claiming that he can destroy any relationship by playing on human vanity. Finding this notion amusing, Morgan accepts the wager and ostensibly, Julius plans the dissolution of a relationship between Simon, Rupert's brother, and his lover Axel.

Unbeknownst to Morgan, Julius contrives to have Rupert and Morgan fall in love by sending them fraudulent love letters. He sends Rupert a love letter, which he has saved from his relationship with Morgan, and he sends Morgan an old love letter from Rupert to Hilda which he has stolen from her desk. Neither objects to the other's declaration of love and so a Platonic love affair between the two begins.

Once Julius sets the machine going, Rupert and 25 Morgan begin writing love letters to one another and the complications commence. Julius attributes the success of his charade to the identical nature of love sentiments. As he explains, "Almost all the letters began 'Darling 1 or 'Angel' or something equally ambiguous. In fact the style of love letters in a certain class of society is remarkably similar" The recycyling of old letters highlights the notion that humans respond mechanically to coded messages.

Because of the ambiguity and impersonal quality of the message, identical words of endearment may comprise the intimate exchanges of countless lovers. Like the sentimental messages of Hallmark cards, marketed and designed for masses of people, the love letter lacks distinction.

If love messages lack distinction, then so does human love, or at least what passes for love in Murdoch's terms. Julius' trick works because of the vanity of his victims, not their common love. Rupert and Morgan also respond readily to Julius' tricks because the language of the letters reiterates bourgeois ideals and aspirations with regard to love. Their particular self-absorption arises from their comfortable, bourgeois lives, and Murdoch points out the tendency of such a life to encourage consoling fantasies derived from the language of that class.

Rupert exemplifies the kind of self-deluded solipsist who populates much of Murdoch's fiction. He typifies the patriarchal father-figure whose financial success allows him 26 to act as provider and protector of his small family circle. This position, in turn, fosters in him a self- congratulatory smugness which he interprets as an indication of his personal "goodness. This weakness for language proves to be destructive when Rupert responds mechanically to the flattery of the spurious letter from Morgan.

She calls him "the wisest person I have ever met" and the "master" of "coolness and rationality" Believing that he understands the nature of true love, Rupert decides to act "wisely" by pursuing a relationship with Morgan, rather than causing her possible harm by rejecting her. Rupert's inability to express real love is evident in his rocky relationship with his recalcitrant son Peter, who rejects his values and lifestyle. Rupert faults himself for not being "wise" in his communication with his son and admits that he behaves mechanically by acting "the stern father" Trapped in this conventional role, Rupert cannot write a letter to Peter expressing his love: "But Rupert knew too that his whole training, the whole of the society which kept him so stiffly upright and so patently and pre-eminently successful, had deprived him of the direct language of love" While Rupert experiences some frustration from his inability to communicate with Peter, he 27 cannot sacrifice the comfortable social position and role which define his identity.

In Murdochian terms, he seeks consolation in such a role, a weakness which entangles him in the ill-fated relationship with Morgan. Murdoch's notion of the consoling power of the love-myth emerges in Morgan's dissatisfaction and disquiet after her romance with Julius has ended. Julius' powerful influence over her derives from his mythical nature as she explains to Hilda, "Julius was almost all myth.

Tallis, her husband, will not do because "he has no myth" 60 , and thus she turns to her nephew Peter for a "free innocent love" which exists "outside the machine" Like Jake, Morgan falsely believes she transcends the behavior istic net of language, perpetuating lies to keep her fantasy alive. When Morgan receives Rupert's letter, she transfers her love interest to him, lying to Peter in a letter in which she claims she is leaving London for awhile.

Instead, she begins the secret relationship with his father, who offers her a more substantial love, a more consoling fantasy. Morgan's needy love lies firmly within the machine rather than outside, as she would have it. She exemplifies the kind of female character in Murdoch's fiction whose love fantasies arise from her dependence on a mythical male figure to give meaning to her life. While Jake is seduced by the elusive female other, Morgan is enthralled by the powerful image of a father-figure whose wisdom gives order and reason to her chaotic world. Her letters to Julius, which Rupert mistakenly believes are written to him, show how easily her discourse may be transferred from one power figure to another.

By succumbing to such a myth, she denies not only her own reality but that of the men who constitute her fantasy. Like Morgan, Hilda too seeks security and solace in a mythical relationship. Julius' scheme depends largely on Morgan and Rupert's shortcomings but also relies on his use of Hilda's love letters, implicating her in the fiasco. By saving letters, she demonstrates her faith in the sentiments therein and the inviolablity of her perfect marriage.

When she begins to suspect an affair between her husband and sister, she gets a "sick disconnected feeling," seeking comfort in Rupert's old love letters to her. Julius has, of course, stolen the letters and thereby stolen the love-myth which has defined her world. When Julius discards a letter from Morgan, he tries to destroy any illusions she may have about their resuming a relationship. Similarly, Morgan tears up a letter from Tallis to rid herself of his affections. The same gesture does not work, however, when at Rupert's request she tears up his letters to conceal their affair from Hilda.

Destroying the evidence is not effective when the one who controls language, Julius, fuels the drama by planting a phoney letter in Rupert's desk for Hilda to find. The letter convinces Hilda that the relationship is sexual, a lie which causes her to leave Rupert, bringing about his despondency and subsequent drowning.

Language not only returns to the source, but proliferates lies, entangling the composer in the chimeric net of her own weaving. In contrast to these self-deceived characters, Murdoch introduces the simple, unpretentious Tallis, a reluctant and unprolific letter writer. His love for Morgan and his father Leonard suggests the possibility of loving without benefit of fantasy.

Morgan, in fact, cannot tolerate the undramatic nature of his love and complains that "He never could write letters" Tallis' letters, factual and honest, communicate without fictionalizing his emotional life. He does not construct a love fantasy to hide from the erratic inconstancy of his own consciousness, from contingency and its discomforting unpredictability. Not a 30 happy man, he lives with his imperfections rather than obfuscating them with highminded romantic vagaries.

He continues to write letters to Morgan when she comes to London, but he realizes that he does so because of his fears and fantasy needs. This awareness distinguishes him from those characters who lack such introspection. As he explains to Julius: "I supposes it's cowardly to write letters. But if one writes letters one can go on hoping" Tallis understands the solace afforded by language as well as the harm that it can perpetrate, but unlike Julius, he does not use this knowledge to control others.

He represents, then, one of Murdoch's good characters whose lack of a personal myth indicates an acceptance of his own contingent nature and the possibility of loving without benefit of fantasy. Tallis 1 honesty with himself and his reluctance to embellish his feelings with the language of love allows him a certain amount of freedom, but also places him in a disorderly, discomforting reality which offers no significant consolation.

An Accidental Man "It had all been, like so many other things in the story, accidental. Critics have noted Murdoch's use of letters in this novel to introduce what she refers to as 31 "peripheral" or "accidental" characters with no main characters. For Richard Todd this novel "represents a considerable measure of success" 47 in Murdoch's efforts to introduce such characters into her fiction.

Her use of letters as a narrative technique creates a kind of chorus effect as characters comment on the random events which comprise the plot. Epistolatory sections have minimal effect on the plot development but introduce the voices of diverse characters, whose perceptions of reality are markedly solipsistic. In An Accidental Man letters emphasize the mythical nature of bourgeois discourse.

While A Fairly Honorable Defeat focuses on the lives of a few characters caught up in the misuse of language, An Accidental Man establishes a small society whose daily discourse exemplifies the self-deception and cruelty inherent in their language. This society has little concern for the personal welfare of others and their affections, to a large degree, are feigned and self -motivated. Their gossip and slander indicate a kind of morbid pleasure which they derive from others' misfortunes. Such prattle not only maligns others but affirms the writer's superior position in an accidental world.

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Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark: Freedom and Constraint in The Bell and Robinson Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark: Freedom and Constraint in The Bell and Robinson
Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark: Freedom and Constraint in The Bell and Robinson Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark: Freedom and Constraint in The Bell and Robinson
Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark: Freedom and Constraint in The Bell and Robinson Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark: Freedom and Constraint in The Bell and Robinson
Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark: Freedom and Constraint in The Bell and Robinson Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark: Freedom and Constraint in The Bell and Robinson
Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark: Freedom and Constraint in The Bell and Robinson Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark: Freedom and Constraint in The Bell and Robinson
Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark: Freedom and Constraint in The Bell and Robinson Iris Murdoch and Muriel Spark: Freedom and Constraint in The Bell and Robinson

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