When we think of Iris Murdoch’s relationship with other art forms, the visual arts come most readily to mind. Murdoch’s imagery, when describing an atmosphere or a setting, is also very often richly visual. However, music and other sounds can also be very important.
From the beginning, Murdoch orchestrates her sound-worlds as much with ambient noise, birdsong and human sounds overheard, as with actual music ― and silence is often important, not just as absence of sound but as an almost palpable quality in itself: her silences come in different qualities, moods and textures. The attributes of silence are necessarily perceived, consciously or unconsciously, by a listener or hearer, like the experience of listening to or hearing music and other sounds. In Murdoch’s novels, when sounds or silences are described, it is rarely just a matter of scene-setting ― it almost always provides insight into the state of mind of the character who is experiencing it.
I want here to look at some of the ways Murdoch uses silence both as a phenomenon and an idea in her novels ― in particular, The Sacred and Profane Love Machine and Under the Net.
- Iris Murdoch