Literary Themes: Marriage As Discussed in 'The Black Prince' by Iris Murdoch
Dame Iris Murdoch 15 July 1919 – 8 February 1999, was an Irish-born British author. During her long writing career, Dame Murdoch wrote prodigiously. As a novelist she wrote on aspects of good and evil as well as sex. Her novel ’Under the Net’, was selected in 1998 as one of Modern Library’s 100 best English language novels of the 20th century. The Times in 2008 ranked Murdoch twelfth in its list of 50 British writers since 1945.
Murdoch wrote ‘The Black Prince’ in 1973. The novel is an exceptional study of erotic obsession. It is also subject to multiple interpretations. One of the subjects of study and interpretation in ‘The Black Prince’ is marriage.
Dame Murdoch created a character named Bradley Pearson, who is the narrator in the novel. Murdoch creates a fantasy by having Bradley relate the story. Murdoch refers to Hamlet in the, ‘The Black Prince’ very frequently. It is apparent that the initials of the Black Prince are B.P which is the initials of Bradley Pearson. This indicates that Bradley Pearson is a black prince in his own right.
In the novel Iris Murdoch describes three marriages. She adds her own commentary to these marriages, through the words of Bradley Pearson. She paints a bleak picture of marriage in her novel. She portrays three marriages between Arnold and Rachel, Christian and Bradley, and Priscilla and Roger. All the marriages have a painful ending.
Arnold and Rachel are supposed to have the best marriage. They are both strong and believe that they have the strength to make their marriage survive. But sex comes to the fore as both want to have love affairs and Rachel kills Arnold. It’s a tragic end to their marriage. The marriage between Priscilla and Roger is much worse. Roger had married Priscilla thinking he had impregnated her, though that was not the case. The marriage was thus a failure from day one. They stayed miserably for 20 years and had no children.
Murdoch makes her opinions about marriage as an institution come out through the commentaries of Bradley. She brings out many flaws in marriages. Bradley suggests marriages are inconsistent with human nature. From the novel one can surmise that Iris Murdoch does not have a high opinion of marriage as an institution.
Murdoch believes sex as a part of marriage. She brings lust to the fore when Julian dresses up as Hamlet and Bradley is aroused and makes violent love to her. The Black Prince begins and ends with a domestic quarrel between a married couple. This is the clue to the mind of Iris Murdoch in the novel. She is obsessed with marriage and at the same time does not think it to be an ideal institution. The reference to Hamlet who led a tragic life underscores the theme of marriage in the novel.
Murdoch was a writer of conviction. At one time she had declared herself a communist and was refused a visa to the USA. She writes with authority and a tremendous command of the English language. The Book is one of Murdoch’s finest novels.