03 February 2008

Iris Murdoch. The Flight from the Enchanter, 1956.

Iris Murdoch. THE FLIGHT FROM THE ENCHANTER. Chatto & Windus, London, 1956.

Current Selling Prices
$450-$1000 /£220-£500

The entire text of this book can be found at Google Books, but the blurb (on the inside flap of the Edward Bawden jacket) is not there so I have laboriously typed it out as it sets the book in the time when it first appeared. Perhaps there should be a site that archives blurbs--as they are found almost exclusively on jackets they are not offered to the swarms of scanners beavering away for Google Books. It reads thus:-
Miss Murdoch follows up her extremely successful first novel, Under the Net, with one which is no less captivating. Here again is a large and lively group of characters: the ravishing, absurd young Annette who, after swinging on a chandelier, runs away from her finishing school to enter the School of Life, and learns a good deal more than she bargained for: the fierce and melancholy Rosa, the mistress of two Polish brothers: her brother, editor of a down-at-heel magazine: the scholar, Peter Saward, obsessed by an indecipherable ancient script: Rainborough, a civil servant, struggling in the toils of his determined secretary. Their lives revolve around the mysterious figure of Mischa Fox, a man who is not famous for anything in particular, just famous. Each of them has some person, idea, illusion or object by which he is possessed: each tries to break the spell, to flee the enchanter. The story moves through a series of episodes which are vivid and paradoxical as dreams. There are scenes of broad comedy- the meeting of the shareholders of Artemis is outrageously funny; scenes where comedy balances on the edge of tragedy; scenes where the normal suddenly deviates into the sinister, the beautiful into the grotesque. The Flight from the Enchanter establishes Miss Murdoch as a novelist of imagination, intelligence and vitality.
I have a feeling that in the future they will do some of her novels on T.V. as period pieces, like Mrs. Gaskell, but set in the existential 1950s with black polo necks de rigueur. On a fashion note Iris's memorable pudding bowl haircut was a 1950s thing popular among British female intellectuals (Doris Lessing had one) - the style was transmogrified into the more overtly sexual in the 1970s with Joanna Lumley as Purdy with her blonde pudding bowl haircut in the New Avengers. It is hard to put her novels into a particular genre, she is close to the 'novel of ideas' and puts herself widely in the realistic tradition of the Anglo-Russian novel.

VALUE? Most of Iris's output is very common and about 20 of her novels from 'A Severed Head' onwards can be bought for £10 and even £5 each fine/fine with her Booker winner 'The Sea, The Sea' as the exception at £50. The books were published in large print runs and there are simply too many about. However some of her plays, poetry and polemical works and signed limited editions can get into 3 figures. She is sometimes pushed as an Irish writer and 5 years ago several chancers had fanciful prices on common works but they very seldom sell for fat sums, in fact there has been a discernible flattening of her prices. She may well come back, especially her first 3 novels.

'Flight from the Enchanter' can be bought at between £300 and £500 in sharp condition, if you have a spare £8500 you can buy the copy that Iris gave to her husband, John Bayley, in 1956. The inscription ( 'John from Iris') is contained within a rough heart-shaped design and also says "to the big C from the little c". John Bailey wrote movingly of her in 'Elegy for Iris',(1998) 'She wanted, through her novels, to reach all possible readers, in different ways and by different means: by the excitement of her story, its pace and its comedy, through its ideas and its philosophical implications, through the numinous atmosphere of her own original and created world- the world she must have glimpsed as she considered and planned her first steps in the art of fiction.'

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