Under the Net, page 1
Table of Contents
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Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin in 1919 and grew up in London. She trained as a philosopher at both Oxford and Cambridge, and was for many years a fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford, where she taught philosophy. She wrote several works of philosophy, among which are Sartre: Romantic Rationalist, The Sovereignty of Good, and Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals. She was also the author of twenty-six novels, including The Sea, The Sea, which won the Booker Prize in 1978; The Book and the Brotherhood; The Message to the Planet; and The Green Knight. She died on February 8, 1999.
ALSO PUBLISHED IN PENGUIN
The Flight from the Enchanter
A Severed Head
An Unofficial Rose
The Italian Girl
The Red and the Green
The Time of the Angels
The Nice and the Good
A Fairly Honourable Defeat
An Accidental Man
The Black Prince
The Sacred and Profane Love Machine
A Word Child
Henry and Cato
The Sea, the Sea
Nuns and Soldiers
The Philosopher’s Pupil
The Good Apprentice
The Book and the Brotherhood
The Message to the Planet
The Green Knight
Acastos: Two Platonic Dialogues
Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England
Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
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Penguin Group (NZ), cnr Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany, Auckland 1310, New Zealand
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pry) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue,
Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R ORL, England
First Published in Great Britain by Chatto & Windus 1954
First published in the United States of America by The Viking Press 1954
Viking Compass Edition published 1964
Published in Penguin Books in Great Britain 1960 and in the United States of America 1977
Copyright 1954 by Iris Murdoch Copyright © renewed 1982 by Iris Murdoch
All rights reserved
eISBN : 978-1-101-49580-3
Set in Times Monotype
WHEN I saw Finn waiting for me at the comer of the street I knew at once that something had gone wrong. Finn usually waits for me in bed, or leaning up against the side of the door with his eyes closed. Moreover, I had been delayed by the strike. I hate the journey back to England anyway; and until I have been able to bury my head so deep in dear London that I can forget that I have ever been away I am inconsolable. So you may imagine how unhappy it makes me to have to cool my heels at Newhaven, waiting for the trains to run again, and with the smell of France still fresh in my nostrils. On this occasion too the bottles of cognac which I always smuggle had been taken from me by the Customs, so that when closing time came I was utterly abandoned to the torments of a morbid self-scrutiny. The invigorating objectivity of true contemplation is something which a man of my temperament cannot achieve in unfamiliar towns in England, even when he has not also to be worrying about trains. Trains are bad for the nerves at the best of times. What did people have nightmares about before there were trains? So all this being considered, it was an odd thing that Finn should be waiting for me in the road.
As soon as I saw Finn I stopped and put the cases down. They were full of French books and very heavy. I shouted ‘Hey!’ and Finn came slowly on. He never makes haste. I find it hard to explain to people about Finn. He isn’t exactly my servant. He seems often more like my manager. Sometimes I support him, and sometimes he supports me; it depends. It’s somehow clear that we aren’t equals. His name is Peter O‘Finney, but you needn’t mind about that, as he is always called Finn, and he is a sort of remote cousin of mine, or so he used to claim, and I never troubled to verify this. But people do get the impression that he is my servant, and I often have this impression too, though it would be hard to say exactly what features of the situation suggest it. Sometimes I think it is just that Finn is a humble and self-effacing person and so automatically takes second place. When we are short of beds it is always Finn who sleeps on the floor, and this seems thoroughly natural. It is true that I am always giving Finn orders, but this is because Finn seems not to have many ideas of his own about how to employ his time. Some of my friends think that Finn is cracked, but this is not so; he knows very well indeed what he is about.
When Finn came up to me at last I indicated one of the cases for him to carry, but he did not pick it up. Instead he sat down on it and looked at me in a melancholy way. I sat down on the other case, and for a little while we were silent. I was tired, and reluctant to ask Finn any questions; he would tell all soon enough. He loves trouble, his own or other people’s without discrimination, and what he particularly likes is to break bad news. Finn is rather handsome in a sad lanky fashion, with straight drooping brownish hair and a bony Irish face. He is a head taller than me (I am a short man), but he stoops a little. As he looked at me so sadly my heart sank.
‘What is it?’ I said at last.
‘She’s thrown us out,’ said Finn.
I could not take this seriously; it was impossible.
‘Come now,’ I said kindly to Finn. ‘What does this really mean?’
‘She’s throwing us out,’ said Finn. ‘Both of us, now, today.’
Finn is a carrion crow, but he never tells lies, he never even exaggerates. Yet this was fantastic.
‘But why?’ I asked. ‘What have we done?’
‘It’s not what we’ve done, it’s what she’s after doing,’ said Finn. ‘She’s going to get married to a fellow.’
This was a blow. Yet even as I flinched I told myself, well, why not? I am a tolerant and fair-minded man. And next moment I was wondering, where can we go?
‘But she never told me anything,’ I said.
‘You never asked anything,’ said Finn.
This was true. During the last year I had become uninterested in Magdalen’s private life. If she goes out and gets herself engaged to some other man whom had I to thank but myself?
‘Who is this person?’ I asked.
‘Some bookie fellow,’ said Finn.
‘Is he rich?’
‘Yes, he has a car,’ said Finn. This was Finn’s criterion, and I think at
‘Women give me heart disease,’ Finn added. He was no gladder than I was at being turned out.
I sat there for a moment, feeling a vague physical pain in which portions of jealousy and wounded pride were compounded with a profound sense of homelessness. Here we were, sitting in Earls Court Road on a dusty sunny July morning on two suitcases, and where were we to go next? This was what always happened. I would be at pains to put my universe in order and set it ticking, when suddenly it would burst again into a mess of the same poor pieces, and Finn and I be on the run. I say my universe, not ours, because I sometimes feel that Finn has very little inner life. I mean no disrespect to him in saying this; some have and some haven’t. I connect this too with his truthfulness. Subtle people, like myself, can see too much ever to give a straight answer. Aspects have always been my trouble. And I connect it with his aptness to make objective statements when these are the last things that one wants, like a bright light on one’s headache. It may be, though, that Finn misses his inner life, and that that is why he follows me about, as I have a complex one and highly differentiated. Anyhow, I count Finn as an inhabitant of my universe, and cannot conceive that he has one containing me; and this arrangement seems restful for both of us.
It was more than two hours till opening time, and I could hardly face the thought of seeing Magdalen at once. She would expect me to make a scene, and I didn’t feel energetic enough to make a scene, quite apart from not knowing anyway what sort of scene I ought to make. That would need some thinking out. There is nothing like being ousted for making one start to specify what it is one is being ousted from. I wanted time to reflect on my status.
‘Would you like a cup of coffee in Lyons’?‘ I said to Finn hopefully.
‘I would not,’ said Finn; ‘I’m destroyed already waiting for you to come back, and herself wishing me at the devil. Come on now and see her.’ And he started off down the street. Finn never refers to people otherwise than by pronouns or vocatives. I followed him slowly, trying to work out who I was.
Magdalen lived in one of those repulsive heavy-weight houses in Earls Court Road. She had the top half of the house; and there I had lived too for more than eighteen months, and Finn as well. Finn and I lived on the fourth floor in a maze of attics, and Magdalen lived on the third floor, though I don’t say we didn’t see a lot of each other, at any rate at first. I had begun to feel that this was my home. Sometimes Magdalen had boy friends, I didn’t mind and I didn’t inquire. I preferred it when she had, as then I had more time for work, or rather for the sort of dreamy unlucrative reflection which is what I enjoy more than anything in the world. We had lived there as snug as a pair of walnuts in their shells. We had also lived there practically rent-free, which was another point. There’s nothing that irritates me so much as paying rent.
Magdalen, I should explain, is a typist in the city, or she was at the time of the earlier events related in this story. This hardly describes her, however. Her real employment is to be herself, and to this she devotes a tremendous zeal and artistry. Her exertions are directed along the lines suggested to her by women’s magazines and the cinema, and it is due simply to some spring of native and incorruptible vitality in her that she has not succeeded in rendering herself quite featureless in spite of having made the prevailing conventions of seduction her constant study. She is not beautiful: that is an adjective which I use sparingly; but she is both pretty and attractive. Her prettiness lies in her regular features and fine complexion, which she covers over with a peach-like mask of make-up until all is as smooth and inexpressive as alabaster. Her hair is permanently waved in whatever fashion is declared to be the most becoming. It is a dyed gold. Women think that beauty lies in approximation to a harmonious norm. The only reason why they fail to make themselves indistinguishably similar is that they lack the time and the money and the technique. Film stars, who have all these, are indistinguishably similar. Magdalen’s attractiveness lies in her eyes, and in the vitality of her manner and expression. The eyes are the one part of the face which nothing can disguise, or at any rate nothing which has been invented yet. The eyes are the mirror of the soul, and you can’t paint them over or even sprinkle them with gold dust. Magdalen’s are big and grey and almond-shaped, and glisten like pebbles in the rain. She makes a lot of money from time to time, not by tapping on the typewriter, but by being a photographer’s model; she is everyone’s idea of a pretty girl.
Magdalen was in the bath when we arrived. We went into her sitting-room, where the electric fire and the little piles of nylon stockings and silk underwear and the smell of face-powder made a cosy scene. Finn slumped on to the tousled divan in the way she always asked him not to. I went to the bathroom door and shouted ‘Madge!’
The splashing ceased, and she said, ‘Is that you, Jake?’ The cistern was making an infernal noise.
‘Yes, of course, it’s me. Look, what is all this?’
‘I can’t hear you,’ said Magdalen. ‘Wait a moment.’
‘What is all this?’ I shouted. ‘All this about your marrying a bookie? You can’t do this without consulting me!’
I felt I was making a passable scene outside the bathroom door. I even banged on the panel.
‘I can’t hear a word,’ said Madge. This was untrue; she was playing for time. ‘Jake, dear, do put the kettle on and we’ll have some coffee. I’ll be out in a minute.’
Magdalen swept out of the bathroom with a blast of hot perfumed air just as I was making the coffee, but dodged straight into her dressing-room. Finn got up hastily from the divan. We lit cigarettes and waited. Then after a long time Magdalen emerged resplendent, and stood before me. I stared at her in quiet amazement. A marked change had taken place in her whole appearance. She was wearing a tight silk dress, of an expensive and fussy cut, and a great deal of rather dear-looking jewellery. Even the expression on her face seemed to have altered. Now at last I was able to take in what Finn had told me. Walking down the road I had been too full of self-concern to reflect upon the oddness and enormity of Madge’s plan. Now its cash value was before me. It was certainly unexpected. Madge was used to consort with tedious but humane city men, or civil servants with Bohemian tastes, or at worst with literary hacks like myself. I wondered what curious fault in the social stratification should have brought her into contact with a man who could inspire her to dress like that. I walked slowly round her, taking it all in.
‘What do you think I am, the Albert Memorial?’ said Magdalen.
‘Not with those eyes,’ I said, and I looked into their speckled depths.
Then an unaccustomed pain shot through me and I had to turn away. I ought to have taken better care of the girl. This metamorphosis must have been a long time preparing, only I had been too dull to see it. A girl like Magdalen can’t be transformed overnight. Someone had been hard at work.
Madge watched me curiously. ‘What’s the matter?’ she asked. ‘Are you ill?’
I spoke my thought. ‘Madge, I ought to have looked after you better.’
‘You didn’t look after me at all,’ said Madge. ‘Now someone else will.’
Her laughter had a cutting edge, but her eyes were troubled, and I felt an impulse to make her, even at this late stage, some sort of rash proposal. A strange light, cast back over our friendship, brought new things into relief, and I tried in an instant to grasp the whole essence of my need of her. I took a deep breath, however, and followed my rule of never speaking frankly to women in moments of emotion. No good ever comes of this. It is not in my nature to make myself responsible for other people. I find it hard enough to pick my own way along. The dangerous moment passed, the signal was gone, the gleam in Magdalen’s eye disappeared and she said, ‘Give me some coffee.’ I gave her some.
‘Now look, Jakie,’ she said, ‘you understand how it is. I want you to move your stuff out as soon as poss, today if you can. I’ve put all your things in your room.’
She had too. Various objects of mi
‘I don’t understand how it is,’ I said, ‘and I shall be interested to hear.’
‘Yes, you must take everything,’ said Magdalen. ‘I’ll pay for the taxi if you like.’ Now she was as cool as a lettuce.
‘Have a heart, Madge,’ I said. I was beginning to worry about myself again, and felt a lot better. ‘Can’t I go on living upstairs? I’m not in the way.’ But I knew this was a bad idea.
‘Oh, Jake!’ said Madge. ‘You are an imbecile!’ This was the kindest remark she had made yet. We both relaxed.
All this time Finn had been leaning against the door, looking abstractedly into the middle distance. Whether he was listening or not it was hard to tell.
‘Send him away,’ said Magdalen. ‘He gives me the creeps.’
‘Where can I send him to?’ I asked. ‘Where can we either of us go? You know I’ve got no money.’
This was not strictly true, but I always pretend as a matter of policy to be penniless, one never knows when it may not turn out to be useful for this to be taken for granted.
‘You’re adults,’ said Magdalen. ‘At least, you’re supposed to be. You can decide that for yourselves.’
I met Finn’s dreamy gaze. ‘What shall we do?’ I asked him.
Finn sometimes has ideas, and after all he had had more time to reflect than I had.
‘Go to Dave’s,’ he said.
I could see nothing against that, so I said ‘Good!’ and shouted after him, ‘Take the cases!’ for he had shot off like an arrow. I sometimes think he doesn’t care for Magdalen. He came back and took one of them and vanished.
Magdalen and I looked at each other like boxers at the beginning of the second round.
‘Look here, Madge,’ I said, ‘you can’t turn me out just like that.’
Other author's books:
- A Severed HeadThe Black PrinceThe Red and the Green (Vintage Classics)The Nice and the GoodJackson's DilemmaThe Flight From the EnchanterThe Italian GirlAn Accidental Man
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