Iris Murdoch pp 130-149 | Cite as

The Ambivalence of Coming Home: The Italian Girl and The Sea, the Sea

  • Bran J. Nicol


The Italian Girl and The Sea, the Sea have less obviously in common than the other pairs of novels we have considered. They are worlds apart in terms of critical appraisal: one is almost universally agreed to be Murdoch’s weakest novel, the other stands as the Booker Prize-winning peak of her ‘great decade’, the seventies. The Italian Girl more closely resembles the obsessional ‘closed-up’ books A Severed Head and A Word Child. It is an uncanny Gothic tale narrated in an anachronistic voice which more often seems like a pastiche of Poe than anything convincing in its own right. All of its characters seem caught up in a collective delusion. As Isabel remarks, ‘We are all prisoners here. We are like people in an engraving’ (IG 41). The Sea, the Sea, on the other hand, is closer to Under the Net and The Black Prince. It is a novel written by an ‘artist’ self-consciously engaged in a quest into the past to find truth, both circumstantial and metaphysical. Charles Arrowby, its hero, displays an epistemophilia which is at times more pronounced than that of his predecessors as he tries desperately to make sense of events going on around him and to unravel the ‘terrible mystery’ of why his first love left him. Yet for all their dissimilarity, I think there is something in both novels that is largely absent in the others, and which is central to


Narrative Form Involuntary Memory Connective Power Crystalline Side Italian Girl 
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Copyright information

© Bran J. Nicol 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bran J. Nicol
    • 1
  1. 1.University of PortsmouthUK

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