The Bell
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The Bell

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3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  3,030 ratings  ·  216 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 MurdochA Severed Head by Iris MurdochUnder the Net by Iris Murdoch
Best of Iris Murdoch
2nd out of 29 books — 35 voters
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar WildeAngela's Ashes by Frank McCourtDubliners by James JoyceThe Collected Poems by W.B. YeatsDracula by Bram Stoker
Best Irish Literature
70th out of 376 books — 440 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mariel
Apr 07, 2013 Mariel rated it 3 of 5 stars
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...more
jo

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...more
Maureen
Apr 24, 2010 Maureen rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
David Rain
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
Judy
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...more
Eliane
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
Juli
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...more
Lavinia
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-...more
Blake
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...more
Thermalsatsuma
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
Daniel
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
Sowmya
(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...more
Kristel
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
Nick
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
Maxine
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...more
Longfellow
Initially, the facts of Dora Greenfield’s life are not particularly compelling; she has married above her class, married an older man who is one of her professors in art school. After marriage, she drops out of school, but soon Dora is not happy with her marriage and leaves her husband. She carries on a casual and rather shallow affair with an acquaintance. After a short time and on a capricious notion, Dora decides to return to her husband. But her return does not take her back to the familiar,...more
Asma Fedosia
This is an interesting book. There's is much to appreciate about bells. The characters are distinctly individualistic, which causes them to be sometimes reserved with their feelings. The story centers on a new lay community, situated in a wood of birds and next to a walled, cloistered Abbey of nuns. The history of this outpost dates to medieval times; the muddy, plant-tangled, still lake bears evidence of those olden days in a lost bell and a legend, which predates the dissolution of the monaste...more
Ryan
Murdoch adeptly conveys the enticing yet frighting challenges of self knowledge and self control. She demonstrates the tricks of traditional novel writing, yet blends in a few of her own techniques as well. For instance, she alternates third-person perspectives among a few main players, yet mixes their voices with the omniscient. This is most notable in the case of young Toby. Murdoch describes his views using his favorite word, rebarbative, while commenting authoritatively on his emotional deve...more
Bryant
Iris Murdoch tries packing a hefty load into this book: characters who represent different lifestyles and intellectual attitudes; vivid analepses that inform the present time of the story; bizarre and at times hokey twists of plot; brackish psychological struggles; and not always subtle messages about imagination v. convention. (Two of the main characters, Paul and Dora Greenfield, exemplify this dichotomy: Paul is an art historian, Dora a fledgling albeit unsuccessful artist. Dora wears sandals...more
Antiabecedarian
Apr 15, 2008 Antiabecedarian rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: all ha-ha curious types & friends of high school english teachers
Recommended to Antiabecedarian by: tallulah elvis poodle
Shelves: ha-ha
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Brenda
I think I have read more ABOUT Iris Murdoch than I actually have read WRITTEN BY Iris Murdoch. This is my second Murdoch novel (the other was The Sea, The Sea -- which won The Booker Prize). She's a smart writer who gets into big issues - life, death, morals, religion.

In The Bell, we follow the story of a group of people living in a lay community that is associated with an Abbey. The community sustains itself by growing and selling produce. A perfect husband. An imperfect wife. A sinning spirit...more
Janey
'Good,' as far as human beings are concerned, is unfixed, and yet, as human beings, we are still compelled to aspire to it. And as much as we try, our actions can still have negative consequences. But it's also difficult to separate what was our fault and what wasn't; if we're lucky enough to have figured it out, events will have happened already i.e. we can't take anything back. So that's why living is so hard. "The Abbess did not try to take this responsibility from him; but she could not, eit...more
Rory
Even though the story is somewhat limited by its 50's time period--you can predict the emtional if not actual outcomes for the main characters--I truly did enjoy this novel about faith and magic, the search for meaning and guidence set against the backdrop of the English country side and in the shadow of a local abbey. I found Murdoch's prose to be amazing in the detail and scope of her story--the fact that she manages to juggle multiple points of view without extreme changes in prose style and...more
David
I loved the opening chapters, ending with the butterfly.

I didn't like Imber Court much. The geography was incredibly tiresome, with almost constant references to where we are in relation to the house, the lake, the abbey. It was like listening to someone giving you complicated directions and you turn off and think "Gosh I wish I had a map" the whole time.

On the story, everything became Michael's exposition until everybody else seemed to be just fulfilling a role.

And to make matters worse, someo...more
sonny
a very good book but it feels unfinished. in so much that the morals of certain characters were left ambiguous. it truly shocked me how it suddenly got very serious but this felt rushed. I didn't want to rate it down to 4 because I would be doing this book a disservice. a truly intriguing piece of modern gothic literature.
Eryk Vancik
This book changed the way I think about many things... Very philosophical core with a good novel exterior. I highly recommend this and any other Murdoch work, she is my new favorite.
Courtney
One of dame Iris's more accessible books - it has a compelling mystery around which her themes revolve.

A lay community of mixed-up people is encamped outside Imber Abbey, home of an order of sequestered nuns. A new bell is being installed when suddenly the old bell, a legendary symbol of religion and magic, is rediscovered. And then things begin to change. Meanwhile the wise old Abbess watches and prays and exercises discreet authority. And everyone, or almost everyone, hopes to be saved, whate...more
Carol
Murdoch writes wonderful novels reminiscent of George Eliot in their psychological insight. The Bell is about a group of people gathered at Imber Court, a lay community attached to a heavily cloistered convent. Just as the convent prepares to recive a new bell, the original medieval bell is discovered at the bottom of the lake. At the same time, the inhabitants and visitors gathered at Imber Court grapple, through a complex series of interactions, with the intersection of morality and human frai...more
Jennifer
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Alexiapapa
A 4.5 from me for this great book! I loved the diversity of the characters and the contrast between religious and carefree life.
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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
More about Iris Murdoch...
The Sea, the Sea Under the Net A Severed Head The Black Prince The Unicorn

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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 war; 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.” 83 likes
“Those who hope, by retiring from the world, to earn a holiday from human frailty, in themselves and others, are usually disappointed.” 29 likes
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