The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Iris Murdoch tends to be very conservative in the manner in which she develops characters. She eschews subtle ways of providing information in favor of full-faced histories of her major figures, outlining their background, education, gifts, liabilities, desires, and failures in rather barefaced passages of exposition, usually as early in the novel as she can. Her characters are thus, in a sense, fully known from the beginning; then she quickly begins the business of testing them in action.

Bill Mor is the central figure, and the third-person narration sticks close to him. In the main, it is his point of view which prevails, a technique which works, since the novel is primarily about him, and he is relatively uncomplicated, sensible, and keenly sensitive not only to his own problems but also to those of others. Occasionally, the point of view will shift, if only for short periods. Nan’s reaction to this sudden change in her husband is generously explored as she tries to deal with it (and with the concomitant realization that Bill’s best friend, Tim Burke, is willing to take her on if Bill abandons her). Murdoch, however, pulls away from her before she has fully worked out her plan to fight back, perhaps because Murdoch (and this is not unusual for her) is determined to keep an aspect of the plot a secret until she can use it dramatically. In short, occasionally in Murdoch’s work, depth of characterization must give way to plot. There is some...

(The entire section is 462 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

William Mor

William Mor, a teacher and housemaster at St. Bride’s. He is the husband of Nan, father of Felicity and Donald, and friend of Demoyte and Tim Burke. William is submissive to his wife, estranged from his son and daughter, and at a standstill in his work. As an agnostic, he is unable to succeed Demoyte as headmaster. He wishes to enter politics, but Nan opposes this. William falls in love with Rain Carter. Nan discovers the affair, but William decides to leave her and writes to tell her so. When his son disappears, he postpones his departure and loses Rain. William believes that goodness cannot exist where there is tyranny but that freedom is not an end in itself. His story, his indecisiveness, his loss of love, and his adherence to duty illustrate this statement. The Mor family members are together at the end of the novel, and William, Felicity, and Donald are all embarking on work that they wish to do.

Nan Mor

Nan Mor, the wife of William and mother of Felicity and Donald, a determined, complacent, limited, and limiting woman. Nan lacks the imagination to see any point of view but her own and systematically defeats her husband’s desires. Shaken by the prospect of losing him, genuinely concerned about her son, and jealous of Rain Carter, Nan breaks up William and Rain’s relationship by stating, falsely, that she and William have jointly agreed that he will stand in a safe Labour seat next election. The events leave her with her family intact but committed to her...

(The entire section is 627 words.)