Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Most of the novel’s action is related in highly subjective form, filtered through the complex and eccentric mind of Bradley Pearson’s first-person narrative. Since Pearson is a scholarly ascetic, much given to philosophizing, the novel abounds in cultural references, from literary quotation to mythic evocation, requiring a high degree of reader erudition or commitment to research. The story is told in retrospect via the posthumous manuscript of the hero, unjustly convicted of murder, who grew into an artist only after several traumatic events and intense suffering transformed his former sterile self. Pearson, whose name alludes both to “person” (Everyman) and “persona,” starts out as a crabby recluse, newly retired in order to write the masterpiece he feels latent within himself. Toward this end, he avoids personal contact as detrimental to his sacred undertaking. Women especially annoy him. His marriage failed long ago because of lack of commitment on his part, but close proximity to male friends, too, is perceived as bothersome. He much prefers to communicate by letter, pouring out his views on a variety of subjects at great length. From the outset, however, reality will not oblige him. Phone calls, visits, and casual encounters vie to embroil him in others’ miseries. His psychotic, suicide-bound sister, Priscilla Saxe, cast adrift by a philandering husband, is a constant irritating presence in his small flat, while Rachel Baffin, his friend’s wife,...
(The entire section is 570 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
In The Black Prince, Murdoch returns to her preoccupation with love, exposing the sometimes horrifying face of the love god, Eros. Although Bradley Pearson, a novelist and the narrator, describes this work as “a simple love story,” it is really his competitive friendship with successful writer Arnold Baffin that creates the tension at the core of the work.
What distinguishes Bradley from others in the novel is his sense of guilt and his prudishness. He insists that morality is a simple affair and is shown trying to live by these simplicities. Bradley is wrapped in self-righteousness, although it does not prevent him from acting badly. His friend Arnold, on the other hand, accepts life as it is and does not try to be perfect. He enjoys the self-satisfaction that Murdoch often uses as a second-best virtue.
The tension between the two men arises from their respective erotic entanglements and their different attitudes toward art. Aesthetically, Bradley believes in concentration and patience to achieve high art; he has published only three books. He believes that art is connected to the quest for a good life. Arnold writes prolifically, sells very well, and considers his work fun. Their erotic life echoes their professional rivalry. Bradley has a very brief liaison with Rachel, Arnold’s wife, then later becomes involved with Arnold’s daughter Julian. At the same time, Arnold is engaged in an affair with Christian, Bradley’s former wife. Yet both men are doomed. At the end of the novel, Arnold is murdered by his wife, and Bradley, who is wrongly convicted of the crime, dies of cancer in prison.
The erotic and aesthetic themes mesh in Bradley’s belief that a great love will induce him to produce a great book. His obsessive love for young Julian results in his writing The Black Prince, which he claims is the fruit of his passion. Readers must judge for themselves whether Eros has fertilized Bradley’s muse. This realistic love story, however, is...
(The entire section is 820 words.)