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3.9 out of 5 stars
The Black Prince (Penguin Classics)
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35 of 39 people found the following review helpful
on February 8, 2005
Format: Paperback
Just adding to the plethora of reviews and putting in my two or three cents. Dame Iris is said to have possessed a prodigious and heavy intellect. And one can see, in reading her works, that this is very true. She is able to see into all the various emotional responses of myriad characters, and to do so faultlessly. Yes, we say, this is true! This is the way he would think and act (or the way I would think and act.) She is mercilessly honest in her descriptions, whether they be of thoughts or actions. And I found the book very humorous. Our hero, Bradley, is himself a humorous character, so serious and caught up in himself. He is a buffoon who constantly makes the wrong choices, yet intellectualizes everything and rationalizes everything to suit himself. I think this is quite an amazing book. As one reviewer who didn't like the book remarked, it is a farce. And yes, it is a farce. But there are nonetheless deep truths running around in here. Dame Iris had this incredible ability to see through people, to put herself in their places and understand just what they would do in any given circumstance. Her characters are so impeccably drawn that we know them utterly.

To be able to weave a good story is one thing, that makes a good story-teller. To be able to create characters which live and breathe is yet another thing, and many writers base their works on this alone. But to be able to write impeccably precise prose , create living characters, tell a great story, and have a moral imperative is what makes great literature.

The Black Prince is worth a read. This is great literature, and a whole lot easier than all those Russian guys.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon April 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
The Black Prince tells the story of Bradley Pearson, an aging writer with few publishing credits to his name. He feels a masterpiece within him, but finds his efforts to focus on his work thwarted by pressures from the women in his life: his sister, his ex-wife, and his best friend's wife and daughter. Murdoch introduces Pearson as a reserved, self-indulged, and solitary man, committed to producing his life's masterpiece and averse to involve himself in others personal affairs. Reluctantly, he comes to the aid of those who seek him out each time he tries to depart for a quiet space in the countryside, further delaying the creation of his masterpiece.
The story starts out slowly. Pearson's self-absorption and righteousness do not inspire the reader's sympathy nor do the other characters, who privately abuse, cheat, or wish death upon their loved ones while maintaining respectable public appearances. Murdoch intersperses this introduction to the dual-natured main characters and their immediate crises with a great deal of philosophy about the nature of love, art and truth. These issues were Murdoch's passion as a philosopher, but the frequency with which she raises such difficult questions detracts from the story line.
Midway through the book, the pace picks up rapidly. Murdoch successfully involves the reader in the passion -- referred to as the black Eros -- that could awaken Pearson's creativity, causing lasting consequences and turning the relations between English intellectuals into a literary thriller. Murdoch twists and turns the story in a way that makes the reader care for and even sympathize with each character as they struggle with aspects of love and human emotion. The narrative journey encompasses lust, violence, psychosis and adultery, as well as youth, vitality, trust and new beginnings. Combining murder, love and the relationships among a small group of aging Englishmen and women, Murdoch infuses psychological and philosophical tension into a classic tale of love and murder.
Cutting down on the amount of philosophizing would have strengthened the story line. But despite Murdoch's refusal to allow editing of her work, The Black Prince made the shortlist for the Booker Prize. A timeless story that unravels timeless emotions, The Black Prince grips the reader with its surprising finale and the talons of Murdoch's writing.
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29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on November 28, 1996
Format: Paperback
"The Black Prince" is my favorite novel, and I can recommend it unreservedly for its vivid characters, for its complexity, its wit, its drama, for its analysis of human failings and triumphs, loves and hates, and for its prose, which is ecstatic, biting, and brilliant. The ambiguously romantic Black Prince of the title, Bradley Pearson, is an aged bachelor, whose range of somewhat histrionic emotions involves the serene Rachel Baffin, her confused daughter Julian, Rachel's novelist husband Arnold, Bradley's rival in so many ways, Bradley's dysfunctional sister Priscilla, and Bradley's prying ex-wife Christian, who holds the possibility of solace and redemption. In amongst this tangled web they weave Bradley "meditates" on art and metaphysics, sleeping and waking, life and death.

Iris Murdoch is the English authoress of a score of popular novels. Unlike the submissions of most writers who attempt to be popular, Ms. Murdoch's elegant fictions are literature, and are also aspirants to the semi-mythical realm of "art". And what is "art"? Is it not, in at least its principle manifestation, great entertainment? And I would assert that the greatness of the entertainment depends mightily upon the reader. I know a man who thinks, and says, that all of Iris Murdoch's books are alike. Very well. Emotional response is surely the beginning of literary criticism (otherwise why bother reviewing this book, or that one?). I identified with Bradley Pearson for several years of my life, and was jubilant that he lived in a world of funny, thoughtful, intensely interesting people, most of whom were not relatives.

"Morality" (I put this fragile word between quotation marks because it is so often misused) is intimate to the Murdoch view of things, and the "eternal verities" are influential, even numinous, to all of her characters, including the thoughtless ones. Love, as a unifying force, is awake and vibrant. Beauty is our glimpse of the Godhead. Truth is a paradise into which we may freely pass, if only we have the desire to do so. Justice is as intimate as self-condemnation and as ruthless as violence. Abstractions, in the world of Iris Murdoch's characters, dissolve into human emotions that clarify the world and link us in splendid ways to other human animals. "The Black Prince" is a celebration of our ambiguous and splendid emotions. [November 28, 1996]
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 15, 2009
Format: Paperback
We all have them. Secret thoughts. Secret feelings. Individually, they are mostly trivial. Mostly, they go unsaid, unwritten, unknown. Not so with this novel. Thanks to Iris Murdoch, we are privy to the innermost thoughts of her lead character, Bradley Pearson, the Black Prince. Frequently what he says contradicts his actions-----Makes you wonder about some of those political polls, doesn't it-----And, yes, though her 'say whatever is on my mind without really thinking' approach to writing a novel may be madness, there is indeed method in it. What to call it? Let's start by defining what it is not. It's not simple or straightforward. It's not obvious or to the point. Murdoch is definitely not from the KISS school of writers. And, don't look for hidden metaphors. You can leave that to others such as Fitzgerald, Hemingway or Flaubert. No, while Murdoch's rendition of her character's prissy psyche may be impossible to PowerPoint, in the end, you'll know exactly who Pearson and the other characters all are. There are no hidden meanings because their minds are laid bare. It's like spelunking with Lamont Cranston-----Who knows what evil lurks in the minds of men----Iris Murdoch does. And, now, so do we. To be sure, this is deep stuff. Even frightening. It's not for children. It's not for the faint of heart. But, if you want to discover new insights about human nature, about who you are, spend a few hours going deep with the Black Prince.
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23 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on August 29, 1999
Format: Paperback
I read Iris Murdoch's "The Sacred and Profane Love Machine" a year ago and didn't much like it. Too much talk, too little action and a plot surrounding a cast of strangely unsympathetic characters that goes nowhere. I thought I was in the same rut for much of the first third of "The Black Prince", when out of the blue, the black arrow of Eros struck and permanently altered the course of the novel. The unexpected change of pace and sudden focus on Bradley Pearce's relationship with the object of his desire at the expense of the adult (and mostly tiresome) characters was a clever Murdoch device that drew me inexorably into the plot. There was no let up in action from there on - the story played relentlessly to its dramatic but tragic conclusion. You see through the eyes of Bradley and form your judgement based on his version of the motives and designs of the unsavoury characters which envelop him but are thrown off guard by the radically different perspectives of the other players (shades of "Rashomon") in the postscript. You get the feeling that nobody's version encapsulates the whole truth (is there such a thing ?) and that everybody creates a best-fit truth that assuages his conscience. Murdoch is heavy on dialogue (nothing wrong with that) but there is a tendency for it to be repetitive (her characters are overly talkative) which can be hellavu irritating. I found that in The Sacred and Profane Love Machine too - must be a Murdoch trait. But whereas the latter is limp and soggy, The Black Prince has a highly intriguing plot and all the elements of a kitchen sink drama-cum-thriller that makes it a winner. A really great read.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on June 25, 2003
Format: Paperback
Congratulations to Penguin on including the late Dame Iris Murdoch's novel The Black Prince to their Paperback Classics series. Now in print 30 years, this novel, to my mind one of the finest of the 20th century in English, certainly deserves the honor. It is a multi-layered page-turner, both exciting and dramatically profound.
What it doesn't deserve, however, is Martha C. Nussbaum's quite misleading introduction-and this is the reason I cannot teach the book in my college classes, as an introduction by a scholar is tacitly seen as somehow "correct" in its claims and observations, almost an appendage to the text it introduces, especially to students. Nor is there a forum for readers to write letters of rebuttal to an introduction, outside of what I am doing now.
But while Nussbaum's background is in philosophy, as was Murdoch's, this is a novel, a work of imaginative literature. Nussbaum treats the text as an expression of Murdoch's own philosophical beliefs. This is problematic in theory, and can be almost ridiculous in practice, as it becomes here-I wonder why Nussbaum (not a literary critic or novelist herself) was chosen to write the introduction in the first place?
Iris Murdoch's novels are "philosophical", but not in the way Ms. Nussbaum would have it-in short, she makes the cardinal error of attributing to Murdoch's characters the author's own philosophical convictions. The protagonist, Bradley Pearson, is in many ways a quite disturbed man, whose critisism of the work of Arnold Baffin is parodic of the negative reviews Murdoch herself received during the 60s (for her work as a prolific, popular novelist). But Pearson's litanies on platonic love in Part Two are not "philosophy"--they are the histrionic ramblings of a failed writer having a psychological breakdown.
I could go on, but my point is that Ms. Nussbaum's observations are akin to someone writing about Shakespeare's Philosophy of Art, Love and Humanity using quotes from Iago or Richard III as if they were the playwright's "own" carefully measured words.
While disquieting that such an esteemed publisher would have allowed this, and that someone as astute in philosophy as Ms. Nussbaum would write it, the book itself remains what it is: a true 5-star classic.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on February 12, 1999
Format: Paperback
I've read about half of Iris Murdoch's books, and I believe this book represents the pinnacle of her achievement. The book is deeply satisfying from beginning to end. The plot, which revolves around an older man's obsession with a young girl, echoes a classic theme which goes back as far as Plato's Symposium. As the author interweaves her meditations on art, beauty, Hamlet, and book-a-year novelists into this standard plot, the book achieves a level of self-consciousness found in the greatest literature. And like her earlier works, it is fun to read. Having the main characters comment on the story at the end is a wonderful device, both profound and entertaining. This is one of my two or three favorite novels. Over the years I've loaned my hardcover edition out to friends so often, it now looks like a well worn library book.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
Firstly, there are many fuller (& better) reviews of this novel elsewhere on this page. I would just like to say that this was the first Murdoch novel I ever read, & I've obsessively tracked down all the others since, although I'm afraid symptoms of her disease were becoming apparent from The Message To The Planet onwards. I have never read an author with such an ability to make unsympathetic characters interesting, or go so deep, but what really did it for me was the way that everything that occurs seems to be totally arbitrary & completely inevitable; i.e. real. This provided me with the final piece in my philosophical jigsaw. Nothing comes of nothing. Every action is contigent on every other action & the world is the consequence of googolplexes of such interactions. Free will is an illusion brought about by a complexity which is indivisible (even theoretically), with all the implications that has for guilt, innocence & morality in general
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 1999
Format: Paperback
Murdoch clearly knew a lot about Hell - just about every character lives there in this book. It has to be one of the most despairing depictions of the human condition in English. Yet I don't think she quite invites comparison with the greats. The characters are just too, well, knowledgable, too talkative about their conditions. Of course everything they, including the narrator, say, is unreliable - but that's not exactly the point: they lack weight, a certain verbal dexterity blights them all. Their words are slippery and they're bound to be wrong about themselves most of the time. That's probably part of Murdoch's intended effect. Still, however you slice it, too much verbosity is bad for the soul. You cease to care much what happens to these people because they're essentially trivial. You keep thinking you're in a french farce or Restoration comedy - but you know the narrator (and the author, too, I think) imagines something more ominous at the bottom of these wretched lives. Call it a perverse power (the Black Prince?) operating to destroy the few bits of happiness these people are capable of. That very power - especially in the case of the narrator, Bradley Pearson - may also be necessary to lift them out of the torpor of their lives. That's an interesting idea - this author is nothing if not daring and inventive. Still, in the end, the lives here are more willed than realized. I never quite believed in either the misery or the exaltation of the narrator - and certainly not in the transforming power his love is supposed to have over his youthful beloved, Christian. Yet the depiction of this love affair is not ironic and is uncharacteristically elevated in tone: Christian is part Beatrice, part Heloise - and wholly wish-fulfilment. Bradley, on the other hand, is most identifiable as a certain type of dissatisfied malcontent - detached, anesthetized, ironical - until made otherwise by Love, the Black Prince. But even in love he hasn't enough substance to constitute the center-piece of a book: I never believed any of his high-flown talk about either art or love. Bradley Pearson, you're no Jonathan Swift. Iris Murdoch, you're no Fyodor Dostoevsy.... But compulsively readable, all the same. This author can't write a silly sentence or a dull book.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format: Paperback
This is a thoughtful, difficult novel that explores the ambiguities of human character and the complex relationship between art and passion. Dame Iris Murdoch (1919 --1999) was both a philosopher and a prolific novelist. She wrote "The Black Prince" in 1973. A subsequent novel, "The Sea, The Sea" received the Booker Prize.

The book revolves around several complex characters. The hero is an author, and retired tax inspector, Bradley Pearson, age 58 at the time most of the action of the book takes place. He has published only sparingly but prides himself as a serious author. Most of the story is told by Bradley.

Bradley has long been divorced, but his ex-wife Christian is a major character in the book, as she reenters Bradley's life after the death of her second husband. Christian's brother, Francis Marloe, is a failed physician who offers advice and assistance, of a mixed quality, to Bradley during the story. Bradley is a long-term friend of the Baffin family, which includes Arnold, a highly successful writer of fiction, his wife Rachael, and their 20-year old daughter Julian. The story revolves around the 58-year old Bradley's love and passion for the 20-year old Julian. As the story unfolds Bradley's sister, Pricilla, is leaving her husband and comes to Bradley for emotional support and assistance. Bradley is put to the test about how he will respond to his sister.

The other major character in Murdoch's novel is an editor, "P.A. Loxias', who becomes Bradley's friend and the editor of Bradley's manuscript that Bradley wrote recounting his love affair with young Julian. The manuscript forms the body of the book. Bradley wrote the book after the fact, while in prison for a crime he did not commit. Loxias both introduces and closes the book, while Christian, Rachael, and Julian get brief opportunities to write for themselves and to comment upon Bradley's manuscript. This "Penguin Classics" reprint of the book also includes an introduction by the noted philosopher Martha Nussbaum which is unusually detailed and, perhaps, could be read as yet another editorial comment on Bradley's story that might well have been part of Murdoch's text.

The story is full of ambiguity, vacillation in its characters, and violence and thus is almost a retelling of Hamlet -- Shakespeare's play that figures prominently in this book. Another main influence on the book is Plato, particularly his great dialogue "Phaedrus" which explores the relationship between art, erotic love, and rhetoric, as this novel does as well. It is always good to be reminded of and to think about Plato. A third, less obvious influence, I think is Buddhism. The influence of Buddhist thought on Murdoch is explicit in her novel "The Sea, The Sea" but it is here as well. The book can almost be read as an illustration of the three basic traits of existence as developed in Buddhist thought: suffering (dukka), change, and egolessness. Bradley and the other characters struggle to see the world and other people clearly but are prevented from doing so by their own passions and self-concepts.

Bradley achieves a Buddhist-like detachment near the end as he reflects upon his experiences.

In reading the book, I found it helpful to distinguish clearly between the body of the story that Bradley recounts and the time that he wrote it, some years afterwards, while left alone with himself to reflect. Bradley was swept with passion for a relationship that could not have lasted, that he did not fully understand, and that lead to tragedy for many people. Yet this passion helped him, in the final analysis, attain a degree of peace and understanding. He was able to tell the truth in writing his story and to present himself, terrible warts and all. Love lead to great human sorrow for Bradly, but it also lead to his ability to present his experience in the form of art and to reflect upon it dispassionately.

Portions of this book are rather wordy and inner directed. It needs to be read carefully. But I found it an inspiring treatment of the nature of human erotic passion and its force for life. The book will appeal to readers willing to reflect and to explore themselves.
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