Study Guide

The Black Prince Analysis

By Iris Murdoch

  • Tone

    Wry and Intellectual

    Imagine that Frasier Crane is a wannabe literary genius who may or may not have murdered his worst/best frenemy, a famous popular novelist. Now imagine that this alt-universe Frasier Crane wrote a novel and called it The Black Prince.

    Got it? Good.

    The combination of sophisticated cleverness, wry humor, and high-falutin' speech that made Frasier so famous is pretty close to the mixture of tonal elements you'll find in The Black Prince.

    Want examples? You know we've got you covered.

    Here's Bradley Pearson waxing philosophical about the nature of love:

    Love brings with it also a vision of selflessness. How right Plato was to think that, embracing a lovely boy, he was on the road to the Good. I say a vision of selflessness, because our mixed nature readily degrades the purity of any aspiration. But such insight, even intermittent, even momentary, is a privilege and can be of permanent value because of the intensity with which it visits us. Ah, even once, to will another rather than oneself! Why should we not make of this revelation a lever by which to lift the world? (2.1.12)

    And here's Iris Murdoch herself orchestrating a wry, revelatory joke at Bradley's expense:

    'He killed my mother, I think.'

    'Who did?'

    'My father. She was supposed to have died after falling downstairs. He was a very violent man. He beat me horribly.'

    'Why did I never know—Ah well—The things that happen in marriage—murdering your wife, not knowing she's Jewish—'. (1.18.18-21)

    (In case you hadn't gathered, Bradley is more than a little anti-Semitic, though he would never admit this himself.)

    And there you have it, folks: The Black Prince is a veritable smorgasbord of intellectual musings and witty, cerebral humor. If that sounds like your cup of tea, make yourself a cuppa in the British style and get ready to dive on in.

  • Genre

    Faux Autobiography; Family Drama

    The Black Prince announces itself as the personal reflections of one Bradley Pearson, who, in narrating the events of a particularly tumultuous period in his life, claims to be revealing truths that have been hidden from the public eye. In this sense, the novel is a kind of autobiography or memoir—but a fictional one, don't forget.

    The Black Prince is also a family drama—one modeled loosely on one of the most famous family dramas in all of literature: William Shakespeare's Hamlet. Although Bradley Pearson is technically an outsider to the Baffin family, he's so intimately involved with all three of the Baffins that he's practically one of them. Appearing by turns as an uncle figure, a son, a lover, a prospective husband, and even the family pet, Bradley is wholly mixed up in the Baffins' lives. No wonder so much drama ensues.

  • What's Up With the Title?

    As Francis Marloe remarks in his postscript to Bradley Pearson's narrative, The Black Prince is an "ambiguous" title (Postscript by Francis: par. 8)—one that may have multiple different meanings. Although Shmoop loves to leave some things open to interpretation, we're going to break down the title's two clearest meanings for you:

    • The title refers to the classical god Eros, whom Bradley refers to as "the black Eros" throughout his story.
    • The title refers to Prince Hamlet, who enters Shakespeare's play wearing the black clothing that much of the Western world associates with death and mourning. The fact that his outfits complement his melancholy mood doesn't hurt, either.

    Since Bradley Pearson thinks of his narrative as being fundamentally a love story—one in which his love for Julian Baffin makes him feel like "the black Eros" has stretched him on the rack and hung him out to dry—and since he also identifies himself with Hamlet throughout his story, the novel's title goes both ways.

    As an added bonus, the initials BP (as in Black Prince) are also the initials of Bradley Pearson's own name—a point that highlights both the extent to which Bradley identifies himself with Hamlet and the degree to which his world was turned upside down and inside out when he was attacked by Eros.

  • What's Up With the Ending?

    There are multiple plausible "endings" to The Black Prince, so our final parting from the story is almost as long as what Peter Jackson gives us in The Return of the King. There's the ending that comes at the conclusion of Bradley Pearson's narrative, "The Black Prince," and then there's the ending that follows when Bradley puts the final cap on his story in the postscript that follows the text. On top of all that, there's the postscript by P. Loxias, which is the section that formally closes the book.

    Shmoop is going to make things simple by treating the very end of P. Loxias's postscript as the very end of the book. After all, as Loxias himself tells us in his foreword to Bradley Pearson's story: "I have reserved for myself the last word of all, the final assessment or summing up" (Editor's Foreword: par. 3). Loxias obviously places high importance on having the last word, so we'll do him the credit of honoring his wishes.

    After all, Shmoop isn't about to anger a god, or someone who may be a god.

    So, anyway, how does P. Loxias draw The Black Prince to a close? By doing two things:

    • commenting (vaguely) on his true identity;
    • offering final remarks on the nature and value of art.

    Loxias's final paragraph gives us the final clues we need to understand that he's either the god Apollo incarnate or, depending on your point of view, a person who either believes that he's Apollo or is pretending to be Apollo for some strange reason of his own. Loxias's final words are certainly in keeping with what a god might say about one of the things associated with his name:

    Here upon the desk as I write these words stands the little bronze of the buffalo lady. (The buffalo's leg has been repaired.) Also a gilt snuff box inscribed A Friend's Gift. And Bradley Pearson's story, which I made him tell, remains too, a kind of thing more durable than these. Art is not cosy and it is not mocked. Art tells the only truth that ultimately matters. It is the light by which human things can be mended. And after art there is, let me assure you all, nothing. (Editor's Postscript: par. 11)

    Are these great and terrible words from a great and terrible godhead, or are they the self-serving delusions of a lunatic or liar?

    We'll leave that one for you to decide.

  • Setting

    London in the Mid-to-Late Twentieth Century

    The first thing you need to know about The Black Prince's setting is that it's hard to know exactly whenthe novel is set. Bradley Pearson's narrative—which he calls "The Black Prince"—is framed by forewords and postscripts that tell us clearly that the events described in his story happened "several years" ago (Bradley Pearson's Foreword: par. 1).

    When did the murder of Arnold Baffin actually happen? How long had Bradley Pearson been in prison before he wrote The Black Prince, and how long after Bradley's death did P. Loxias wait before publishing the book? Much as we'd like to, it's impossible to answer these questions for sure.

    The best we can do is hazard a guess or two. Given the things that people do and wear and say throughout Bradley Pearson's story, its safe to assume that the events described in The Black Prince happened in the late '60s or early '70s. The Black Prince was first published in 1973, but we don't need to assume that Iris Murdoch imagined the prison portion of the book as happening in the real world's present or past tense. As far as we're concerned, more than a few interpretations are fair game.

    The second thing that you need to know about The Black Prince's setting is that most of Bradley Pearson's narrative takes place in London or in the city's surrounding suburbs. Apart from Bradley and Julian's short-lived stint at a northern seaside cottage, most of the story's action occurs in town.

    Bradley Pearson himself lives in North Soho, which he describes as "a seedy region that was once genteel" (Bradley Pearson's Foreword: par. 12). By contrast, the Baffins live in Ealing—a well-to-do suburb where Arnold's financial success is on display, even if it's in a relatively modest, low-key way.

    The contrast between Bradley Pearson's little apartment in the city center and the Baffins' spacious suburban home is just one of the many ways in which the novel invites comparisons between Bradley's and Arnold's respective personalities, lifestyles, and perspectives, and in which it demonstrates that the two of them are foils.

  • Tough-o-Meter

    (8) Snow Line

    We won't lie to you, Shmoopers: The Black Prince ain't easy.

    For one thing, Iris Murdoch's writing style is dense and intellectual, and you may find yourself having to read some paragraphs two or three times just to figure out what Bradley Pearson—the novel's primary narrator—is getting at. For another, it's impossible to know whether or not Bradley Pearson is actually telling us the truth about any of the events he describes. Unreliable narrators can make for some complicated reading, and this one's no exception.

    But fear not, folks: The Black Prince is a pretty deep book, and it can even be downright funny at times. Iris Murdoch has done her best to create a novel that's as complex, twisted, and captivating as a Rubik's cube. If you're anything like us, you may not be able to "solve" this puzzle of a book by lining up all of its various lies, truths, symbols, allusions, and intertextual references, but your brain will feel awesome if you take on the challenge.

  • Writing Style

    High-Brow and Erudite, and, Dare We Say It, Sesquipedalian

    If you had to look up "erudite" or "sesquipedalian" in the dictionary after we used those words to characterize The Black Prince, thumbing through those pages or clicking through those search results will have given you some good practice for the task to come.

    Just take a look at this beaut of a passage and you'll see what we mean:

    And yet, so complex are minds and so deeply intermingled are their faculties that one kind of change often images or prefigures another of, as it seems, a quite different sort. One perceives a subterranean current, one feels the grip of destiny, striking coincidences occur and the world is full of signs: such things are not necessarily senseless or symptoms of incipient paranoia. They can indeed be the shadows of a real and not yet apprehended metamorphosis. Coming events do cast shadows. (1.17.3)

    When it comes to Bradley Pearson's writing style, The Black Prince takes a lesson from Shakespeare's Hamlet and lays the words, words, words on thick.

  • Flowers

    Like Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, flowers may seem plain and little, but they can pack a serious symbolic punch. One reason for this is their versatility, as they can conjure scores of cultural associations with positive things like love, marriage, and fertility, but can also call up dozens of negative associations with things like sickness, mourning, grief, and death.

    Flowers have a pretty important role to play in Shakespeare's Hamlet, so it's no surprise that they make appearances in The Black Prince as well. In Hamlet, there are three particularly noteworthy flower scenes, all of which have negative connotations (and one of which we don't actually get to see for ourselves). They are:

    • the scene when Ophelia, mad with grief, hands out symbolic gifts of flowers to her brother, Laertes, and the king and queen;
    • the scene when Ophelia drowns after carrying armfuls of flowers down to a brook and falling into the water (maybe intentionally, maybe not);
    • the scene when Gertrude throws flowers into Ophelia's grave (and note that this scene echoes the earlier one when flowers were given as gifts).

    The Black Prince tends to echo these same somber connotations as it incorporates its own forms of flower symbolism and imagery. Take a look at these related passages in which Bradley Pearson develops a distinctively flowery theme:

    I stood outside the bedroom door, which had been mildly disfigured by Arnold's efforts. A lot of paint had flaked off and lay like white petals upon the fawn carpet. The chisel lay there too." (1.3.24).

    Here we have some ironic symbolism going on, as the paint-flakes-as-flower-petals represent a violent corruption of the flower imagery that we would typically associate with marriage and love.

    I noticed with only a little surprise and interest the figure upon the other side of the road of a young man who was behaving rather oddly. He was standing upon the kerb and strewing flowers upon the roadway, as if casting them into a river. (1.4.6)

    Apart from echoing the offstage scene in Shakespeare's Hamlet when Ophelia dies, this passage lays the foundation for a symbolic association between flower petals and the death of a young couple's love.

    And there are more:

    The young fellow appeared to be chanting some sort of repetitive litany. I now saw that what he was strewing was not so much flowers as white petals. Where had I seen just such petals lately? The fragments of white paint which the violence of Arnold's chisel had dislodged from the bedroom door. And the white petals were being cast, not at random, but in relation to the regular and constant passage of motor cars. (1.4.7)

    Then the frail whitenesses would race about, caught in the car's motion, dash madly under the wheels, follow the whirlwhind of the car's wake, and dissipate themselves further along the road: so that the casting away of the petals seemed like a sacrifice or act of destruction, since that which was offered was being so instantly consumed and made to vanish. (1.4.7)

    I had of course failed to find Arnold and Christian. […] By now they were somewhere else, not in the Fitzroy or the Marquis or the Wheatsheaf or the Black Horse, but somewhere else: and the white ghosts of them blew into my eyes, like white petals, like white flakes of paint, like the scraps of paper which the hieratic boy had cast out upon the river of the roadway, images of beauty and cruelty and fear. (1.9.5)

    And there you have it, folks: in The Black Prince, flower symbolism and imagery tends to connote negative actions, qualities, and emotions like destruction, death, cruelty, and fear. At other times (and sometimes at the same time), it can also connote positive qualities and emotions like beauty and love.

    What'd we say? Versatility FTW.

  • The Womb

    If you ask Francis Marloe, Bradley Pearson's recurring dreams about being in his parent's shop are probably symbolic memories of being in the womb (1.18.32-35). Not only does Francis suggest outright that Bradley is remembering his early life inside his mother's body, but he's also implying that these unconscious memories are another aspect of Bradley's Oedipus complex.

    The Black Prince plays with that idea and craftily includes just enough womb imagery to lend credibility to Francis's theory without actually confirming it. Take a look at how Bradley himself characterizes his apartment: "A sunless and cozy womb my flat was, with a highly wrought interior and no outside" (1.1.3). Symbolism doesn't get much clearer than that.

    Although Bradley doesn't come right out and use the word "womb" when he describes the northern seaside cottage that he rents for the summer or his prison cell, it's possible to understand both of those locations as symbolic wombs. Both promise seclusion and, figuratively speaking, gestation, as they're the places where Bradley either imagines himself as carrying out or actually carries out the work of giving birth to his great novel.

    As you read The Black Prince, be on the lookout for other examples that contribute to the novel's pattern of womb symbolism and imagery. Whether or not you agree with Francis Marloe's take on the subject, there's definitely something going on there.

  • Women as Animals

    Yeah, Bradley Pearson demonstrates more than a little misogyny throughout his narrative. One of the ways in which that misogyny comes through most clearly is in the many, many examples of connections he draws between women and animals or animalistic behavior.

    Although there are one or two instances in which these connections have positive associations (he's fond of describing Julian Baffin's hair as a lion's mane, for instance), on the whole, they tend to be pretty negative. For your viewing pleasure—or, more likely, your viewing displeasure—we're gathered a few of them here so that you'll know them when you see them as you work through The Black Prince. Take a gander:

    Only a little of [Priscilla's] hair was visible, with a dirty line of grey at the roots of the gold. Her hair was dry and brittle, more like some synthetic fibre than like human hair. I felt disgust and human pity and a prowling desire to vomit. I sat for a time with the awkward ineffectual gesture of a small child trying to pat an animal. I could not make out what forms I was touching. (1.7.111)

    Julian's delight was literally indescribable. Her face dissolved and glowed, she quite unconsciously clapped her hands, she rushed back to me and shook me by the shoulders and then rushed back to the mirror. Her innocent pleasure would have moved me very much upon a better occasion. Why had I thought of her as an image of vanity? This delight of the young animal in itself was something pure. (1.19.121)

    Rachel left me. I saw her disappear into the crowd, her battered blue handbag swinging, the plump pale flesh on her upper arm oscillating a little, her hair tangled, her face dazed and tired. With an automatic hand she had scooped up the hanging shoulder strap. Then I saw her again, and again and again. Oxford Street was full of tired ageing women with dazed faces, pushing blindly against each other like a herd of animals. I ran across the road and northwards towards my flat. (1.21.134)

    Rachel was dressed more smartly than usual in a silky dress with red and white blotches on it and a low square neckline. Her collar bones, sun-browned and mottled, were prominent above the dress. Her neck was dry and wrinkled, faintly reptilian, her face was smoother, more made-up than usual, and wearing the expression the French call maussade. (2.1.28)

    A woman's face changes in tenderness. It may become scarcely recognizable. Christian en tendresse looked older, more animal-like and absurd, her features all squashed up and rubbery. (2.3.94)

    Are you getting sick of these yet, Shmoopers? We sure are. Bradley's dim view of women isn't exactly subtle. In general, what Bradley would seem to prefer is a Platonic, idealistic, sexless kind of existence. Too bad all these women are getting in the way.

  • Christian Imagery and Allegory

    When Bradley Pearson goes to the Baffin home in the early pages of "The Black Prince"and finds Rachel Baffin in a terrible state after having been "accidentally" knocked over the head with a poker, two intriguing examples of Christian imagery are part of the scene. Here's what Bradley has to say about it all:

    I do not know why I thought then so promptly and prophetically of death. Perhaps it was because Rachel, half under the bedclothes, had covered her face with the sheet. (1.3.78)

    She sighed very deeply and flopped her hand back onto the bed, lying now with both hands symmetrically by her side, palms upward, like a limp disentombed Christ figure, still bearing the marks of ill treatment. (1.3.90)

    These passages are intriguing because the opening scene of violence at the Baffin home parallels the closing scene in which Bradley returns to the house to find another—and more deadly—scene of violence (in his version of events, anyway).

    If Rachel Baffin seems like a victimized Christ figure in the opening scene, her performance as an avenging fury at the end of "The Black Prince" adds a touch of irony to her character arc, as her figurative "death" and "rebirth" as an unhappily married woman who turns into a seemingly noble and grieving widow represents a far less lofty form of transformative rebirth than the one that Bradley himself experiences at the end of his "ordeal."

  • Julian Baffin's Balloon

    Bradley Pearson tells us fairly early on in "The Black Prince"that he has always seen a special significance in kites. As he puts it: "What an image of our condition, the distant high thing, the sensitive pull, the feel of the cord, its invisibility, its length, the fear of loss" (1.12.2).

    Granted, Bradley is more than a little bit drunk when he thinks these thoughts, and the meaning of his symbolism isn't entirely clear. Is the human condition more like the kite itself, straining to be free of the ties that bind, or is it more like the person who clutches those ties closely, refusing to let the object of his or her attachment get away? The image is open to interpretation, for sure, and although Bradley expands on it later in "The Black Prince," he doesn't nail it down completely.

    The most powerful example of kite-like imagery that appears in the novel is Julian Baffin's balloon. Let's take a look at the scene in which it makes its first appearance:

    Only it was not an ordinary kite, but a sort of magical kite. The string was invisible. Up above the house there hovered motionless, some thirty feet up, a huge pale globe with a long trailing ten-foot tail. The curious light made the globe seem to glow with a sort of milky alabaster radiance. The tail, evidently hanging free from the suspending string, since a slight movement of the air had towed the balloon out of the vertical, consisted of a number of white bows, or as they looked, blobs, which hung invisibly supported in a motionless row beneath their parent form. (1.14.127)

    Here we have a magical kite/balloon/globe that seems almost like a miniature moon, and it inspires none of the dread and fear that another moon-like structure once inspired in a band of intrepid resistance fighters. But what does it mean?

    After Julian cuts the balloon's string and Bradley leaves the Baffin home behind, Bradley chases after the balloon as it floats along through the evening light. Eventually he loses it, though, and it fades out of the novel for good. Does the balloon represent the cosmic passion that Bradley will eventually feel for Julian? Does it represent their doomed, star-crossed love?

    There's more than one possible interpretation here, but we think you'll be on the right track if you give some thought to what Rachel Baffin says here: 

    "Oh, everything's changed so since even a little while ago. We can live in the open, there's nothing to be secretive about. I feel free, I've been set free, like Julian's balloon, I'm sailing up above the world and looking down at it at last, it's like a mystical experience" (1.16.101).

    On the whole, this passage tends to support the interpretation that Julian's balloon (and kites more generally) symbolize a human desire for freedom and independence—but a desire that's always thwarted, somehow, by ties, responsibilities, disappointments, and the duties that come with having human connections. That said, we're open to hearing other interpretations, too. What are your thoughts, Shmoopers?

  • The Bronze Water Buffalo

    One of the many objets d'art—art objects, that is—that Bradley Pearson has on display in his apartment is a bronze water buffalo with a lady perched on top. Bradley gives the piece to Julian Baffin when she asks for it—before he has even the slightest inkling of their love affair, or so he says—and he soon receives an unpleasant reminder that it wasn't actually his to give.

    As Bradley is soon informed by his weepy sister, Priscilla Saxe, the bronze water buffalo was hers, not his. Priscilla gave it to Bradley for safekeeping, and his thoughtlessness in giving it away adds yet more fuel to the fire of Priscilla's grief.

    So what does the bronze water buffalo represent?

    All signs point to the art piece being a symbol of Priscilla herself. When Bradley gives the water buffalo to Julian, forgetting that it actually belongs to Priscilla, the action foreshadows his later decision to abandon Priscilla so that he can escape to his northern seaside cottage with Julian.

    Likewise, Francis Marloe does his best to repair the piece after Priscilla damages it by throwing it against the wall, but his well-intentioned efforts only make things worse. The same thing happens to Priscilla when Francis tries to nurse her back to health.

    Coincidences? We think not.

  • The Post Office Tower

    Tell us about the Post Office Tower, Bradley:

    I lived then and had long lived in a ground-floor flat in a small shabby pretty court of terrace houses in North Soho, not far from the Post Office Tower, an area of perpetual seedy brouhaha. […] A sunless and cozy womb my flat was, with a highly wrought interior and no outside. Only from the front door of the house, which was not my front door, could one squint up at the sky over tall buildings and see above the serene austere erection of the Post Office Tower. (1.1.3)

    Not surprisingly, given his psychoanalytical inclinations, Francis Marloe guesses early on that Bradley Pearson's infatuation with London's Post Office Tower has more than a little something to do with the tower being a gigantic (seriously, gigantic) phallic symbol.

    We don't think that Francis is entirely wrong, but we do think that it'd be a mistake to understand the Post Office Tower as just a phallic symbol. After all, the tower was built to facilitate telecommunications in England, and so it fits in perfectly with The Black Prince's interest in exploring communication (and miscommunication) between human beings—and, occasionally, their gods.

    Is it phallic? Sure. But is that the be-all and end-all of Bradley Pearson's fascination with the Post Office Tower? Not on your life.

  • Tax Collection

    Bradley Pearson was employed as an Inspector of Taxes throughout most of his working life, and although the novel doesn't draw a lot of attention to this point, it's possible to see some allegorical connections between Bradley's former day job and his vocation as a writer.

    If we think of both tax inspection and writing—or the kind of writing that Bradley undertakes in The Black Prince, anyway—as forms of examining and assessing accounts, and of calling people to account for their words and deeds, those symbolic connections become clearer.

    Whether he's probing an individual's finances or attempting to plumb the depths of human consciousness, Bradley Pearson is just as good at inspection as he is at introspection.

  • Narrator Point of View

    First Person (Central Narrator)

    The Black Prince is told primarily through the voice of Bradley Pearson, whose own memoir/novel "The Black Prince" forms the heart of the text. The multiple forewords and postscripts that also appear in the novel are similarly written in the first-person narrative voice, and they allow some of the other characters who appear in Bradley's story to speak up for themselves and have their say.

    The Black Prince's postscripts also do one other crucial thing: they make it perfectly clear, for those who hadn't guessed it already, that Bradley Pearson is not a reliable narrator. Is he telling the truth about Arnold Baffin's murder? Is he telling the truth about anything? It's impossible to know for certain, so one thing's for sure—you should definitely be taking everything he says with at least one big grain of salt.

  • Booker's Seven Basic Plots Analysis

    Rebirth

    Under the Shadow of a Dark Power

    Booker suggests that "Rebirth" plotlines begin with the hero "fall[ing] under the shadow of [a] dark power." In Bradley Pearson's case, this "dark power" isn't "the black Eros," as some of you may be guessing—it's his inability to write.

    Having taken an early retirement so that he could devote all of his time to writing a great novel, Bradley is taken aback when he discovers that he has no ideas at all. Try as he might, he just can't get the words to come, and little things that never used to bother him (the noise of the city, for example), now drive him up the wall. What's a wannabe literary genius to do?

    The Dark Power Seems to Retreat

    Bradley Pearson experiences this stage more than once, as he swings back and forth between this one and the next multiple times. Keep scrolling down to hear more about why that is.

    The Dark Power Returns

    Things seem to be going well for Bradley Pearson whenever it looks as if he'll finally be able to fulfill his desire to write—that is, when he rents a seaside cottage in northern England, when Rachel Baffin initiates a love affair that seems to promise to fuel his creative talents, when falling in love with Julian Baffin makes him certain that he's finally discovered the key to artistic mastery, and so on.

    None of these feel-good interludes lasts for long, though, because something always happens to thwart Bradley's best-laid plans and distract him from his goal. However pure Bradley's artistic ambitions may be, other people always seem to intrude, interfere, and spoil his productivity with their unreasonable needs.

    Things Get Really Bleak

    Those interruptions and intrusions come to a head for Bradley Pearson when he's accused of Arnold Baffin's murder and put on trial. So much for his dreams of a cosmic love affair with Julian Baffin and an earth-shattering burst of artistic productivity.

    As Booker suggests, the fourth stage of "Rebirth" plotlines is when things seem bleakest for the hero—that is, when the powers of darkness seem to have defeated the hero once and for all.

    Brand Spanking New

    According to Booker, the fifth and final stage of "Rebirth" plotlines is when all that birthing finally gets underway. It's the stage when all the magic happens—a time of "miraculous redemption," when the hero is reborn.

    In The Black Prince, this stage comes to Bradley Pearson in prison, of all places, because that's where he makes the acquaintance of one P. Loxias—the mysterious figure who inspires him to write "The Black Prince," and who may just be the god of music and poetry in the flesh. Why not?

  • Plot Analysis

    Exposition (Initial Situation): A Foreword (or Two) in Your Ear

    The Black Prince has a slightly unusual set-up for its exposition, since the novel's narrator and protagonist is also presented to us as the author of the novel itself. Bradley Pearson's foreword to The Black Prince gives us quite a lot of the background information that we need to know about him and about the story he plans to tell us, and it even gives us hints about the story's conclusion.

    Rising Action (Conflict, Complication): All He Wants Is to Sell Seashells by the Seashore

    Okay, so Bradley Pearson doesn't actually want to sell seashells by the seashore, but he does want to escape to the northern seaside cottage that he's rented for the summer. There, he'll finally have the peace, quiet, and solitude that he needs to write a truly great novel. Or so he thinks.

    There's just one problem. Other people keep showing up and distracting him from his plans to leave the city, and, no matter how hard he tries, Bradley just can't seem to get away.

    Climax (Crisis, Turning Point): Head Over Heels

    There are a couple of major crises in Bradley Pearson's life, but the one that really gets the ball rolling is the moment when Bradley gets knocked head-over-heels in love with Julian Baffin.

    This love astounds Bradley and changes the course of his actions completely, and it's the catalyst for the other major crises and climaxes that follow, like the death of his sister, the death of Arnold Baffin, and Bradley's own trial for the murder of Arnold Baffin.

    Falling Action: Crime and Punishment

    Bradley's love affair with Julian Baffin blazes brightly and then fizzles out so quickly that it can hardly even be called a flash in the pan. As it begins to smoke and die, Bradley experiences a steady stream of ups and downs as the novel barrels towards its conclusion.

    Even though being accused of Arnold Baffin's murder seems more like a major crisis than an element of the falling action, it's just one more stepping stone on the way to the final resolution of Bradley's story.

    Resolution (Denouement): The Pearson Redemption

    Once Bradley Pearson hits prison, the high-intensity aspect of The Black Prince's plotline draws to a close, and Bradley enters into the most contemplative and artistically gratifying period of his life. Bradley's postscript tells us that life in prison has helped him to become a wiser and happier man than he ever was—and all because it provided the fertile ground for his life-changing relationship with his "dear friend" and editor, P. Loxias.

    As the popular English philosopher Mick Jagger teaches us, although you can't always get what you want, if you try, sometimes you just might find you get what you need.

  • Three-Act Plot Analysis

    Act I

    Act I of The Black Prince covers Part 1 of Bradley Pearson's narrative, "The Black Prince." In it, Bradley moves through a series of misadventures as various personalities interrupt his plans to take off for the summer and write a great novel in solitude. By the end of this first act, Bradley's incipient love affair with Rachel Baffin has fizzled out, and a new and entirely unexpected thing has happened to him—he has fallen in love with the much-younger Julian Baffin, Rachel's daughter.

    Act II

    Act II of The Black Prince covers Part 2 of Bradley Pearson's narrative. In it, Bradley moves rapidly from the initial ecstasy of his newfound love for Julian Baffin to "the pangs of disprized love" (as Prince Hamlet calls them in Hamlet, Act 3: Scene 1). Luckily for Bradley, he soon discovers that Julian loves him back. Unluckily, he's soon confronted with the wrath of Julian's parents. Not a bad string of achievements for a time span of less than two weeks.

    Act III

    You guessed it, Shmoopers: Act III of The Black Prince covers Part 3 of Bradley Pearson's narrative. In it, Bradley and Julian flee to the northern seaside cottage that Bradley rented as a writing retreat for the summer, but they don't enjoy their love nest for very long. In practically no time at all, Bradley's sister, Priscilla Saxe, has died, Julian's father, Arnold Baffin, has arrived to whisk Julian away, and Julian herself has run off into the night.

    Back in London, it isn't long before things get even worse for Bradley—in short order, Arnold Baffin is murdered, and Bradley is arrested and accused of killing him. Everything that happens after that is set apart from the action of "The Black Prince" itself, but Bradley does give us a general summary of events in his postscript to his story.

  • Allusions

    Literary and Philosophical References

    • William Shakespeare, All's Well That Ends Well (1.3.122)
    • Homer, Iliad (1.4.59)
    • Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy (1.4.59)
    • D. H. Lawrence, Sons and Lovers (1.4.59)
    • Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1.4.59)
    • Homer, Odyssey (1.5.16)
    • William Shakespeare, Hamlet (1.16.55)
    • Sigmund Freud (1.17.1)
    • Carl Jung (1.22.8)
    • William Shakespeare, Macbeth (1.23.100)
    • William Shakespeare, King Lear (1.23.100)
    • Fyodor Dostoevsky, Crime and Punishment (1.23.102)
    • Gustav Flaubert, Madame Bovary (1.23.102)
    • Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time (1.23.102)
    • Jane Austen, Mansfield Park (1.23.102)
    • William Shakespeare, Othello (1.23.134)
    • Plato (2.1.12)
    • Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book (2.3.54)
    • Sappho (2.5.4)
    • Ludwig Wittgenstein (2.5.26)
    • William Wycherley (2.8.134)
    • Jane Austen, Emma (2.9.61)
    • Andrew Marvell (3.3.4)
    • Robert Browning (3.10.13)
    • Alfred, Lord Tennyson (3.10.13)
    • William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream (3.13.157)
    • Dante Alighieri, Rime Petrose (3.15.36)
    • Socrates (Postscript by Bradley: par. 21)
    • J. M. Barrie, Peter Pan (Postscript by Rachel: par. 4)
    • C. S. Forester (Postscript by Rachel: par. 4)
    • Robert Louis Stevenson (Postscript by Rachel: par. 4)
    • Clarence E. Mulford (Postscript by Rachel: par. 4)

    Figures out of Religion, Myth, and Legend

    • Don Juan (Foreword by Bradley Pearson: par.8)
    • Aphrodite (1.12.5)
    • Jesus Christ (1.16.69)
    • Mary Magdalene or the Virgin Mary (1.16.69)
    • Buddha (1.16.69)
    • Shiva (1.16.69)
    • The Fisher King (1.16.69)
    • Eros (2.4.53)
    • Actaeon (2.8.33)
    • Narcissus (Postscript by Julian: par. 12)

    Historical References

    • Gavrilo Princip (1.1.4)
    • Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1.1.4)
    • Julian of Norwich (1.4.8)
    • The Marie Celeste (1.11.6)
    • Bartolomeo Colleoni (2.12.5)

    "High" Culture and Pop Culture References

    • Igor Stravinsky, The Firebird (1.4.4)
    • Sarah Siddons (1.18.131)
    • Sir Arthur John Gielgud (1.23.197)
    • Vittore Carpaccio, "Dream of St. Ursula" (2.8.25)
    • Inigo Jones (2.8.39)
    • William Hogarth (2.8.39)
    • Peter Lely (2.8.123)
    • Grinling Gibbons (2.8.123)
    • Arne and Ellen Terry (2.8.123)
    • Richard Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier (2.8.125)
    • Tintoretto, "The Finding of the Body of St. Mark" (2.12.4)
    • Francisco Goya (Postscript by Bradley: par. 2)
    • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Editor's Postscript: par. 9)

    Quotable Quotes from the Bible

    • Romans 8:28 (1.12.4)