Tuesday, March 9, 2004


John Bayley wrote in Elegy for Iris of the significance of place in Iris Murdoch's mind, and this sense of the spiritual potency of a location carries over into The Bell. From the detailed description of Imber Court and the adjacent abbey with which we are presented near the beginning of the novel, we draw a vivid picture of the small grounds upon which nearly the entire drama of the story is acted out, and though the lands themselves are composed of conventional features---no Mount Doom towers over the English countryside---Murdoch invests certain scenes with a poignancy drawn from the experiences of the characters in those areas, and the characters' own memories of other events that happened there in the past. In that sense, she captures the method by which places in my own life have acquired an elegiac beauty: I think of the stars wheeling above Ames Street on MIT's campus not because the view from that spot is in any way particularly dramatic, but because on many nights in college when I was full of dreams I walked across that roadway on the way back to my dorm, and the power of my life on those clear evenings has imbued the place in my memory with moment. A place in which one has resided during passionate times of life, or where one has been long enough that one's character and outlook changed from the beginning to end, and thus has seen from a perspective that cannot be recaptured: such a place sparkles in one's mind with a phosphorescence that is like magic. With time, everyday places can be infused with a deep exoticism borne of all the experiences that happened there in the past, which, as time flows by, become more unattainable than a fertile garden in any Caliph's girdled grounds.

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