Bruno's Dream Summary
by Iris Murdoch

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Bruno's Dream Summary

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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The novel revolves around the last period of Bruno Greensleave’s illness, in which his bad conscience about the way he treated his long-deceased wife, his dead mistress, and his son is made the center of everyone’s life and eventually precipitates difficulties which must be met and solved not only in order that Bruno may die in peace but also to allow the others to live with some chance of making sense of their lives. Bruno’s determination to set things right with his son, Miles, whom he repudiated years ago when Miles married an Indian woman, is made most difficult because Miles, although remarried, still mourns for his first wife, who was killed in a plane crash. Father and son are both looking back into their past unhappily, and that matter is coincidentally complicated by the fact that Bruno’s son-in-law, Danby Odell, has never entirely got over the death of his wife, Gwen, who drowned some years before.

Miles, at least, has the consolation of a second marriage to Diana, whom he loves, although not with quite the same intensity that he felt for his first wife. His sister-in-law, Lisa, who was once in Catholic orders, lives with them. Danby, always skillful at living on the surface of life, and involved unwillingly in bringing Miles and Bruno together, has avoided deep emotional connections since the death of his wife and keeps his housekeeper, Adelaide, who loves him, as a mistress but is not unhappy about starting up an affair with Diana and then falling surprisingly and desperately in love with Lisa. Miles, protective of his sister-in-law and recognizing Danby’s enthusiasm for her, suddenly realizes that he, too, is in love with her, quite as deeply as he had been with his first wife. As though that were not enough to start trouble, Adelaide is distressed by Danby ignoring her, and Will Boase, her cousin and the twin brother of Bruno’s nurse Nigel, is determined to rescue her for himself and punish Danby for his past attentions to her. Finally, Lisa reveals that she has always been in love with Miles.

While all this is going on, Bruno is trying to make his peace with everyone and ultimately with his Maker. The result is a farce which, however serious it may seem to all concerned, appears to the reader as a quite preposterous if wittily comic set of circumstances. In the end, as is the nature of farce, all comes right, if bizarrely so. Will gets Adelaide, Miles and Diana stay together (despite the fact that they both realize how deeply Miles was touched by Lisa, and Lisa by Miles), and Lisa begins a relationship with the frivolous womanizer, Danby, which looks as if it will eventually tame him.

Bruno, so physically repellant in his illness, is consoled in his last stages of life by Lisa and finally by Diana. Having learned that forgiveness and love are not forbidden him, he dies in peace, and Diana learns that love makes some sense of the muddle of life.


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Baldanza, Frank. Iris Murdoch, 1974.

Byatt, A. S. Degrees of Freedom: The Novels of Iris Murdoch, 1965.

Dipple, Elizabeth. Iris Murdoch: Work for the Spirit, 1982.

Gerstenberger, Donna. Iris Murdoch, 1975.

Grant, Annette. Review in Newsweek. LXXIII (January 20, 1969), p. 90.

Time. Review. XCIII (February 21, 1969), p. 84.