The Bell by Iris Murdoch @vintagebooks #ReadingIrelandMonth23 #TheBegorrathon23

‘In this holy community she would play the witch.’

Book blurb

Imber Court is a quiet haven for lost souls, a utopia for those who can neither live in the world, nor out of it. But beneath the gentle daily routines of this community run currents of supressed desire, religious yearning and a legend of disastrous love. Charming, indolent Dora arrives in their midst, and half-unwittingly conjures these submerged things to the surface.

My thoughts

We begin with Dora who has left her husband because she was being abused. However, she was also having a relationship with another man. It is to him that Dora goes. (Be assured that there is no graphic content).

Peter, Dora’s husband, is doing some research and writing at Imber Court. Imber is a lay religious house with extensive grounds, owned privately and run on fairly democratic principles, situated next to a Convent.

Dora may be described as a woman who finds it difficult to know quite what she wants or, rather, simply doesn’t know how to sever her relationship with Peter. Something we know is often the case in abusive situations. She is somewhat afraid of Peter but nevertheless decides to go back to him. She joins him at Imber.

The story then moves on to some of the other characters that reside at Imber. Clearly they are a group of misfits. Michael, the leader, is gay but this is not known by the other residents. Having had a desire to become a monk Imber, his home, is the closest thing to being a religious as is possible. He has a history with another person living on the estate one that changed his life and that he is concerned about.

Nick is an alcoholic. He has been taken in by the residents of Imber, although he lives in lodge rather than the main house on the estate, as his sister, Catherine, is staying at Imber until she is received into the Convent. She will enter on the same day as a new bell is being received.

There is a story surrounding an old bell which is in the lake situated on the estate. A young chap, Toby, staying at Imber finds a large bell in the lake bed when swimming one day.

As the day approaches when both Catherine and ‘the bell’ will be received into the Convent there are several incidents involving Michael, Toby, Dora and the rest which will have devastating consequences on Imber Court and it’s residents.

The Bell was published in 1958 one year after the Wolfenden Report which recommended the decriminalization of private homosexual acts involving consenting adults. Iris Murdoch went on to include at least one gay character in each of her following books. However, there is some ambiguity as to whether, or not, the desired relationships (neither of which were consummated) in the book would have been consensual.

This theme of being torn between two things is most clearly seen in Michael (the religious life and homosexuality) and Dora’s (abuse – staying or leaving Peter) situations but are also found with several of the other characters. Which brings tension to the story. The duality aspect of the story is also reflected by the two bells.

Don’t think this is a story without humour there are instances in the book that had me chuckling away but underneath it is dark, menacing and this aspect does rise up in devastating ways. The balance is kept so well by Murdoch and makes for an intense read.

The ending is perfectly delivered and I was pleased with how it turned out. There was tragedy and happiness and enough not written to allow the reader to enjoy a moment of imaginative thought.

Finally, just on the ‘In this holy community she would play the witch’ line. I think this is a little cruel. Dora is troubled by her marriage and is painted in the community at Imber as the ‘wrongdoer’ as she left Peter for another man. Obviously they have been given only Peters version of the situation but as we should all realise there are two sides to any situation. We, the readers, have been told some of Dora’s side and know Peter is not the innocent he portrays himself as. Again, I think that the ending given by Murdoch regarding this was a good one.

Murdoch, just from reading this book, was obviously enlightened in her thinking and it was no surprise, as I read a little bit about her, that she also wrote on philosophical issues.

This wasn’t the easiest of reads for me as when I started reading it I came down with a cold but once I got my head cleared I became wrapped up in The Bell by Iris Murdoch and will certainly return to read more by her.

Book: Purchased


This year Cathy at 746books is, once again, theming weeks just to make planning easier. Feel free to join in with this, or just read what you want, when you want!

Intro Week: 1 – 5 March

Irish Classics Week: 6 -12 March

Contemporary Irish Week: 13 – 19 March

Short Story Week: 20 – 26 March

Non- Fiction Week: 27 – 31 March

Grab Cathy’s new badge (above) and get planning your Ireland themed reading or viewing. Like the Facebook page here and then between 1 and 31 March, post as much as you like about any aspect of Irish literature and culture – anything at all!

If you need some inspiration, check out Cathy’s list of 100 Irish Novels and 100 Novels by Irish Women Writers.

During 2023, I am delighted to be joining forces with Kim at Reading Matters to celebrate the work of one of Ireland’s finest writers, William Trevor.

Cathy at 746Books

Kim and Cathy are hosting this year long read-along of William Trevor’s work to celebrate 95 years since his birth and 65 years since the publication of his first novel. They will each be reading one of his books every month and they will review their chosen book in the first week of that month. This means you can read along with one, either or both of them, or alternatively, just choose your own Trevor to read!

If you do review a William Trevor book this year, then grab Cathy and Kim’s graphic (above), be sure to tag Cathy and Kim in the post and use the hashtag #williamtrevor2023

I’ve read The Dressmakers Child by William Trevor and shared my thoughts on it.


Published: Vintage Digital; 1st edition (15 Sept. 2009)

The Bell was first published in 1958 by Chatto & Windus.

VINTAGE – home to the world’s greatest authors and books. Where new writers are discovered, bestselling books are found and yesterday’s classics revived for a new generation of readers. Our authors represent the very best in creativity and quality and have won the most prestigious prizes the book world has to offer including the Man Booker, the Samuel Johnson and the Nobel. Born in New York in 1974, and arriving in London in 1990, VINTAGE publishes beautiful books with the very best design for people who love to read.

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Iris Murdoch

Author: Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin in 1919. She read Classics at Somerville College, Oxford, and after working in the Treasury and abroad, was awarded a research studentship in Philosophy at Newnham College, Cambridge. In 1948 she returned to Oxford as fellow and tutor at St Anne’s College and later taught at the Royal College of Art. Until her death in 1999, she lived in Oxford with her husband, the academic and critic John Bayley. She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1987 and in the 1997 PEN Awards received the Gold Pen for Distinguished Service to Literature. Iris Murdoch made her writing debut in 1954 with Under the Net. Her twenty-six novels include the Booker prize-winning The Sea, The Sea (1978), the James Tait Black Memorial prize-winning The Black Prince (1973) and the Whitbread prize-winning The Sacred and Profane Love Machine (1974). Her philosophy includes Sartre: Romantic Rationalist (1953) and Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (1992); other philosophical writings, including ‘The Sovereignty of Good’ (1970), are collected in Existentialists and Mystics (1997).

The Bellbroadcasts

The Bell was adapted as a four-part television miniseries by Reg Gadney. Directed by Barry Davis with music by Marc Wilkinson, it appeared on BBC Two beginning on 13 January 1982. The cast included Ian Holm as Michael Meade, Tessa Peake-Jones as Dora Greenfield, and Michael Maloney as Toby Gashe.

A three-part adaptation of The Bell by Michael Bakewell was broadcast on the BBC Radio 4 series Classic Serial in November 1999. Among the cast were Cathryn Bradshaw as Dora and Jamie Bamber as Toby.

Discussion on Iris Murdoch

Iris Murdoch (BBC R4) – Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the author and philosopher Iris Murdoch (1919 – 1999). In her lifetime she was most celebrated for her novels such as The Bell and The Black Prince, but these are now sharing the spotlight with her philosophy. Responding to the horrors of the Second World War, she argued that morality was not subjective or a matter of taste, as many of her contemporaries held, but was objective, and good was a fact we could recognize. To tell good from bad, though, we would need to see the world as it really is, not as we want to see it, and her novels are full of characters who are not yet enlightened enough to do that.

Iris Murdoch Special on the 100th anniversary of her birth.

Open Book (BBC R4) Over the course of 26 novels including the Booker winner The Sea, the Sea, as well as The Bell, Under the Net and The Black Prince, Iris Murdoch wrote about art, philosophy and morality with the page turning skill of a thriller writer. In this special episode of Open Book, celebrating her centenary, Mariella Frostrup and guests dive into the world of her novels.

Mariella Frostrup is joined in the studio by biographer and friend Peter J Conradi, fellow novelist and fan Charlotte Mendelson, Anne Rowe – founder of the Iris Murdoch Research Centre and Gary Browning, author of new book Why Iris Murdoch Matters.

And the food writer Kate Young examines the idiosyncratic food to be found in the pages of Murdoch’s novels.



Under the Net | The Flight from the Enchanter | The Sandcastle | A Severed Head | An Unofficial Rose | The Unicorn | The Italian Girl |The Red and the Green | The Time of the Angels | The Nice and the Good | Bruno’s Dream | A Fairly Honourable Defeat | An Accidental Man | The Black Prince | The Sacred and Profane Love Machine | A Word Child | Henry and Cato | The Sea, The Sea | Nuns and Soldiers | The Philosopher’s Pupil | The Good Apprentice | The Book and the Brotherhood | The Message to the Planet | The Green Knight | Jackson’s Dilemma


Sartre: Romantic Rationalist | Acastos: Two Platonic Dialogues | Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals | Existentialists and Mystics

5 Comments on “The Bell by Iris Murdoch @vintagebooks #ReadingIrelandMonth23 #TheBegorrathon23

  1. I never thought of Iris Murdoch as Irish, I just realised, otherwise I might have participated more, as I have a few of her books on my shelf. This one is one of my favourites by her. She is really good at skewering pretentiousness and the gap between what we think we want and what we actually do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • MarinaSofia – Yes, not one that comes immediately to mind as being Irish. Plenty on the shelves for next year, if you don’t get to them before! Glad you like it. At first I wasn’t too sure (may have been my befuddled head :)) but I really enjoyed it. I think you’re right about shifting how things are looked at both by the characters and, indeed, the reader (in the way she handled Dora and Peters marriage I felt especially). ‘The gap between’ indeed! Thank you for your insightful comment. Janet

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: #ReadingIrelandMonth23 Roundup and links #TheBegorrathon @cathy746books – Love Books, Read Books

  3. Pingback: Reading Ireland Month ’23: That’s a wrap!

  4. Pingback: It’s Reading Ireland Month 2023!


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