Read The Philosopher's Pupil Online

Authors: Iris Murdoch

Tags: #Fiction, #Literary, #Biography & Autobiography, #Philosophers

The Philosopher's Pupil

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Iris Murdoch

To Arnaldo Momigliano


An Accident

A few minutes before his brainstorm, or whatever it was, took place, George McCaffrey was having a quarrel with his wife. It was eleven o'clock on a rainy March evening. They had been visiting George's mother. Now George was driving along the quayside, taking the short-cut along the canal past the iron foot-bridge. It was raining hard. The malignant rain rattled on the car like shot. Propelled in oblique flurries, it assaulted the windscreen, obliterating in a second the frenetic strivings of the windscreen wipers. Little demonic faces composed of racing raindrops appeared and vanished. The intermittent yellow light of the street lamps, illuminating the grey atoms of the storm, fractured in sudden stars upon the rain-swarmed glass. Bumping on cobbles the car hummed and drummed.

Stella was usually silent when George had one of his rages. On this occasion she spoke up.

‘George, let me drive.'


‘Let me drive.'

‘I said no!'

‘Don't drive so fast.'

‘Don't touch me, damn you, leave me alone!'

‘I am leaving you alone.'

‘You never do, never, never.'

‘Change gear, you're straining the engine.'

‘It's my car, I can do what I bloody like with it.'

‘Don't drive so fast, you can't see.'

‘I can see with my own eyes. You can't see with my eyes, can you? So shut up.'

‘You're drunk.'

‘Fancy that!'

‘You make your mother drink too much.'

‘Why come then? You like to see us degrade each other, is that it?'

‘She shouldn't drink so.'

‘I hope she dies of it, the fiend. Oh if only she could get on with dying!'

‘She sets you off, she always does.'

set me off. She hates you.'

‘All right, I know.'

‘You seem quite pleased.'


‘You're jealous of her.'


‘You think you're better than all of us.'

‘Only in some respects.'

‘Only in some respects! Oh

‘I'm only answering your idiotic remarks. I wish you'd be quiet and drive better.'

‘You needle me all the time with your beastly calm superiority, nothing touches you, nothing, you never cry like a real woman.'

‘Maybe I don't cry when you're around.'

‘You don't cry. You can't. Tears are human. When you're alone you sit with a little self-satisfied smile, like a Buddha.'

‘Let's not talk. I'm sorry —!'

‘Oh, you
me so —!'

‘You torment yourself

‘People detest you, do you know that?'


‘All right, they detest me too.'

‘I should say you were rather popular.'

‘Because they don't know what I'm like.'

‘Because they do. Everybody loves a black sheep.'

‘Black sheep! What a banality!'

‘Do you want me to call you something worse?'

‘They don't bloody know what you're like. They think you're a prig. They don't know you're a devil.'

‘Oh do be quiet.'

‘I can't stand your physical proximity.'

‘Stop the car then and I'll get out.'

‘Oh no you don't, you stay here. I won't let you get out!'

‘Oh how it rains!'

‘You provoke me so that you can blame me. I know your tricks. You go on and on about how I lost my job, you keep bringing it up.'

‘You bring it up.'

‘You say you're sorry, but you think that I'm a rotten contemptible failure.'

‘That's what you think, not what I think.'

‘I could kill you for saying that.'

‘You only care about losing face, not about the harm that you do, not about things that matter.'

‘Such as you.'

‘Such as being kind to me.'

‘Are you kind to me?'

‘I try to be. I love you.'

‘That's the most cruel thing of all, to keep saying that when it isn't true, when I need real love not your bloody power mania, that's your excuse, you think if you just say that it lets you off and you can do anything you like to me. Christ, you even destroy the bloody language, you stand beside me with your pretended love like a nurse waiting for the patient to collapse. You think one day I'd fall helplessly into your arms, but I never will, never never never. I'll kill myself first, or you, you make an absolute nonsense of my life. If I'm mad you made me so — '

‘You're not mad.'

‘You said I ought to have electric shocks.'

‘I didn't.'

‘You lie.'

‘I said someone else said so.'


‘Oh never mind.'


‘The doctor.'

‘Oh, so you've been seeing the doctor about me!'

‘No, I just met him at Brian's.'

‘You said, my husband has gone mad and I want him locked up.'

‘Do stop this farce.'

‘Farce, that's what you reduce me to. I'm your puppet, you reduce me to a gibbering puppet and put me in your pocket. You're so hard, so cold, no gentleness, no tenderness, no repose. If I'd married a sweet kind woman I'd be a different man. Oh it's all so
Why don't you go away?'

‘I don't want to.'

‘Someone might blame
for once! You hate me, don't you? You are hating me, you are
me, in this very minute. Why don't you admit it?'

‘I won't say so.'

‘You mean it's true, only you won't say it, so why do you speak of love, you foul hypocrite?'

‘I didn't say that. I said something different.'

‘I didn't say that, I said something different! Are you crazy?'

‘I might say I hated you but it wouldn't be true. I guard my tongue.'

‘You guard your tongue! Our life together is a madhouse. Why did you ever marry me? Everyone was amazed. Your father was stunned. Well, why did you —?'

‘Oh - it doesn't matter.'

‘It doesn't matter. You always say that. You'll say it when I'm dying. You're a leech, a flea, a blood-sucking parasite. You're quietly pouring all my blood into your body. You'll suck me white and dry and prop me up in a corner and say to people, “There's my husband, poor George!”'

‘You don't believe any of this, why do you say it?'

‘I do believe it. You imagine that however much I shout I really need you, and as soon as I stop you think it's all right between us.'


‘It's a lie, your lie, your illusion. God, if I could only cram it down your throat and put an end to you. Do you think I could talk like this if I didn't hate you in the deepest part of my soul?'

‘Yes. You don't hate me.'

‘You've been sent by the devil to torment me. Why don't you go away before I kill you? Can't you be unselfish enough not to get yourself murdered? But oh no, you won't go away, you'll never go away, you want people to admire you and say “There's long-suffering Stella, the virtuous wife!”'

‘Don't drive like that, you're hurting the car.'

‘You're sorry for the car, what about me?'

‘I wish I could help you.'

‘You'd better help yourself. You'll be sorry — '

‘You know perfectly well that I love you and care about you.'

‘What a way to put it, what a tone to use. You ought to take some lessons in being a woman.'

‘How can I put it when you're like this?'

‘Haven't you any feelings?'

‘Not at the moment. I've switched off my feelings. If I had feelings now I'd be screaming.'

‘Scream away, I'd like to hear you scream.'

‘One scream is enough.'

‘Why don't you say that you hate me?'

‘If I say I hate you it's the end, there's no more sense in the world, it's all darkness — '

‘If you said it you'd make it true? Then it must already be true — '

‘No, no — '

‘Roll on darkness. It's covered me already. God, how you torture my nerves.'

‘Well, don't say so, why can't you be silent. Keep all this filth inside yourself. Other people manage to, why can't you?'

‘Yes, you keep your filth inside, but it stinks all right, it rots and it stinks. You're sour and foul and rotten all through.'

‘Oh shut up, damn you!'

‘What did you say?'

‘It doesn't matter.'

What did you say?

‘You're crazy. You're crazy with fear because that man is coming.'


‘You're crazy with fear because Rozanov is coming.'

- you — '

George struck sideways at her, catching her cheekbone with the back of his hand.

‘George - stop - stop the car -
stop —

‘Hell, hell,

George wrenched at the wheel, turning the car violently round in the direction of the canal. He dragged at the wheel as if it were some evil plant which he was striving to haul up by the roots. The car swerved, lurching and sliding on the uneven stones, and the lights of the nearest lamp post crackled across the windscreen in a starry trail as the rain struck with a difference and jumped about as if the car were shaking itself like a dog. George felt that in another moment he would suffocate; all his blood seemed to have rushed up into his head and to be bursting out there into a blazing bleeding wet red flower. He thought, I'm having a heart attack or something, I must get out into the air or I'll die. Gasping for breath, he fumbled the door open and half fell out, slithering on the cobbles and stumbling against the wet slippery side of the car. The rain drenched his burning face. He saw the dark surface of the canal close below him, covered with tiny mobile rings like grey coins. He saw the high elliptical curve of the iron foot-bridge beyond. The car, its wheels almost at the edge of the quay, was moving away from him in automatic drive. He must have braked instinctively as he swung it round. He cried aloud in a furious despairing wail. Why hadn't it gone away into the water as he had intended it to, why was it all still to do? Let everything pass from him into destruction. His hands were sliding along the wet metal. A vast feeling like sex, like a
sense of duty,
took possession of his body, a thrill of frantic haste and pure absolute fear. Hurry, hurry, hurry, must, must, must. He fell against the back of the car, bracing his feet against the rough stones of the quay and trying to push with open palms upon the back window. He felt the rainy muddy glass and raised his mad enraged face up like a howling dog. He heard screams, his own and another's. At the same moment he looked towards the iron bridge and saw that there was a figure on it, a tall figure in a long black coat. It's the devil, thought George, the devil come at last to —

Then he fell headlong on the stones. Nothing was there, no car, no figure, nothing. He lay with his face in a pool of water. He had heard a great sound, a great hollow explosion like something bursting inside his brain. He lifted up his head.

He lifted up his head. He was in his bed in his room at home, and the daylight was showing through the curtains, present in an insubstantial pattern of yellow flowers. So, he thought, it was only a dream! I dreamt I'd killed Stella. Not for the first time either, by God! And the devil was in the dream too. He was crossing the bridge. I always connect him with water. And Stella was drowned, I drowned her. George often dreamed this, only usually he drowned Stella in a bath, holding her head down below the water and wondering how much longer he needed to do it to be quite sure that she was dead.

He peered at his watch in the dim light. It was seven-thirty. Then he remembered that he had lost his job. In a fit of rage he had destroyed the Museum's small but very precious collection of Roman glass. Only one little bluey-greeny beaker had survived George's fury, bouncing in a miraculous manner upon the tiled floor. George pictured the timidly anguished face of the director as, looking ready to weep, he carefully picked up the survivor. Spite against George followed; things always ended in spite against George. Perhaps he ought to appeal. No one got sacked nowadays. Oh to hell with them, he thought. Then he thought, why am I such a
bloody fool,
I do such damn stupid things, it's all my own fault, God I am unlucky. He wondered if he should reflect about whether to try to get that job back or whether to get another job and if so what and how, and decided not to reflect.

A stab of pain, a different one, alerted George's drowsy mind to another matter and he sat up abruptly in bed. John Robert Rozanov. George now pictured John Robert's face, a huge spongy moist fleshy face, with a big pitted hooked nose and an avid sensual mouth always partly open. He saw John Robert's red wet lips and his terrible clever cruel blood-shot eyes. At the same time George became fully aware of the frightful headache which had been plaguing him ever since he became conscious. His face felt bruised too. He must have been foully drunk last night. He tried to remember last night but could not. John Robert was coming back. Oh God, oh

George decided that what he needed now was milk, a nice long drink of creamy cold milk from the fridge. Slowly and gingerly, holding his head with one hand, he pulled back the bedclothes and moved his legs to dangle over the edge of the bed. He put his feet carefully on the floor. A kind of cramp seemed to be curling them into balls, and they refused to uncurl into flat surfaces which could be stood upon; it was like trying to stand on two fists. He managed to stand awkwardly, holding on to the bedpost, then hobbled to the window and drew back the curtains. The sun was shining upon George's small garden and upon a poplar tree which Stella had planted when … Lord, how full of pain the world was. The tree was tall now, its young buds glowing. The sun also shone upon George's little triangular green view of the Common, and upon the intrusive curious malignant windows of other houses. George turned away. He stumbled over something.

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