header logo
The Black Prince

The Black Prince Summary


Here you will find a The Black Prince summary (Iris Murdoch's book).
We begin with a summary of the entire book, and then you can read each individual chapter's summary by visiting the links on the "Chapters" section.

P.S.: As an Amazon Associate, we earn money from purchases made through links in this page. But the summaries are totally free!

Last Updated: Monday 1 Jan, 2024

The Black Prince Summary Overview

Bradley Pearson, a middle-aged author with a meager portfolio of three novels, leaves his dull job as a tax inspector with dreams of creating a masterpiece, only to confront a dreaded writer's block. Hoping to break free, he plans a quiet summer retreat at a coastal cottage for a fresh bout of inspiration. However, he gets embroiled in a chain of unforeseen events. He learns about the return of his ex-wife, Christian, to London when her brother Francis drops by. A marital dispute between his friends, Arnold and Rachel Baffin, drags him into chaos. After an accidental injury, Rachel is mistakenly presumed dead by Arnold, but she survives. Meanwhile, Julian, the Baffin's daughter, expresses a wish to learn writing from Bradley. Amidst this confusion, Bradley's sister Priscilla leaves her husband and attempts suicide, only to be saved and taken care of by Francis. The drama intensifies when Priscilla's husband's affair with a young woman comes to light, and she moves in with Christian and Francis. Arnold begins to contemplate an affair with Christian, and Rachel shows interest in Bradley, although their attempt at intimacy fails. Bradley, who was constantly badgered by Julian to guide her about Hamlet, falls irrevocably in love with her during a tutorial. Despite the age difference, Julian reciprocates his feelings and they escape to Bradley's rented cottage, despite her parents' disapproval. During their time together, tragedy strikes when Bradley learns about Priscilla's suicide. In order to preserve their happiness, he hides this news from Julian. Their relationship turns uncomfortable when Bradley forcibly makes love to Julian, leading her to distance herself. When Bradley returns to London for Priscilla's funeral, he finds Julian missing and blames Arnold for her disappearance. Rachel reveals to Bradley that Julian left him willingly after learning about his unsuccessful intimate encounter with Rachel. An infuriated Bradley discloses Arnold's love for Christian to Rachel. He is later accused of Arnold's murder due to a misunderstanding and is convicted. While in prison, he writes his novel, but tragically, shortly after its completion, he succumbs to an aggressive cancer.

part 1

Bradley is about to leave for his holiday when he is interrupted by Francis Marloe, his ex-wife Christian's disheveled brother. Francis tells Bradley of Christian's return to London, hoping Bradley will help him financially by speaking to her. Francis's visit leaves Bradley unsettled. Suddenly, Arnold Baffin, a successful writer and Bradley's protege, calls asking for his help. He fears he has killed his wife. Bradley agrees to help, reluctantly taking Francis along. After leaving Arnold's, Bradley encounters Arnold's daughter, Julian, who requests his guidance in becoming a writer. Bradley, occupied with his own plans, promises to send her a reading list. The following day, Bradley writes various letters, including a dismissive one to Francis, a book list for Julian, and a curt note to his ex-wife. However, he only sends Francis's letter, contemplating on the others. The arrival of his estranged sister, Priscilla, throws Bradley further off balance. Priscilla announces she has left her husband, Roger, and is in emotional turmoil, eventually attempting suicide by overdosing on sleeping pills. An ambulance is called amidst the chaos, with Arnold, Rachel, Julian, and Francis present. Julian finds the letters Bradley wrote earlier, and he gifts her a small sculpture. After the ambulance leaves with Priscilla, Bradley discovers that Christian had arrived and Arnold took her to a pub. Julian is depicted as naive and whimsical, shown when she tries to rid herself of her ex-boyfriend by throwing white petals, which are torn love letters. She also expresses a desire to write, asking Bradley for book recommendations. However, her lack of knowledge about classic poets shows her innocence. Julian's androgynous qualities are subtly hinted, foreshadowing future events in the novel. Bradley considers how he uses irony to convey truth. He's unhappy about his friends Arnold and Christian meeting, fearing they might grow closer. His sister Priscilla, recently discharged from the hospital, remains hysterical over her perceived ruined life and decaying body. In spite of his disgust, Bradley tries to comfort her. Arnold reassures Bradley about conversing with Christian, which leads Bradley to decide to pay Christian a visit. He discovers she has expanded their old apartment and has aged well. During their conversation, Christian mentions her American adventures and her contentment with life. Despite this, Bradley maintains a cold demeanor and leaves abruptly after delivering a curt message to her. After an unexpected encounter with Francis Marloe, Bradley retrieves Priscilla’s belongings from her estranged husband, Roger. Roger reveals that Priscilla had lied about being pregnant, leading him to marry her. Roger now has a pregnant mistress and no intention of reconciling with Priscilla. Bradley later engages in a late-night drinking session with Francis, following which he receives a heartfelt letter from Rachel, expressing her desire to deepen their relationship. Meanwhile, Bradley is invited to a party and Priscilla returns to him, still upset about her life and the loss of a statue Bradley gave away. After Rachel retrieves the statue, Priscilla angrily smashes it. Julian, Rachel's daughter, requests Bradley to tutor her on Hamlet, to which he reluctantly agrees. Bradley, driven by jealousy, sends Arnold a scathing review of his book. He then travels to Rachel's house where they attempt to make love, but Bradley experiences impotence. Their intimate encounter is interrupted by Arnold's unexpected arrival, and a panicked Bradley escapes unnoticed. Later, Bradley buys Julian a pair of purple boots to secure her silence about his close encounter with Rachel. He’s inexplicably attracted to Julian, which he realizes was missing in his interaction with Rachel. Returning home, Bradley finds Christian at his house. She refutes rumors about her alleged affair with Arnold and hints at Bradley’s interest in Rachel. Arnold arrives and expresses his hurt over Bradley's harsh review of his book. In a subsequent meeting with Rachel, they agree to maintain their friendship without jeopardizing her marriage with Arnold. Bradley contemplates leaving for the country but decides otherwise when Julian arrives for her Hamlet tutorial. The session ends on a warm note, and Bradley, sensing a strong connection with Julian, decides not to leave London.

part 2

Following a Hamlet tutorial, Bradley is consumed by his love for Julian. He spends a morning reminiscing her presence and vowing to keep his love secret, a gesture that he believes will keep it pure. He accepts a lunch invitation from a friend, Hartbourne, but is interrupted by Rachel who is in search of Julian's forgotten book. To keep the book for himself, he convinces Rachel to accompany him on errands. Despite Rachel's plea for him to acknowledge her feelings, Bradley is lost in thoughts of Julian. After Rachel leaves him at the pub, he and Hartbourne enjoy a lunch, after which Bradley purchases all of Arnold’s books and encounters Priscilla’s husband, Roger, who wishes to divorce Priscilla. Despite his own joy, Bradley delivers the harsh news to Priscilla, triggering her emotional breakdown. He also encounters Christian, who hopes to rekindle their love, and Arnold, who is unhappy to see them together. Feeling content, Bradley purchases gifts for Julian and later invites her to dinner. However, he soon finds his love for Julian unbearable and becomes isolated, only breaking his solitude to confess to Francis about his feelings. Francis is supportive, but Bradley rues his confession. Bradley then receives a letter from Arnold confessing his love for Christian. Bradley and Julian attend an opera, where Bradley is overwhelmed by the parallels between the opera's plot and his own emotions and ends up confessing his love for Julian. Julian reciprocates, and they agree to meet the following day. Despite the potential backlash, Julian confesses their love to her parents. The news infuriates Arnold and Rachel, who confront Bradley and threaten legal actions. Bradley remains unyielding and later attempts to see Julian, but Arnold informs him Julian was merely flattered by his love. Bradley spends the night tormented by thoughts of Julian’s potential confinement. The next day, Julian escapes her confinement and reunites with him. Bradley plans for them to hide at a rented cabin. Upon returning home to collect belongings, he finds Priscilla, post-electroshock therapy, and leaves her with Francis. As he departs, he encounters Christian, who shields him from Arnold's sight, before heading back to Julian.

part 3

Part three begins with Julian and Bradley heading towards a seaside cottage named Patara. Julian has bought new clothes and food for their journey. Bradley is happy but can't stop wondering about the end of their happiness and the possibility of them making love. Julian talks about marriage and living with Priscilla, which Bradley dismisses as idealistic. In response, Julian jumps out of the vehicle to prove her love for him. Despite minor injuries, they continue their journey and reach the cottage. Julian falls asleep without visiting the ocean. Bradley finds himself again questioning the future of their relationship. In the morning, they enjoy a picnic by the sea with Julian collecting driftwood and a sheep skull. They spend the day sightseeing and swimming. Despite a pleasant day, Bradley can't stop thinking about intimacy with Julian. They sleep together but due to Bradley's age and high expectations, he fails to perform sexually. A telegram from Francis Marloe interrupts their escapade. Francis informs Bradley about Priscilla's suicide. Bradley decides not to tell Julian about this tragic news and informs Francis that he'll come home soon. On returning to the cottage, Bradley finds Julian dressed as Hamlet holding the sheep's head. Overwhelmed by sexual desire, Bradley breaks the skull while attempting to undress Julian. After their sexual encounter, Julian seems distant, noting that the nature of their love has changed. She falls asleep in his arms. Late into the night, Arnold arrives with news of Priscilla's death. He insists on taking Julian home and corrects her misconception about Bradley's age. Despite the shocking news, Julian decides to stay but promises to return to Arnold's house the next day. Bradley attends Priscilla's funeral with Christian and Francis. He speculates about Julian's whereabouts, fearing that Arnold has hidden her. Bradley spends days in grief and refuses Christian's offer to travel to Europe. He writes a threatening note to Arnold regarding Julian's disappearance. Rachel visits Bradley and reveals that Julian discovered Bradley's recent sexual encounter with her. This revelation angers Bradley, leading him to reveal Arnold's secret love for Christian. A furious Rachel leaves his house. He and Francis end up destroying Arnold's collected works delivered by the postman. Bradley receives a letter from Julian, stating she is with her father in France and will be moving to an Italian village. Julian's casual tone and reassurances confuse Bradley. He interprets her letter as a secret message and decides to follow her to Venice. Suddenly, Rachel calls Bradley to her house where he finds Arnold dead. In an attempt to protect Rachel, Bradley hides evidence and calls the police. The authorities, however, accuse him of the crime.


Bradley Pearson's Epilogue Bradley Pearson is convicted of killing Arnold Baffin due to jealousy. His fingerprints were discovered on the murder weapon, and he didn't claim that Rachel was the actual culprit. He's seen as a cold and manipulative person and is sentenced to prison. Despite not being guilty, Bradley admits he acted wrongly prior to Arnold's death, including his mistreatment of Rachel and Priscilla. However, he feels his love for Julian has caused him to change. Even in prison, he's content, comparing it to a monastery and believing his ability to write is akin to a spiritual experience. His only sorrow is his deceased sister, Priscilla, and Julian's continued absence. Christian's Epilogue Christian believes Bradley portrayed her dishonestly in his book, particularly regarding her romantic feelings for him. She claims Bradley desired her and has been bitter since their dreary marriage ended. Now, she's married to his friend, Hartbourne, and runs a popular salon in London. She pities Bradley but thinks he grossly overstates her flaws. Francis's Epilogue Identifying himself as a psychoanalyst, Francis believes Bradley is a sexually repressed individual with intense Oedipal issues. He interprets Bradley's tale through a Freudian lens, seeing sexual symbolism throughout. Francis is planning a book about Bradley's psychology. Rachel's Epilogue Rachel, the widow of the alleged murder victim, shows no compassion for Bradley. She believes his book is full of lies, and she contradicts his depiction of their relationship. She and her daughter viewed him as an inept older writer and a harmless family friend, not as a lover. Julian's Epilogue Julian is now married to her ex-boyfriend and lives in Europe as a published poet. She's been estranged from her mother for years. After her father's death she was too grief-stricken to remember much, but she recalls being attracted to the man Bradley portrayed himself as. She disagrees with Bradley's belief that art originates from passion.

Enjoying this summary?
Buy the book! (it's better)

People who recommended The Black Prince

Lists that recommended The Black Prince