In her seventh novel, Iris Murdoch borrows from the gothic tradition in literature to create a world of mystery and enchantment, and her plot relies heavily on surprise, suspense, and fragmented revelations of past actions and their present consequences. Revealed in bits, the antecedent action of the novel is essential to its plot.
Nine years before the novel’s opening, Hannah Crean-Smith, mistress of Gaze Castle and wife of her first cousin Peter, began an affair with her neighbor, Philip “Pip” Lejour. Two years later, they were discovered by Peter, and after an ensuing argument, during which Hannah tried to kill Peter by pushing him over a cliff and thereby crippling him, he imprisoned her in the house and went to New York to pursue a homosexual relationship. Left as jailer was Gerald Scottow, Peter’s lifelong friend and former lover. After two more years, Hannah tried to escape but was sent back by her father; consequently, Peter increased her guard by employing two impoverished cousins, Jamesie and Violet Evercreech. Jamesie, after two years, took pity on Hannah and again tried to effect her escape but was caught by Gerald, who, after whipping the boy, became his lover in a seemingly sadomasochistic relationship.
The novel begins with Marian Taylor’s arrival in this blasted and remote region of West Ireland, dominated by only two manor houses, Gaze and Riders. Thinking she has been hired to be tutor to a child, she soon learns...
(The entire section is 507 words.)