Three Books

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The Sacred and Profane Love Machine by Iris Murdoch. First edition hardback, 1975 by The Book Club (Foyles Group of Book Clubs). Jacket design by Angela Maddigan.

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Speedboat by Renata Adler. First Perennial Library edition, 1988. Cover illustration by Steve Guarnaccia.

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Snow White by Donald Barthelme. Mass market paperback by Atheneum, 1986 (7th printing). Cover illustration by William Steig.

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Nabokov’s Strong Opinions (Book acquired, 7.30.2015–and an Iris Murdoch book I should’ve acquired)

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I picked up a hardback copy of Strong Opinions a few weeks back. I was browsing Nabokov titles as I was coming to the end of Pale Fire. I’ve shared some excerpts from this collection of interviews (&c.) and will likely share more.

I only know the specific date because I tweeted a pic of an Irish Murdoch novel I should’ve picked up while I was there.

It is difficult in life to be good, and difficult in art to portray goodness (Iris Murdoch)

INTERVIEWER

You’ve said that “one constantly takes prototypes from literature who may actually influence one’s conduct.” Could you give specific examples?

MURDOCH

Did I say that? Good heavens, I can’t remember the context. Of course, one feels affection for, or identifies with, certain fictional characters. My two favorites are Achilles and Mr. Knightley. This shows the difficulty of thinking of characters who might influence one. I could reflect upon characters in Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy; these writers particularly come to mind—wise moralistic writers who portray the complexity of morality and the difficulty of being good.

Plato remarks in The Republic that bad characters are volatile and interesting, whereas good characters are dull and always the same. This certainly indicates a literary problem. It is difficult in life to be good, and difficult in art to portray goodness. Perhaps we don’t know much about goodness. Attractive bad characters in fiction may corrupt people, who think, So that’s OK. Inspiration from good characters may be rarer and harder, yet Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov and the grandmother in Proust’s novel exist. I think one is influenced by the whole moral atmosphere of literary works, just as we are influenced by Shakespeare, a great exemplar for the novelist. In the most effortless manner he portrays moral dilemmas, good and evil, and the differences and the struggle between them. I think he is a deeply religious writer. He doesn’t portray religion directly in the plays, but it is certainly there, a sense of the spiritual, of goodness, of self-sacrifice, of reconciliation, and of forgiveness. I think that is the absolutely prime example of how we ought to tell a story—invent characters and convey something dramatic, which at the same time has deep spiritual significance.

From Irish Murdoch’s Paris Review interview.