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Nice & the Good de I. Murdoch
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Nice & the Good (1968 original; edició 1968)

de I. Murdoch (Autor)

MembresRessenyesPopularitatValoració mitjanaConverses / Mencions
8091319,964 (3.7)1 / 69
Iris Murdoch's richly peopled novel revolves round a happily married couple, Kate and Octavian, and the friends of all ages attached to their household in Dorset. The novel deals with love in its two aspects, the self-gratifying and the impersonal; - the nice and the good - as they are embodied in a fascinating array of paired characters. THE NICE AND THE GOOD leads through stress and terror to a joyous and compassionate 'Midsummer Nights Dream' conclusion, in which the couples all sort themselves out neatly and omnia vincit amor.… (més)
Membre:alinh_
Títol:Nice & the Good
Autors:I. Murdoch (Autor)
Informació:Penguin Books (1968)
Col·leccions:La teva biblioteca
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Etiquetes:to-read

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The Nice and the Good de Iris Murdoch (1968)

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From the blurb, I had expected this to be detective fiction, not a philosophical novel about what it means to be good (and happy). The first chapter certainly gave that impression but from then on, it totally changes as we are introduced to the bizarre family of the Grays and their friends. Centre of it is John Ducane. He prides himself at being able to give advice to the rest, and indeed they invariably unburden themselves to him though they had resolved not to. But he had no one to turn to when he needed to get out of his affair with Jessica, ending up duplicitous and wondering how good he really is. There are other musings about being good but I didn't quite get it. Though it wasn't what I had expected, credit to the author for taking on this difficult subject. ( )
  siok | Oct 11, 2020 |
The central narrative of the novel is set in motion by the death of Radeechy, a civil servant who has apparently committed suicide in his office at work, but without leaving any suicide note. Since Radeechy had access to classified information, the head of the office, Octavian Gray, assigns his subordinate John Ducane to investigate the death, and confirm that there is no security risk. Ducane is a talented, dedicated man, but one with a streak of “strict low church Glaswegian Protestantism,” which left him with “a devil of pride, a stiff Calvinistic Scottish devil, who was quite capable of bringing Ducane to utter damnation” (78). Of course, Radeechy’s suicide will turn out to be a complex matter, and the plot is quite engaging. Several times while reading I spontaneously muttered “Oh no,” out loud. But this is really a novel of characters, driven by the web of personal relationships that radiate out from Ducane and Octavian. As in any great novel, the characters just seem “right.” They are more real than real people, the way Sherlock Holmes or Michael Corleone seem to us. There is no easy way to summarize the cast of characters without sounding breathless, so bear with me for a moment.

Octavian and his wife Kate are wealthy, with a small estate in the countryside outside London. Ducane is, in addition to being Octavian’s subordinate at work, a family friend, so he often visits the Gray household, which supports a menagerie of people. (One of the aspects of the novel that makes it intriguing for American readers is seeing a mode of life that we have no analogue for, and that perhaps no longer exists in England either.) A family friend, Mary Clothier, lives at the house and helps out, almost like a servant. She is a widow, and is in love with Willy Kost, a Holocaust survivor who lives in a cottage, away from the main house. However, Willy seems too emotionally damaged to reciprocate Mary’s love. Mary’s son, Pierce, has grown up in the house. Pierce is infatuated with Barbara, the daughter of Octavian and Kate. She has just returned from finishing school in Switzerland, having blossomed into a nubile young lady, but she treats Pierce with callous disdain. At some level, Barbara realizes that she is being cruel to Pierce, but she is having trouble navigating the loss of innocence that becoming an adult entails: “When I was younger, when I read in the papers and in books and things about really nasty people, bad people, I felt so completely good and innocent inside myself, I felt that these people were just utterly different from me, that I could never become bad or behave really badly like them. …I’m afraid it’s all turning out to be much more difficult than I expected” (63). Another frequent visitor to the Gray household is Paula, a brilliant classicist who has a pair of preternaturally bright, pre-pubescent twins, Edward and Henrietta. Paula is divorced from Richard Biranne, who works in the same office with Octavian and Ducane. Biranne is known to be a rake, so everyone assumes that Paula divorced him. In fact, Biranne’s vices were part of his appeal to Paula: “Chaste Paula, cool Paula, bluestocking Paula, had found in her husband’s deviously lecherous nature a garden of undreamt delights” (147). The cause for the divorce was actually Paula’s affair with another man, Eric Sears, which ended so disastrously that Eric fled the country. But Eric has written that he is coming back. Paula does not want him to return, and she is now in a whirlwind of uncertainty about how to deal with him.

Ducane himself is pursuing a relationship with Kate Gray. This relationship is not an affair as we would think of it, though. It is more like a Platonic love in the truest sense of that term, and the two never do more than kiss: “The wonderful thing about Kate was that she was unattainable; and this was what was to set him free forever” (104). Moreover, Octavian is fully aware of Ducane’s relationship with his wife. In fact, we learn that Kate and Octavian are titillated by her flirtations with other men, so much so that discussing it is part of their foreplay. Ducane’s relationship with Kate is complicated by the fact that Ducane himself has been trying to end a relationship with Jessica, an art teacher much younger than himself. Jessica’s “integrity took the form of a contempt for the fixed, the permanent, the solid, in general ‘the old’, a contempt which, as she grew older herself, became a sort of deep fear. So it was that some poor untutored craving in her for the Absolute, for that which after all is most fixed, most permanent, most solid and most old, had to express itself incognito” (84). Ducane became for her that Absolute, and she loves him to the point of idolatry. However, Ducane does not reciprocate her love. Ducane himself is, in many ways, a good man, but he faces “one of the great paradoxes of morality, namely that in order to become good it may be necessary to imagine oneself good, and yet such imagining may also be the very thing which renders improvement impossible either because of surreptitious complacency or because of some deeper blasphemous infection which is set up when goodness is thought about in the wrong way” (77). Well, that will do for now. There are more characters, but the preceding are most of the important ones, and the others I cannot explain without giving away plot points.

As its title suggests, one of the themes of the novel is the distinction between being nice and being good. Ironically, even though the setting of the story is so quintessentially English, this particular theme is an especially important lesson for us Americans to learn. Someone once said that the true religions of the American people are optimism and denial. We so often confuse being “positive,” “nonjudgmental,” “easy to get along with” – in a word, “nice” – with being a good person. But the two are not in any way the same. Kate is very nice, but that niceness has an intrinsic element of falsity. Ducane says, “Her idea is that our relationship is to be simple and sunny, and simple and sunny I must faithfully make it to be” (138). If the Devil exists, he is no doubt very nice: all the better to seduce us into wrongdoing. Good people, in contrast, are sometimes gruff, sometimes blunt, sometimes cruel in order to be kind. (Contrast the television characters House and Chase. Which is a nicer person? Which is a better person?) Murdoch also teaches us that to be good is not to be perfect. Willy Kost rebuffs Barbara’s request to tutor her: his motive is good, but it is good because he is aware he must protect her, and himself, from other motives that are not good (182-185).

If there is any flaw in this jewel of a novel, it is that its ultimate conclusion is perhaps overly sanguine. This might sound like a strange critique of a novel so focused on human frailty in the face of temptation. The novel is filled with dalliances. Sometimes they have catastrophic consequences, but one is left with a sense that this is inevitable, and everything will turn out fine as long as we forgive each other: “All we can do is constantly notice when we begin to act badly, to check ourselves, to go back, to coax our weakness and inspire our strength, to call upon the names of virtues of which we know perhaps only the names. We are not good people, and the best we can hope for is to be gentle, to forgive each other and to forgive the past, to be forgiven ourselves and to accept this forgiveness, and to return again to the beautiful unexpected strangeness of the world” (198-199). We humans are just as weak, and forgiveness just as beautiful as the novel suggests, but one wonders whether these truths have become rationalizations that are ultimately enervating. As Willy warns someone, “…in hell one lacks the energy for any good change. This indeed is the meaning of hell” (283). (Murdoch’s own personal life perhaps illustrates this danger. See the moving film Iris [2001].)

One of the wonderful things about Murdoch was her openness to religious traditions as sources of spiritual inspiration, whether one is a believer or not. So it is not out of place to end this review by recalling that Jesus saves the adulteress from being stoned to death by challenging the crowd, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” (the forgiveness that comes with love). But let us also not forget that his final words to her are, “Go, and sin no more” (the strictness that comes with the law).
  aitastaes | May 2, 2019 |
"The point is that nothing matters except loving what is good. Not to look at evil but to look at good....In the light of the good, evil can be seen in its place, not owned, just existing, in its place."
Thus one of the characters, old Uncle Theo, reasons, toward the close of the novel in which almost all the characters come up against their own limitations, the limits of 'niceness', the creeping devastations of evil - from the petty rationalizing of one's own bad behavior to larger and more serious infractions. What makes this novel work is that the characters, while playing out Murdoch's explorations of human behaviour, are virtually all believable and likeable. I didn't 'like' all the characters, but I felt some compassion for all of them. One interesting twist is that Iris makes it clear that she emphatically does not believe that all people are created the same. Some are endowed with an internal moral compass, a penchant for 'the good' and some simply are not. Yet in their weakness and frailty they are human and worthy of compassion. I actually, for the first time, truly loved a character - John Ducane - and that was a great pleasure and even a relief! As with The Sandcastle, the novel's crisis is focussed around an incident of great danger - requiring courage and fortitude - and this was deftly done, I was on the edge of my seat and felt very emotionally involved. ****1/2 ( )
2 vota sibylline | Jun 20, 2013 |
I picked up this book because Iris Murdoch has a few titles on THE 1001 LIST and I've never read anything by her. The book was light and fun, a little bit of mystery combined with humor and social farce. The book centers around an odd group of characters who are loosely related through work and social ties. By the end of this book, every character, except for the twin children, has had a fling or started a relationship with another character. It reminded me of those old 60's movies where everyone ends up with a different partner by the end of the movie. Entertaining and easy to read. Not sure if I missed some deeper significance to this book (i.e. why it was 'list' worthy??). I wouldn't give it rave recommendations, but ok for a light read. ( )
  jmoncton | Jun 3, 2013 |
I’m not getting on too well with Iris Murdoch. Under the Net went pretty much over my head. The Bell was a good read. And this one falls somewhere in between. It had moments when I was glad I was reading it. Whole chapters even. But, on the whole, I found myself labouring through it and counting how many pages I had to go.

It begins well enough. I thought we were going to plunge right into a murder-mystery within the halls of a government department. But soon were were at some house in the country with what seemed like a commune of characters I couldn’t keep track of. There are various love triangles and not a few sex triangles. In fact, it seems she had a hard time keeping any of her characters out of bed at all.

The novel jumped around a bit too much for my liking. I wasn’t sure until about halfway through who I was really supposed to be focussing on. And, apart from a rather well-written piece involving a cave at high tide, I wasn’t really captivated at any point.

This was nominated for the Booker Prize so that got me thinking as to why. Usually, Booker Prize winners have deeply drawn characters who suffer a variety of inner and outer conflicts. And, so it proves: Ducane is just such a character. You feel his conflict as he leads a double life for most of the novel. The others though didn’t really move from 2D to 3D for me.

All in all, this is not one of her best I don’t think. Read The Bell instead. ( )
1 vota arukiyomi | Mar 2, 2013 |
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Iris Murdochautor primaritotes les edicionscalculat
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To

RACHEL

and

DAVID CECIL

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A head of department, working quietly in his room in Whitehall on a summer afternoon, is not accustomed to being disturbed by the nearby and indubitable sound of a revolver shot.
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The twins lay on the cliff edge up above Gunnar's Cave. The beautiful flying saucer, spinning like a huge noiseless top, hovered in the air not faraway from them, a little higher up, over the sea, in a place where they had often seen it come before. The shallow silvery metal dome glowed with a light which seemed emanate from itself and owe nothing to the sun, and about the slim tapering outer extremity a thin line of lambent blue flame rippled and leapt. It was difficult to discern the size of the saucer, which seemed to inhabit a space of its own, as if it were inserted or pocketed in a dimension to which it did not quite belong. In some way it defeated the attempt of the human eye to estimate and measure. It hovered in its own element, in its own silence, indubitably physical, indubitably present and yet other. Then, as the children watched, it tilted slightly, and with that movement they could never confidently interpret either as speed or as some sort of dematerializing or actual vanishing, was gone.
The twins sighed and sat up. They never spoke when the saucer was present.
'It stayed a long time today, didn't it.'
'Isn't it odd how we know it doesn't want to be photographed.'
'Telepathy, I expect.'
'I think they're good people, don't you?'
'Must be. They're so clever and they don't do any harm.'
'I think they like us. I wonder if we shall ever see them.'
The point is that nothing matters except loving what is good. Not to look at evil but to look at good....In the light of the good, evil can be seen in its place, not owned, just existing, in its place.
“Where’s Pierce?” ... “He’s up in Barbie’s room, He’s decorating it with shells. He must have brought in a ton.” ...
Mary saw that Pierce had covered the table with a complicated pattern composed of hundreds of shells arranged in spirals, tiny ones in the centre, larger ones on the outside. Adjusting the outer edge of the pattern he stooped to select a shell from a heap at his feet.... She saw the huge shell design as utterly untimely. It was something that belonged to the quietness of Pierce’s thought about Barbara and not to the hurly-burly of Barbara’s actual arrival ...
[Barbara sweeps in] “... What on earth are all those shells doing on my table, just push them up in a pile will you, oh damn they’re falling all over the floor ...”
“You must put all those stones out in the garden,” said Mary ... There’s nothing special about them.”
“There’s something special about every stone,” said Edward.

“I do wish you’d do something about those stones,” said Mary. “Couldn’t you put them in order of merit, then we could find a home outside for the less important ones?”
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Iris Murdoch's richly peopled novel revolves round a happily married couple, Kate and Octavian, and the friends of all ages attached to their household in Dorset. The novel deals with love in its two aspects, the self-gratifying and the impersonal; - the nice and the good - as they are embodied in a fascinating array of paired characters. THE NICE AND THE GOOD leads through stress and terror to a joyous and compassionate 'Midsummer Nights Dream' conclusion, in which the couples all sort themselves out neatly and omnia vincit amor.

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