Iris Murdoch Hyde Park Walk

Novels by Iris Murdoch referred to:

  • Nuns and Soldiers (1980)
  • A Word Child (1975)
  • The Green Knight (1993)
  • An Accidental Man (1971)
  • The Nice and the Good (1968)
  • The Sea The Sea (1978)

Take a tube or bus to Marble Arch, and walk over to Speaker's Corner, where Tim Reede (in Nuns and Soldiershad his near mystical experience.

Tim had transcended his “old self”, having left Daisy his partner-in- egotistical-mediocrity, and having experienced and lost true love, and then lost Art too as a deifying force.

Readers will remember that he walked London in a totally surrendered state, nothing but “a tiny scrap of being,” empty and invisible in “a condition of pure freedom,” sitting “quietly on benches in Regent’s Park, in Hyde Park, in Kensington Gardens.”

One day, he walks from Speakers’ Corner under the trees, feeling attentive and still as if existing within a pearly white light.

Following his path, we look at the huge quiet plane trees, “with their immense friendly peeling trunks and the vast dangling swing of their downward reaching branches covered with feathery leaves.”

In the distance you can see the line of the lake and the Serpentine bridge. If it happens to be early autumn, notice the grass “dry and warm and bleached to a faded gold … soft and springy” under foot.

Tim fell to the ground feeling something “wrench” inside him, after which waves of pure thoughtless happiness flowed through his prone body.

That may not happen to us (!), but we can nevertheless appreciate with Tim the “dazzling beauty” of the trees as we walk southward across the park toward Rotten Row.

Here we see riders like Lady Kitty who with her maid appeared out of the early morning winter fog on horseback for her first meeting with Hilary Burde (A Word Child).

This was no mystical experience for Hilary; in fact he refused to speak with her, saying “I will talk to one woman but I will not talk to two women and two horses.” However, by their second morning meeting in the park the two were falling in love.

We follow the route they walked then, along the south side of the lake and over the bridge. We loop around the Bayswater end of the water; walking east (toward Bayswater Tube Station) we can see Watt’s Bronze Horseman and Speke’s Obelisk. Then we head south again toward the statue of Peter Pan.

(Note: We are heading in the opposite direction of Anax the dog, whose path through the park we follow in Anax's Journey (re. The Green Knight). There are dogs about but not many running alone, so we have to imagine Anax, desperate to find his dog-version of the divine bliss which struck down the fortunate Tim not far away.)

iris murdoch and the delusion of peter pan

Biographers have often noted Iris Murdoch’s fascination with both the statue and the character of Peter Pan, who in the voice of Arthur Fisch (A Word Child) she called “a crazy sprite,” and “spirit gone wrong, just turning up as an unnerving visitor who can’t really help (Wendy in her search for Truth) and can’t get in either.”

Peter Pan’s creator James M. Barrie had the statue showing a perky, supercilious, provocative child-sprite placed in Kensington Gardens late one night in 1912. Here in the park the fairies lived, and beings partly of the “other” world. Iris Murdoch, like Barrie, apparently felt the park to be a transformative land of (not totally wholesome) enchantment stretching across the middle of London.

Here beside Peter Pan, portly Matthew Gibson Grey (The Accidental Man) sat out of breath after running to escape (unsuccessfully) the attentions of Gracie Tisbourne. Gazing at Peter Pan, he reflected that “there were no more gods, but all the minor magic remained, beautiful, terrible, cruel and small.” (p. 108)

Iris Murdoch connected Peter Pan to the bad angels or demon-figures created by the self-deluding “dreaming ego”, and opposing the ego-transcendence of true spiritual discipline.

The magic of Merlin - the magic which Shakespeare abjured, with Prospero – Murdoch says also partook of false spiritual trickery, and she theorizes in the voice of Mary Clothier in The Nice and the Good (p. 102) that Shakespeare’s aversion to it was the reason why he never wrote a tragedy about King Arthur.

the round pond

Now we walk towards what for Iris Murdoch was the spiritual, as opposed to magical, zone of the park: the Round Pond.

Obviously this place too she often visited, where “excited dogs with sensitive spotted noses gamboled … (and) large and small beasts raced and circled in an ecstasy of motion, stopping abruptly to perform those intimate free-masonical ceremonies whereby … all somehow recognize each other as dogs.”   

And here are “Canadian geese driving in convoy, groaning softly with excitement as they approached some bread-bestowing child,” and “the beautiful feet of coots (seen) through green transparent water.” (A Word Child p. 178). The Round Pond is “that centre of intense and innocent diversion, that perhaps mysterious and holy place, the omphalos of London.” (A Word Child, p. 177)

Notice also “the calm dark façade of Kensington Palace,” and then it will be time to have a picnic, chosen from the recipes Charles Arrowby gives us in The Sea, The Sea.

There is a certain morality of food in Iris Murdoch's stories. Generally speaking, the characters who eat simply and with simple animal appreciation are the most morally intelligent.

As Charles Arrowby puts it: “guzzling large quantities of expensive, pretentious, often mediocre food in public places was not only immoral, unhealthy and unaesthetic, but also unpleasurable.” (p. 9).

He recommends “intelligent hedonism” (or “Wind in the Willows food”) and even proclaims: “cook fast, eat slowly … and without distractions such as conversation or reading. Indeed eating is so pleasant one should even try to suppress thought.” (p. 7)

Maybe Iris wouldn’t approve of eating in Hyde Park where there is so much else to look at and think about, but for anyone who wants to linger over lunch, here is one of Charles’ simple menus:

  • Salad of onions, carrots, tomatoes, lentils, watercress, bean shoots and lettuce, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice
  • Hard water biscuits with New Zealand butter and Wensleydale cheese
  • Scones with butter and raspberry jam (better toasted, but this is a picnic)
  • Cox’s Orange Pippin apples when available, and/or apricots (“the king of fruit”), or if these are out of season, bananas and cream
  • A bottle of Muscadet

After the picnic we leave the park at Queen Anne Gate and walk down Queen’s Gate Terrace. This is where Hilary Burde dined every Thursday on pretentious haute cuisine with his comfortably-off, “nice” friends Freddie and Laura Impiatt. Notice the “rather overwhelming houses” there.

One night Hilary rushed out of the Impiatts’ house in a panic, having heard that the man he wronged grievously in the past (Lady Kitty’s husband) had reappeared in his life.

Now, choose either to follow the route Hilary rushed along - Gloucester Road, Cromwell Road, Earls Court Road, Old Brompton Road and Lillie Road to Brompton Cemetery. Or end the Hyde Park Walk by walking down to Gloucester Road or South Kensington Tube Station.

See other Iris Murdoch walks:

Iris Murdoch walks by Barbara Julian

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