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Authors: Iris Murdoch

Under the Net

BOOK: Under the Net
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Table of Contents
 
 
PENGUIN BOOKS UNDER THE NET
Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin in 1919 and grew up in London. She trained as a philosopher at both Oxford and Cambridge, and was for many years a fellow of St. Anne's College, Oxford, where she taught philosophy. She wrote several works of philosophy, among which are
Sartre: Romantic Rationalist, The Sovereignty of Good, and Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals.
She was also the author of twenty-six novels, including
The Sea, The Sea,
which won the Booker Prize in 1978;
The Book and the Brotherhood; The Message to the Planet;
and
The Green Knight.
She died on February 8, 1999.
ALSO PUBLISHED IN PENGUIN
Fiction
The Flight from the Enchanter
The Sandcastle
The Bell
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 Dilernma
 
 
Non-Fiction
Acastos: Two Platonic Dialogues
Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals
PENGUIN BOOKS
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
Penguin Books India (P) Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), cnr Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany, Auckland 1310, New Zealand
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pry) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue,
Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
 
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England
 
First Published in Great Britain by Chatto & Windus 1954
First published in the United States of America by The Viking Press 1954
Viking Compass Edition published 1964
Published in Penguin Books in Great Britain 1960 and in the United States of America 1977
 
 
 
Copyright 1954 by Iris Murdoch Copyright © renewed 1982 by Iris Murdoch
All rights reserved
 
eISBN : 978-1-101-49580-3
 
 
Set in Times Monotype
 
 

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To
RAYMOND QUENEAU
One
WHEN I saw Finn waiting for me at the comer of the street I knew at once that something had gone wrong. Finn usually waits for me in bed, or leaning up against the side of the door with his eyes closed. Moreover, I had been delayed by the strike. I hate the journey back to England anyway; and until I have been able to bury my head so deep in dear London that I can forget that I have ever been away I am inconsolable. So you may imagine how unhappy it makes me to have to cool my heels at Newhaven, waiting for the trains to run again, and with the smell of France still fresh in my nostrils. On this occasion too the bottles of cognac which I always smuggle had been taken from me by the Customs, so that when closing time came I was utterly abandoned to the torments of a morbid self-scrutiny. The invigorating objectivity of true contemplation is something which a man of my temperament cannot achieve in unfamiliar towns in England, even when he has not also to be worrying about trains. Trains are bad for the nerves at the best of times. What did people have nightmares about before there were trains? So all this being considered, it was an odd thing that Finn should be waiting for me in the road.
As soon as I saw Finn I stopped and put the cases down. They were full of French books and very heavy. I shouted ‘Hey!' and Finn came slowly on. He never makes haste. I find it hard to explain to people about Finn. He isn't exactly my servant. He seems often more like my manager. Sometimes I support him, and sometimes he supports me; it depends. It's somehow clear that we aren't equals. His name is Peter O‘Finney, but you needn't mind about that, as he is always called Finn, and he is a sort of remote cousin of mine, or so he used to claim, and I never troubled to verify this. But people do get the impression that he is my servant, and I often have this impression too, though it would be hard to say exactly what features of the situation suggest it. Sometimes I think it is just that Finn is a humble and self-effacing person and so automatically takes second place. When we are short of beds it is always Finn who sleeps on the floor, and this seems thoroughly natural. It is true that I am always giving Finn orders, but this is because Finn seems not to have many ideas of his own about how to employ his time. Some of my friends think that Finn is cracked, but this is not so; he knows very well indeed what he is about.
When Finn came up to me at last I indicated one of the cases for him to carry, but he did not pick it up. Instead he sat down on it and looked at me in a melancholy way. I sat down on the other case, and for a little while we were silent. I was tired, and reluctant to ask Finn any questions; he would tell all soon enough. He loves trouble, his own or other people's without discrimination, and what he particularly likes is to break bad news. Finn is rather handsome in a sad lanky fashion, with straight drooping brownish hair and a bony Irish face. He is a head taller than me (I am a short man), but he stoops a little. As he looked at me so sadly my heart sank.
‘What is it?' I said at last.
‘She's thrown us out,' said Finn.
I could not take this seriously; it was impossible.
‘Come now,' I said kindly to Finn. ‘What does this really mean?'
‘She's throwing us out,' said Finn. ‘Both of us, now, today.'
Finn is a carrion crow, but he never tells lies, he never even exaggerates. Yet this was fantastic.
‘But why?' I asked. ‘What have we done?'
‘It's not what we've done, it's what she's after doing,' said Finn. ‘She's going to get married to a fellow.'
This was a blow. Yet even as I flinched I told myself, well, why not? I am a tolerant and fair-minded man. And next moment I was wondering, where can we go?
‘But she never told me anything,' I said.
‘You never asked anything,' said Finn.
This was true. During the last year I had become uninterested in Magdalen's private life. If she goes out and gets herself engaged to some other man whom had I to thank but myself?
‘Who is this person?' I asked.
‘Some bookie fellow,' said Finn.
‘Is he rich?'
‘Yes, he has a car,' said Finn. This was Finn's criterion, and I think at that time it was mine too.
‘Women give me heart disease,' Finn added. He was no gladder than I was at being turned out.
I sat there for a moment, feeling a vague physical pain in which portions of jealousy and wounded pride were compounded with a profound sense of homelessness. Here we were, sitting in Earls Court Road on a dusty sunny July morning on two suitcases, and where were we to go next? This was what always happened. I would be at pains to put my universe in order and set it ticking, when suddenly it would burst again into a mess of the same poor pieces, and Finn and I be on the run. I say my universe, not ours, because I sometimes feel that Finn has very little inner life. I mean no disrespect to him in saying this; some have and some haven't. I connect this too with his truthfulness. Subtle people, like myself, can see too much ever to give a straight answer. Aspects have always been my trouble. And I connect it with his aptness to make objective statements when these are the last things that one wants, like a bright light on one's headache. It may be, though, that Finn misses his inner life, and that that is why he follows me about, as I have a complex one and highly differentiated. Anyhow, I count Finn as an inhabitant of my universe, and cannot conceive that he has one containing me; and this arrangement seems restful for both of us.
It was more than two hours till opening time, and I could hardly face the thought of seeing Magdalen at once. She would expect me to make a scene, and I didn't feel energetic enough to make a scene, quite apart from not knowing anyway what sort of scene I ought to make. That would need some thinking out. There is nothing like being ousted for making one start to specify what it is one is being ousted from. I wanted time to reflect on my status.
‘Would you like a cup of coffee in Lyons'?‘ I said to Finn hopefully.
‘I would not,' said Finn; ‘I'm destroyed already waiting for you to come back, and herself wishing me at the devil. Come on now and see her.' And he started off down the street. Finn never refers to people otherwise than by pronouns or vocatives. I followed him slowly, trying to work out who I was.
Magdalen lived in one of those repulsive heavy-weight houses in Earls Court Road. She had the top half of the house; and there I had lived too for more than eighteen months, and Finn as well. Finn and I lived on the fourth floor in a maze of attics, and Magdalen lived on the third floor, though I don't say we didn't see a lot of each other, at any rate at first. I had begun to feel that this was my home. Sometimes Magdalen had boy friends, I didn't mind and I didn't inquire. I preferred it when she had, as then I had more time for work, or rather for the sort of dreamy unlucrative reflection which is what I enjoy more than anything in the world. We had lived there as snug as a pair of walnuts in their shells. We had also lived there practically rent-free, which was another point. There's nothing that irritates me so much as paying rent.
Magdalen, I should explain, is a typist in the city, or she was at the time of the earlier events related in this story. This hardly describes her, however. Her real employment is to be herself, and to this she devotes a tremendous zeal and artistry. Her exertions are directed along the lines suggested to her by women's magazines and the cinema, and it is due simply to some spring of native and incorruptible vitality in her that she has not succeeded in rendering herself quite featureless in spite of having made the prevailing conventions of seduction her constant study. She is not beautiful: that is an adjective which I use sparingly; but she is both pretty and attractive. Her prettiness lies in her regular features and fine complexion, which she covers over with a peach-like mask of make-up until all is as smooth and inexpressive as alabaster. Her hair is permanently waved in whatever fashion is declared to be the most becoming. It is a dyed gold. Women think that beauty lies in approximation to a harmonious norm. The only reason why they fail to make themselves indistinguishably similar is that they lack the time and the money and the technique. Film stars, who have all these,
are
indistinguishably similar. Magdalen's attractiveness lies in her eyes, and in the vitality of her manner and expression. The eyes are the one part of the face which nothing can disguise, or at any rate nothing which has been invented yet. The eyes are the mirror of the soul, and you can't paint them over or even sprinkle them with gold dust. Magdalen's are big and grey and almond-shaped, and glisten like pebbles in the rain. She makes a lot of money from time to time, not by tapping on the typewriter, but by being a photographer's model; she is everyone's idea of a pretty girl.
BOOK: Under the Net
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