In Nuns and Soldiers, as is often the case in Iris Murdoch novels, a number of characters appear early, complete with the obvious surface details which make them immediately interesting. The extended Openshaw family with its connections to politics, finance, science, and the arts is not the center of this novel, however, as it might have been in earlier works.
Iris Murdoch extends this novel into long, fastidious explorations of four major characters, following them through a wide range of interconnected personal problems. Two of the characters, the Count and Anne, are naturally isolated. The other two, Gertrude and Tim, are forced into periods of isolation. In all cases, their separateness is used with considerable sensitivity to reveal character.
The Count is developed in terms of his haunted sense of being Polish. He is a product of history, and it explains much about him, since he lives life as a survivor of the nightmare of failed Polish aspirations in the twentieth century. It explains, in part, why he is such a reluctant and ultimately unsuccessful suitor, tied as he is to a world of honorable failure.
Anne also suffers failure, but hers is religious failure and is partially relieved halfway through the novel by the sudden appearance of Jesus, who suggests with offhand callousness that the spiritual world is still available, within Anne herself. Her character is exposed in the battle between the spiritual and the...
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