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The Bell

3.85  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,971 Ratings  ·  295 Reviews
A lay community of thoroughly mixed-up people is encamped outside Imber Abbey, home of an enclosed order of nuns. A new bell, legendary symbol of religion and magic, is rediscovered. Dora Greenfield, erring wife, returns to her husband. Michael Mead, leader of the community, is confronted by Nick Fawley, with whom he had disastrous homosexual relations, while the wise old ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published December 1st 2001 by Penguin Classics (first published 1958)
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The Sea, the Sea by Iris MurdochThe Bell by Iris MurdochThe Black Prince by Iris MurdochUnder the Net by Iris MurdochA Severed Head by Iris Murdoch
Best of Iris Murdoch
2nd out of 34 books — 45 voters
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar WildeAngela's Ashes by Frank McCourtDubliners by James JoyceDracula by Bram StokerThe Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats by W.B. Yeats
Best Irish Literature
83rd out of 444 books — 525 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Sep 30, 2015 Algernon rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015

Opening lines:

Dora Greenfield left her husband because she was afraid of him. She decided six month later to return to him for the same reason. The absent Paul, haunting her with letters and telephone bells and imagined footsteps on the stairs had begun to be the greater torment. Dora suffered from guilt, and with guilt came fear. She decided at last that the persecution of his presence was to be preferred to the persecution of his absences.

Well, colour me intrigued by this passage and thrill
"There is a story about the bell ringing sometimes in the bottom of the lake, and how if you hear it it portends a death."

The Bell is an early philosophical novel by Iris Murdoch, the Irish academic and Oxford professor of Philosophy, who also wrote in total 26 novels. This is her fourth novel, first published in 1958. The first of her novels to be shot through with ethical considerations, The Bell remains the one novel in her entire output where the moral conundrums are the most explicit. Until
Dec 19, 2015 Mary rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2015
... he felt himself to be one of them, who can live neither in the world nor out of it.

In 1950s England it was illegal to be homosexual. In this novel it’s 1950s England and Michael is homosexual. He’s created a mysterious religious community nestled away in the secluded woods which also serves as storage space for his desires. But you really can’t hide from who you are, can you? And Dora, a young woman unhappily married to an older man, also starts to figure out that this kind of repression is
Apr 07, 2013 Mariel rated it liked it
Recommends it for: priests socks are blacker than any other kind of sock
Recommended to Mariel by: Maureen
There were many people, she said, and Michael was but too ready to credit her since he felt himself to be one of them, who can live neither in the world nor out of it. They are a kind of sick people, whose desire for God makes them unsatisfactory citizens of an ordinary life, but whose strength or temperament fails them to surrender the world completely; and present-day society, with its hurried pace and its mechanical and technical structure, offers no home to these unhappy souls.

The voice of t
Dec 14, 2013 jo rated it it was amazing

this book is so good. so so good. it is one of those books of which i ask myself, how did she do it? how did she come up with a story like this? what tremendous formal control does it take to write such a seemingly simple story and pack it with so much stuff?

the beginning is a bit Middlemarchian, in that a rather naive girl marries an older man who is passionate about his scholarship (we never learn whether his scholarship is any good) and also tremendously narcissistic, manipulative, and abusiv
Nov 03, 2015 Candi rated it really liked it
Shelves: classics-shelf
"There were many people who can live neither in the world nor out of it. They are a kind of sick people, whose desire for God makes them unsatisfactory citizens of an ordinary life, but whose strength or temperament fails them to surrender the world completely; and present-day society, with its hurried pace and its mechanical and technical structure, offers no home to these unhappy souls. Work, as it now is can rarely offer satisfaction to the half-contemplative."

In The Bell, we find such a grou
David Rain
Jun 08, 2012 David Rain rated it it was amazing
This was the first Iris Murdoch novel I read, many years ago now, and straight away I was hooked. For months afterwards I was obsessed with her books, and read them one after the other. Her appeal is both simple and complex. Murdoch is a great storyteller, a brilliant inventor of plots. Typically, her stories start out like realistic novels of English life, only to become increasingly bizarre, with outrageous entanglements of relationship and motive, recognitions, reversals, melodramatic confron ...more
It was just that Dora had then estimated, with a devastating exactness which was usually alien to her, how much of sheer contempt there was in Paul's love; and always would be, she reflected, since she had few illusions about her ability to change herself. It did not occur to her to wonder if Paul might change, or indeed into hope from him anything at all. She felt his contempt as destructive of her, and his love, consequently unwelcome. Yet all the time, in a shy and round about way, she loved
Apr 24, 2010 Maureen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Maureen by: Adrian
Shelves: 2010, novels
whenever i pick up an iris murdoch novel, it seems initially that i am embarking on a tale with conventional romance trappings, and then, very quickly, there is a moment of unease, and i begin to understand that she has lured me away from the safe harbour where her story begins, and that the universe her characters inhabit might be familiar to me but that i am not conversant with its rules. the bell was no exception: at first it seemed that the primary story would be that of dora, the desultory ...more
May 03, 2011 Judy rated it really liked it
Iris Murdoch's fourth novel shows a strengthening of fictional power while continuing her philosophical inspection of human character. I love the opening lines: "Dora Greenfield left her husband because she was afraid of him. She decided six months later to return to him for the same reason."

Dora is one of the two main characters and represents the amoral personality. She is a fairly young woman, married to an older man. While living mainly on nerves and feelings, she has a horror of any sort o
May 21, 2009 Juli rated it really liked it
A classic piece of literature. It's almost 5 stars but I think it will take a re-reading to get to 5-start status.

Iris Murdoch had me at hello. The book starts with these lines:
"Dora Greenfield left her husband because she was afraid of him. She decided six months later to return to him for the same reason."

The story is set in 1950's England but could have happened today. The Bell about a group of dysfunctional people (which means they are just like you and me) who live together in a small comm
Sep 28, 2008 Lavinia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2007, fiction
I like Murdoch, she writes without inhibitions about such subjects as morality, sex and religions. The Bell has a special charm, combining the three subjects mentioned before. I really liked the way she portrays her characters, Michael, Dora and Nick, who, without any specific reason, became my favorite character.

imi place iris murdoch. scrie frumos, captivant si fara rezerve, neevitind subiecte precum moralitatea, sexualitatea si viata religioasa. clopotul e primul roman scris de ea pe care-
I think we all thought Murdoch would be difficult, intellectual. In fact, she is funny, perceptive and very easy to read. Despite the setting of this book (1950s, a lay community) and its characters (very middle class British) I found the book compelling. Written largely from the point of view of three of the characters (Dora, Michael and Toby), the language itself conveys the personalities and failings of the characters. Her handling of male homosexuality is very sensitive and believable - even ...more
Oct 12, 2015 Monica rated it liked it
Three and a half stars. Thought about giving it 4 stars, but was left with too many questions on what motivated/drove some characters to their end...unsatisfying for me. However, if you appreciate truly creative writing, then this is worth the read for that aspect alone. Here's an example:

"Toby, as a Londoner, was not used to moonlight, and marvelled at this light which is no light, which calls up sights like ghosts, and whose strength is seen only in the sharpness of cast shadows."
Feb 23, 2016 Cecily rated it it was amazing
Religious community life: tension, spirituality, suppressed sexuality, practicality. Less overtly philosophical than Under the Net.
Jul 09, 2012 Blake rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Having for an introduction to Murdoch such a stolidly and rigidified work as The Italian Girl and subsequently and significantly losing interest in the author’s fiction, I have to wonder what changed in the meantime that had me so enthralled by this book even before I picked it up. As becomes immediately apparent, and more so as the book goes on, The Bell is a stirred and uncaged being offered up as a dedicated pupil of Murdoch’s multifarious notions and concerns.

Though Iris believed in the stri
Mar 15, 2009 Thermalsatsuma rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-a-week-2009
Dora Greenfield is a young woman, married to the bullying, supercilious Paul who is thirteen years her senior. She has been separated from him for six months before deciding to go back to him when he invites her to join him at Imber Abbey where he is working on some ancient manuscripts. The Abbey is home to an order of cloistered nuns and has a small lay religious community attached, living in a stately home. The community has a wide range of members from the self appointed leader Michael, aspir ...more
May 14, 2011 Daniel rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
I finish this book satisfied with what has come before and filled with the echoes of the emotional bouts that these happenings, and the characters that caused them, inspired. This is truly a novel in the sense that it proposes characters with complicated personalities and motivations, and sets their struggles and joys against portions of society that, in turn, contribute to the overall drama. It is an excellent novel for its prose, which is such a pleasure to read; for its structure, which balan ...more
Dec 29, 2015 Kiely rated it it was amazing
If you plotted books using two axes, one to indicate how sad they are and one to indicate how funny they are, this one would lie right along the unity line, somewhere near the top right. Everything blows up, and then the aftermath is devastating and in some ways, lovely. Religion, sex, and the power dynamics of every kind of interpersonal dynamic are the subjects of this ruminative, sympathetic, singular, silly, sad book. This is my third or fourth read through and each reading, spaced out years ...more
Feb 29, 2012 Sowmya rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
(Dame?)Iris Murdoch = Detail. If she hadn't been a writer she'd have been looking for a needle in a haystack. (She was a philosopher which is sort of the same thing, for me)
The vivid descriptions of places and things, that bring the setting to life, don't extend to the characters. However, we do get a delightful glimpse into their emotions.
The setting here is an Abbey where a group of people happen to come together, right around the time that a new church bell is to be installed.
The mystery sur
Aug 20, 2012 Mmars rated it really liked it
The mood of this book has stuck with me for a long time. Unfortunately, until today, I had been unable to come up with the book! I highly recommend this book to mystery readers who enjoy a large heft of literature or to literary leaners who enjoy a bit o' mystery in the mix. Also, well, thinking Catholics. (Okay. Kick me.)

Like an uneven floor, everything felt a bit skewed, or crooked. The monastery setting added to the feeling of strangeness, secretiveness, etc. Yet, there was also a bit of tong
Feb 17, 2016 Pip rated it it was amazing
What a relief to read a book where I could find sympathy with the characters and interest in their condition, after hours of ploughing through 1001 Nights with Bellow for light relief! Murdoch is wonderful at evoking the sights and sounds and even smells of the environment, particularly when describing water. Her three protagonists, Dora, Michael and Toby are carefully described in both their actions, and more importantly, their introspective musings. Dora is young, atheist, unhappily married, ...more

Back cover: "A lay community of thoroughly mixed-up people live in a compound outside Imber Abbey, home of an enclosed order of nuns."

These wildly different people are seeking a spiritual community, one which is outside the world most people live in. The author unravels the secrets of these people, who silently struggle with some extremely difficult internal dilemmas.

The Bell is an emotionally draining, surprising, and often, overwhelming read. Interacting with each other on a daily basis
Soledad P
Feb 04, 2016 Soledad P rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novela
Me encantó, qué puedo decir.

Al principio no me gustó mucho, porque era lento y Dora se me hacía insufrible (pero es el personaje que más crece al final), pero cuando comenzaron a cambiar los puntos de vista de los personajes no pude dejar de leer.
Es de esos libros que parecen contar poco, pero en cada capítulo se mete en la psicología de los personajes de una manera increíble y de pronto te das cuenta que ha pasado de todo.

Muy bien escrito y muy sutil.

Trata de una comunidad laica que se instal
Feb 16, 2016 Jeffrey rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, religion
Stunning. Iris Murdoch covers so many tough ideas in a short span.

Dora Greenfield, the penitent wife, comes to the lay religious community of Imber, where her husband Paul is researching the historical archives of an long-standing abbey. The community is waiting for the delivery of a new bell, as legend holds that the old bell flew into the lake hundreds of years ago. So, a lay religious community is apparently for folks who are caught between worlds, they are too much of the world for monastic
Dec 19, 2015 Roseb612 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Roseb612 by: 1001
Na svou dobu (originál vyšel poprvé v roce 1958) to musel být dost skandální román - homosexualita je tam skoro všudypřítomná, byť to není nosné téma románu. Tím je pro mne hledání sebe sama - prakticky všechny postavy jsou neusazené, jejich život je v nějaké přechodné fázi (odněkud kam?). Jediné postavy, které jsou z tohoto dilematu vyňaty, jsou jeptišky - schované za vysokou zdí, neviditelné v kapli, při rozhovoru oddělené mříží - prostě nedosažitelné. Stejně jako se jeví nedosažitelný jejich ...more
Aniko Carmean
Aug 16, 2014 Aniko Carmean rated it really liked it
Dora Greenfield is sweet but muddled. The Bell opens with Dora's return to her husband Paul, a psychologically violent man. He is ensconced in the lay community of Imber Court, researching ancient manuscripts that cannot leave the abbey. Dora joins Paul at Imber, where her distinct and irreverent playfulness earns the disapproval of everyone, especially Paul. Thwarted playfulness and marital unhappiness escalate into a full-fledged plan to stage a miracle, wherein Dora will be the witch-enchantr ...more
I wanted to get to this book all year and I truely saved the best for last it appears. This is a great story, good character development and an interesting story. The book is published in 1958 and to some extent that is obvious but it also is not dated in many ways. The story is set in a lay community outside of an abbey of cloistered nuns. A new bell is to arrive for the nunnery and thus the title of the story. There is also a myth about the past bell which is said to be lost in the lake and if ...more
Dec 11, 2010 Nick rated it it was amazing
I read four or five Iris Murdoch novels in my 20's and always loved her as I loved a great swath of British literature, based upon realism, well-made scenes, emotionally complete characters and compelling stories....with a modern, and fiercely intellectual twist. So it's possible I read THE BELL back then, but I don't think so. Pity, because it's a feast. Murdoch writes a beautiful sentence, and her characters' flaws and special peculiarities are so, well, human, driving the twists and turns of ...more
Feb 13, 2013 Maxine rated it it was amazing
This is my third Iris Murdoch read. I thoroughly enjoyed the satirical A Severed Head and the hilarious The Sea, The Sea, so when I picked up The Bell and read the blurb I was expecting a comedy of sorts set in a religious community. What I got, however, was a totally different kind of read with The Bell being more about dysfunctional people, flawed relationships and torn emotions.

The novel is set in Gloucestershire at Imber Abbey, where a small lay Anglican community live and work simply. The
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Dame Jean Iris Murdoch

Irish-born British writer, university lecturer and prolific and highly professional novelist, Iris Murdoch dealt with everyday ethical or moral issues, sometimes in the light of myths. As a writer, she was a perfectionist who did not allow editors to change her text. Murdoch produced 26 novels in 40 years, the last written while she was suffering from Alzheimer disease.

"She w
More about Iris Murdoch...

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“I know how much you grieve over those who are under your care: those you try to help and fail, those you cannot help. Have faith in God and remember that He will is His own way and in His own time complete what we so poorly attempt. Often we do not achieve for others the good that we intend but achieve something, something that goes on from our effort. Good is an overflow. Where we generously and sincerely intend it, we are engaged in a work of creation which may be mysterious even to ourselves - and because it is mysterious we may be afraid of it. But this should not make us draw back. God can always show us, if we will, a higher and a better way; and we can only learn to love by loving. Remember that all our failures are ultimately failures in love. Imperfect love must not be condemned and rejected but made perfect. The way is always forward, never back.” 94 likes
“Those who hope, by retiring from the world, to earn a holiday from human frailty, in themselves and others, are usually disappointed.” 41 likes
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