The nice are not always the good
Iris Murdoch's eleventh novel, The Nice and the Good was published in England by Chatto and Windus in 1968 and Nominated for the Booker Prize in 1969, along with The Public Image by Muriel Spark, but P. H. Newby's Something to Answer for one the prize, this the first time it was given.
What some reviews said about Iris:
Bernard Bergonzi in TNYRB, April 11, 1968 says:
“Iris Murdoch's annual novel now seems to have become an established British institution: in private it may be derided or dismissed, but in public it gets the respect customarily given to venerable traditions”
“This richly peopled novel revolves around a happily married couple, Kate and Octavian, and deals with love in its many aspects. The resonant sub-plot involves murder and black magic as the novel leads us through stress and terror to a joyous conclusion.”
Elizabeth Janeway in the NYTimes, January 14,1968
One expects complications, revelations, tricks and red herrings, invitations to guess at what is coming, echoes, jokes and clues. One gets them aplenty. And because they are so solidly introduced by the thriller opening -- that shot, that necessary investigation -- the premise of the book justifies and sustains them. this is a mystery story, says Miss Murdoch. I am simply using its conventions. But the mystery she is exploring is the universal ambiguity of living creatures in relation to each other, of good behavior and bad, of pleasure and pain, of responsibility, obligation, influence, meddling and neglect; or, if you like, of the Nice and the Good.
John Ducane, the hero, the “detective” descends to the underground, a dazzling structure of a book, including a variety of involvements, to advance the plot. But the ideas are not new…the nice are not the good….
[There are a variety of twos in this novel: two Children, Henrietta and Edward, two pets, a dog Mingo and a cat,, Two teenagers, two older men (maybe gay?), two formerly marrieds.]
“tanglings and untanglings' as John Russell says in the New York Times Feb. 22, 1990
“The pre Raphaelite painter Arthur Hughes, her equivalent in paint, “
says Anatole Broyard in the New York Times, October 5, 1986
They have some of the grandiosity and high purpose, the heroic sense of themselves, that characters in Victorian novels had. Their lives are crammed with moral furniture and philosophical gingerbread.
Mr. Conradi, God bless him, tells us that these same people also ''toy with the sublime.'' Here are men and women I've been longing to meet. I've always wanted to know someone who toyed with the sublime. Has anyone in American fiction toyed with the sublime since Thomas Wolfe let Eugene Gant do it in ''Of Time and the River''? Some wonderful teacher - Meyer Schapiro, perhaps - ought to give a course in the subject. In the 1980's, it's hardly worthwhile being human unless you toy occasionally with the sublime.
In spite of her intelligence, she believes in happiness, which she defines as ''that deep, confiding slow relationship to time.''
and Joyce Carol Oates in The New Republic, November 18, 1998, later revised for The Boston University Journal, 1999.
There is something noble about a philosopher's quixotic assumption that he or she is the person to protect others from despair; or, indeed, that others require protection from despair. But Murdoch's sense of her mission is noble, and in an era when some of our most articulate spokesmen routinely denigrate their own efforts it is good to be told, I think plausibly, that literature provides a very real education in how to picture and comprehend the human situation, and that for both the collective and individual salvation of the race, art is more important than anything else, and literature most important of all. (See The Sovereignty of Good.)
One is left with silly inconsequential but deeply absorbing plots. Emotions that feel "genuine" and "existential" enough but are, of course, illusions, sheer phantasmagoria. One is left with other people who are, whether they acknowledge it or not, involved in the same fruitless, albeit highly engrossing, quest.