Places: Nuns and Soldiers

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1980

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Psychological realism

Time of work: 1970’s

Places DiscussedEbury Street flat

Ebury Nuns and SoldiersStreet flat. Home of Gertrude Openshaw and her husband, Guy, an administrator in the British Home Office. Located on London’s fashionable Ebury Street, the tastefully decorated flat has a drawing room that is elegant and warmly furnished, complete with three tall windows overlooking the street, and a fireplace. A picture of Guy’s paternal grandmother hangs over the mantel; other pictures depict powerful men, dogs, and expensive houses. The room reflects the accomplished, wealthy, Openshaw family, whose present-day descendants gather in the flat to comfort Gertrude while her husband, Guy, lies dying in the bedroom. The guest room, where Gertrude’s friend, Anne, stays when she comes to help, is also elegantly furnished, with china knickknacks on the mantel and Victorian family silhouettes on the wall.

In this orderly and spotless flat, Gertrude is not her own person. She is dominated by Guy’s extended family and a few others who gather regularly. Peter Szczepanski, who is known as the “Count, is not a real count but a disappointed Polish emigre; he is a good friend of Guy’s and has been accepted in the Openshaw circle. His role in the London flat is that of Guy’s admirer and pupil, although they are of the same generation. He is painfully formal in all his relationships. Guy dies in the flat, and together with Anne, Gertrude changes the pictures and ornaments which have not been moved for years.

Tim’s studio

Tim’s studio. Studio apartment over a garage on London’s Chiswick High Road in which Guy’s protégé, the unsuccessful artist Tim Reede, lives. From the studio can be heard the frequent hum of motors from downstairs; a sloping roof and gray boards hold the mattress upon which Tim sleeps. The studio contains stores of wood and painting material, as well as Tim’s own favorite drawings: crucifixion pictures, old men, young men drinking, and painted girls waiting. Tim wakes up in his studio every morning knowing he is free.

Les Grandes Saules

Les Grandes Saules (lay grahnd sohl). Gertrude’s towered gray stone house in southern France. The house stands over a valley through which runs a stream bordered by olive trees and large silvery willows, for which the house is named. Beyond these are a vineyard, undulating rocks, a cliff with a rock that resembles an awful human face, and at the foot of the cliff a circular, clear pool that seems to have no source. Tim and Gertrude fall in love with each other at the place and spend three days lost in a dream of planning their future and making love. However, Tim cannot see how they could establish a life together at Ebury Street.

Later, after Tim and Gertrude have a falling out in London, they marry, only to have another falling out. Tim later tries to catch up with Gertrude and her friends in France. When he approaches her house from the valley and sees her sitting with the Count, he flees. He then falls into the canal, which sweeps him through a drainage pipe and deposits him on a sandy bank. Battered, tired, and hungry, Tim creeps back to the house, where Gertrude welcomes him with joy.

BibliographyBove, Cheryl Browning. A Character Index and Guide to the Fiction of Iris Murdoch. New York: Garland, 1986. Describes characters, places, and references from each of Murdoch’s novels (and her two plays) from 1954 to 1985, including Nuns and Soldiers.Bove, Cheryl Browning. Understanding Iris Murdoch. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1993. Overviews of Murdoch’s life and philosophical writings introduce brief summaries of her major works from 1954 to 1989, her plays, and her minor novels. Includes an annotated bibliography.Byatt, A. S. Degrees of Freedom: The Novels of Iris Murdoch. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1965. One of the earliest critical appraisals of Murdoch, covering Under the Net (1954) to The Unicorn (1963). Written by one of the leading literary critics of the day and reviewed by Murdoch herself, this study points to tendencies in her writing to emphasize philosophical disquisitions over dialogue and to become enmeshed in moral complexities.Conradi, Peter J. Iris Murdoch: The Saint and the Artist. 2d ed. New York: Macmillan, 1989. Detailed analysis of many of Murdoch’s works, including Nuns and Soldiers. Chapter 11 traces literary precedents and influences on the novel.Dipple, Elizabeth. Iris Murdoch: Work for the Spirit. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982. Chapter 10 of this comprehensive analysis of Murdoch’s novels concerns itself exclusively with Nuns and Soldiers. Illuminates many of the philosophical, religious, and literary references in the novel and traces Murdoch’s development from her first to her twentieth book of fiction.Johnson, Deborah. Iris Murdoch. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987. A good general overview of the novels, particularly the later ones, including Nuns and Soldiers.Mettler, Darlene D. Sound and Sense: Musical Allusion and Imagery in the Novels of Iris Murdoch. New York: Peter Lang, 1991. After overviews of the relationship between music and literature, eight of Murdoch’s novels are discussed, including Nuns and Soldiers.Ramanathan, Suguna. Iris Murdoch: Figures of Good. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. A well-written and clear explanation of Murdoch’s ethical and religious ideas, focusing on figures of good in eight of her novels, including Nuns and Soldiers.Sage, Lorna. Women in the House of Fiction: Post-War Women Novelists. New York: Macmillan, 1992. Speculates on what qualities distinguish women writers from men writers. Murdoch’s female characters are discussed at length from a feminist viewpoint, and compared with those of Doris Lessing.Todd, Richard. Iris Murdoch. New York: Methuen, 1984. A useful volume that provides information about Murdoch’s life as well as her work. Todd attempts to link the novels to Murdoch’s philosophical positions, particularly to the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre.Tucker, Lindsey, ed. Critical Essays on Iris Murdoch. New York: G. K. Hall, 1992. A collection of essays on several aspects of Murdoch’s published work, including her religious views, philosophical perspectives, narrative style and structure, and character development. Includes a comprehensive primary bibliography.
Categories: Places