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Reading Groups

Adventure Stories: An Iris Murdoch Survey with Chantal V. Johnson

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Four Sessions Mondays, 6:00 pm EDT - 7:30 pm EDT June 26 to September 11, 2023

The Center for Fiction

The ‘With Books’ option includes all titles required for this group at a 10% discount from our Bookstore.

Meeting Dates:
6/26, 7/17, 8/14, 9/11
In Person at The Center for Fiction

Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) was an utterly protean figure: both an Oxford philosopher and a prolific novelist; a serious thinker invested in the zany and madcap possibilities of the comic novel; an imposing moralist known for her passionate extramarital romances, and so much more.

Murdoch always maintained that the best fiction was “adventure stories,” and so, in this celebratory survey, we will examine four of her most important novels through the lens of “adventure.” We will start with the philosophical comedy Under the Net (1954), which stages a picaresque adventure through mid-century London. Next, we will study The Bell (1958), a quiet novel of spiritual adventure, communal living, and the sublime. Moving ahead a couple of decades, we will discuss Iris’s formal masterpiece, The Black Prince (1973), a book that posits love as the greatest adventure of all. Finally, we will look at the first-person retrospective novel The Sea, the Sea (1978), an adventure of memory and fantasy (and the Murdoch novel everyone tells you to read). We will also touch on Iris’s writing on literature, as well as excerpts from Peter J. Conradi’s excellent biography, Iris Murdoch: A Life.

We will talk about so much in this class: women writing as men, sneaking philosophy and politics into a novel, Iris’s concept of “unselfing,” visual art and music, queerness, desire circuits, Shakespeare and, of course, dogs (so many dogs). Above all, I hope to share the joy of experiencing Iris’s staggering but ever-playful mind and to facilitate a dynamic encounter with a real reader’s writer.

  • Session I: Under the Net
  • Session II: The Bell
  • Session III: The Black Prince
  • Session IV: The Sea, the Sea

Before the first session, participants should have read Under the Net.


Led by

  • CVJauthorphoto

    Chantal V. Johnson

    Chantal V. Johnson

    Chantal V. Johnson is a lawyer and writer who does not have an MFA. Her debut novel, Post-Traumatic, was longlisted for The Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and named a Best Debut Novel of 2022 by Debutiful. Chantal graduated from Stanford Law School and worked as a tenant lawyer for over seven years. She lives in New York.