The question of how we are to take Iris Murdoch's characters (indeed, whether we can take them at all) is raised, even before we get to know them, by their names. In The Green Knight we have to contend with Lucas and Clement Graffe, Harvey Blacket, Bellamy James and his dog Anax, the Anderson women - Louise and her daughters Alethea (Aleph), Sophia (Sefton) and Moira (Moy) - Emil and Clive and the Adwardens. A reader alert to social differences will find such names far from neutral. An odour of class hangs about them. As emphatically as Tracy or Darren, Sharon or Keith, Bellamy, Alethea, Lucas and Clement map out a distinct social territory. It lies in pockets of Hampstead and Barnes, in Oxford north of St Giles or on Boar's Hill, where large families live in rambling old houses full of innocent laughter and fun, and favourite aunts and uncles and friends of the family come for lunch on Sunday, and amiable dogs bound about answering to clever names. Mama and Papa are perhaps academics (although Mama can be just lovable), and everyone is frightfully well educated and intelligent. By the age of six the children enjoy Beowulf and Greek myths. At eight they devour Dickens. By 12 they have read most of Shakespeare. Television is anathema to them; audio, video and disco just Latin verbs.
LRB 4 November 1993 | PDF Download