The Sea, the Sea by Iris Murdoch Download (read online) free eBook

The Sea, the Sea

Charles Arrowby, leading light of England’s theatrical set, retires from glittering London to an isolated home by the sea. He plans to write a memoir about his great love affair with Clement Makin, his mentor both professionally and personally, and to amuse himself with Lizzie, an actress he has strung along for many years. None of his plans work out, and his memoir evolve
Jeffrey Keeten

Jul 25, 2013

rated it
it was amazing

review of another edition

”Even a middling novelist can tell quite a lot of truth. His humble medium is on the side of truth. Whereas the theatre, even at its most ‘realistic’, is connected with the level at which, and the methods by which, we tell our everyday lies. This is the sense in which ‘ordinary’ theatre resembles life, and dramatists are disgraceful liars unless they are very good. On the other hand, in a purely formal sense the theatre is the nearest to poetry of all the arts. I used to think that if I could ha

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Schruff End. Charles Arrowby’s place by The Sea.

Charles Arrowby has retired from the theatre to a damp, drafty, but dramatic home by the sea. His plan is to live on his own, read, and eat well while he writes his memoirs. He is famous, certainly well known enough to be recognized on the street from his days acting and directing on the stage. He wants to be anonymous, but as I can tell anyone from personal experience the last place one can be anonymous is in a small town.

”I could have told you the country is the least peaceful and private place to live. The most peaceful and secluded place in the world is a flat in Kensington.”

I found myself liking him. I especially enjoyed reading about him figuring out this life of reading, eating, and writing. It sounds ideal. As the plot advances it will take many shattering blows for me to let go of the Arrowby I liked and replace him with a man that is on the verge of lunacy. Charles may miss the drama of the stage, but he doesn’t miss it for long because his life becomes a stage play. It all starts to unwind when he goes to the village and sees his first love, Hartley appear as if by magic. As it turns out he is the only one that calls her Hartley everyone else calls her Mary. He knew her briefly before the war and during the war, as happened with many people, he lost track of her. Her life is a Mary life not a Hartley life. Charles can not accept the person he sees before him. She must metamorphosize and he is the man to make it happen

”I saw: a stout elderly woman in a shapeless brown tent-like dress, holding a shopping bag and working her way, very slowly as if in a dream, along the street, past the Black Lion in the direction of the shop. This figure, which I had so vaguely, idly, noticed before was now utterly changing in my eyes. The whole world was its background. And between me and it there hovered, perhaps for the last time, the vision of a slim long-legged girl with gleaming thighs.”

Oh good lord!

Now Clement, who he actually talks the least about of all his lovers seems to be the woman that made him into the successful man he is today.

”Clement was the reality of my life, its bread and its wine. She made me, she invented me, she created me, she was my university, my partner, my teacher, my mother, later my child, my soul’s mate, my absolute mistress.”

Clement made him feel so good that he did not attempt to find Hartley. She kept him from his one true love by…being…so…terrific. The Poor Bastard.

Lizzie visits him, another one of his ex-lovers. She has decided to move in with their mutual friend Gilbert. ”Lizzie is half Scottish, half Sephardi Jew. Although she has the most adorable breasts of any woman I ever made love to, she is not really beautiful, and never was even when she was young, but she has charm.” Unfortunately Lizzie is still in love with Charles and even though he really doesn’t want her back he doesn’t want her with Gilbert either.

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”Jealousy is born with love, but does not always die with love.”

Rosina shows up as well yet another ex-lover. They can’t let him go any better than he can let them go. She is a famous actress almost as obsessed with Charles as Charles is becoming with Hartley. She breaks into house not once, but several times and soon knows all there is to know about this silly Hartley business. It seems that Charles broke up her marriage and then casually tossed her aside, but Rosina as it turns out is not the type to be so casually flung anywhere. She is more likely to pick Charles up and fling him into the sea or run over him with her car or brain him with a rock.

Charles seems to have a most powerful effect on women, but his charms are having no influence on Hartley. Despite being resoundingly rebuffed his fantasy continues to grow.

”Her large brow, which looked white in the candlelight, was puckered and pitted with little shadows, but the way she had turned up the collar of her green cotton coat behind her hair gave her a girlish look. Perhaps that was what she used to do with her mackintosh collar in the days when we went bicycling. And even as I was listening intently to her words. I was all the time gazing with a kind of creative passion at her candlelit face, like some god reassembling her beauty for my own purposes.”

Own purposes indeed.

”She did not have to join my grand intimidating alien world. To wed his beggar maid the king would, and how gladly, become a beggar too. The vision of that healing humility would henceforth be my guide. This was indeed the very condition of her freedom, why had I not seen this before? I would at last see her face changing. It was, I found, a part of my thought of the future that when she was with me Hartley would actually regain much of her old beauty: like a prisoner released from a labour camp who at first looks old, but then with freedom and rest and good food soon becomes young again.”

Okay so he is losing all grip on reality, but isn’t that what actors do? They make the role their own and transcend the script.

This book won the Booker Prize in 1978. This is the first Iris Murdoch I’ve read and I’ve got to say how impressed I am by her writing style and ability. I can’t believe I’ve never read her before. She wrote twenty-five works of fiction until 1995 when she began to experience the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease which she at first attributed to writer’s block. There is something so sad about a woman who thinks her writing ability has simply shut down only to learn that her body is failing her. She had more stories to tell us, but unfortunately they became locked up in the corridors of her mind with doors without knobs and crooked, meandering hallways.

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Iris Murdoch

When we first meet Charles he seems like a man that we would love to know, a favorite uncle or a friend to grab a beer with occasionally. As we get to know him better his selfishness, his egotism, his dramatic persona turns him into a person that I would avoid as if he were sporting bubonic plague. Murdoch brings us along, masterfully, through the dementia of Charles’s growing obsession with possessing something that frankly no longer exists. By the end he has proved to be as chimeric as the youthful Hartley. ”Last night someone on a BBC quiz did not know who I was.”

Jim Fonseca

This book earned the author the Booker Prize in 1978. It’s a powerful book. I had seen it forever at library sales and for years I thought I should read it. Finally, I did, and I wish I had read it earlier. I’m giving it a rating of 5 and adding it to my favorites.


The main character is a recently retired actor/playwright/theater director. He was a so-so actor, a better playwright, but a masterful director. In the last endeavor he achieved his fame and made his money. The main character is an ego


The main character is a recently retired actor/playwright/theater director. He was a so-so actor, a better playwright, but a masterful director. In the last endeavor he achieved his fame and made his money. The main character is an egotist. The press has called him a tyrant and power-crazed monster. He’s a misogynist who has used and abused women all his life. A good friend, a male, tells him “the trouble with you, Charles, is that basically you despise women.”

Now he has left the London scene to live by himself at a beach house in a tiny town, the first house he ever owned. Whatever will he DO there? All his friends ask him: How is someone like him, so used to the chaotic social scene of London’s theater world, seriously going to live in isolation in a small village?


He spends his time writing a memoir that is a kind of diary and autobiography mixed in with copies of letters he sent or received; basically that is this book. Of course, we can’t trust his writing; even he tells us his letters are “partly disingenuous, partly sincere.”

He discovers miraculously, that his first-time love lives in the tiny village. He feels that he has fallen in love with her again; or, that he never stopped loving her. Without giving away much plot, I can say that basically he “kidnaps” her away from her husband and tries to berate her into loving him again. She’s married in what he comes to consider an abusive relationship. Well, maybe, maybe not. Married relationships become a major theme of the book:

In a bad marriage, can you really “…live on half dead and even have pleasures in your life.”

On spousal abuse: “She felt herself guilty of his sins against her…”

“Of course a marriage can look terrible, but be perfectly all right.”

To which we can all add, there are also, perfect, ideal marriages that everyone talks about, praises and seek to emulate. Until they break up.

A moral question: can we say that a child’s death can ‘strengthen’ a troubled marriage, if the child, now an adult, was the cause of most of the trouble?

“They’ve got their own way of hating each other and hurting each other, they enjoy it.”

There’s a lot of melodrama. Of course these are theater folks. Many of the women he abused throughout his life, wooing them and then abandoning them, still seem to be willing to move back in with him, now that he is alone. I wonder if a male author could get away with this scenario as well as this female author has. They seem to still hate him, despite their willingness to come back to him. All his old loves (he never married) come back to haunt him with dramatic, unannounced entrances (he has no phone). They come dragging their chains like the ghosts of Christmas past. They appear at his door at the most inopportune times, creating a theater-like farce. (‘Enter stage left.’)

At times the women talk and act more like they are mentally ill than in love. One woman breaks into his house and smashes mirrors and vases. One smashes another woman’s purse. One enters the dining room while he is dining with a friend and spits on the floor. Another ambushes a car full of people he is traveling with, smashing all the windows with rocks. He tells us “I had witnessed hysterical screaming before, but nothing like this.”

We have some surprising plot twists. There’s an accidental death, an attempted murder, and a death where it appears that the person ‘willed it.’

Passages I liked:

“Guilt feelings so often arise from accusations rather than from crimes.”

“We were poorish and lonely and awkward together.” (Of his parents during his childhood when he was theater-mad as a boy.)

On bad press: “Even if readers claim they ‘take it with a grain of salt’, they do not really. They yearn to believe, and they believe, because believing is easier than disbelieving, and anything which is written down is likely to be ‘true in a way’.”

She “…pulled the blanket up over her head as if she were a corpse covering itself.”

“The thunder made some sounds like grand pianos falling downstairs…”

“He was a brave man. I cannot pretend I ever really loved him, but I do
admire him for trying to kill me…”


This is a really good book. And it is another ‘beach house’ book by an Irish author. Consider several of William Trevor’s; Banville’s The Sea; Colm Toibin’s The Heather Blazing and Blackwater Lightship. Of course the classic beach house novel is Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse, but she is not Irish.

Murdoch can be considered an Irish author even though she grew up in and went to school in England. She was born in Ireland and both her parents were Irish.

I intend to read more by Iris Murdoch.

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