Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

In The Black Prince, philosophy is emphasized to a greater degree than in Murdoch’s pre-1973 novels. Fyodor Dostoevski’s influence is particularly notable, for Pearson is presented as a twentieth century embodiment of the Russian underground man, while the description of the trial, the unjust verdict, and the resulting self-discovery point straight to Dostoevski’s Ivan Karamazov. The misleading and teasing of the reader and the open-ended, paradoxical conclusion also hark back to Dostoevski, as does the notion of purification through suffering. Within the context of Murdoch’s own voluminous output, The Black Prince does not present a drastic departure. Ideas about art and the artist, a heavy infusion of psychology and myth, and a need for purification have always been part of her work, and she has lectured and written widely on moral philosophy outside the fictional framework. Critical response to The Black Prince has been mixed. It is considered an intellectual, difficult novel, but one in which Murdoch’s craftsmanship is superb. There is disagreement about whether her ideas overwhelm the storytelling aspect and whether her assessment of the human condition is too negative, but admiration for her mastery of the medium, for her intellect and commitment to serious literature, dominates in the appraisals.