Short summary - A Word Child - Jean Iris Murdoch

British literature summaries -

Short summary - A Word Child
Jean Iris Murdoch

Hilary Byrd is forty-one years old. He works «in the state department - no matter what», in the bureaucratic hierarchy, with the exception of the typist and the clerk, he is on the lowest rung; lives in an uncomfortable apartment, which serves him only as a "place to sleep", not trying to equip it or even just clean it properly. He blindly follows the routine - «since he lost all hope of salvation» - for «the routine ... excludes thought; the measured uniformity of the days of the week evokes a pleasing consciousness of the complete subordination of time and history. » (The chapters of the book are called the days of the week: «Thursday», «Friday», etc.) Weekends are hell for him, and he takes vacations only out of fear of gossip and simply hides in his hole, mostly trying to sleep.


So, on Saturdays, he invariably devotes to his sister Christel, five years younger than him. She lives in a cramped apartment on the seedy North End Road, also alone, trying to make money by sewing. Their fathers and Christel were different, and they did not know their fathers. Their mother died when Hilary was about seven years old, and Christel was just a baby, but even before the boy could understand the meaning of this word, they explained to him that his mother was a whore. The children were taken by the mother’s sister, but soon sent Hilary to the shelter, separated from her sister and told him for life that he was «bad» - a bad boy who should not be kept at home. Hilary cannot remember either Aunt Bill or the shelter without a shudder - not so much because of starvation and beatings, but because no one loved him - a boy who had been scratched by life in malice and resentment, with a feeling of an incurable wound,


Actually, he deserved the reputation of «bad» - he was strong and pugnacious; well developed physically, he sought to subjugate others to himself with the help of brute force; he liked to beat people, he liked to break things; he hated the whole world - for himself, for Christel, for his mother. At the age of twelve, he first appeared in court for minors, and then trouble with the police arose regularly. In these years, Christel was everything to him - a sister, a mother, the only hope, almost the Lord God. He does not separate Christel from himself and loves her as himself. And then two people saved him: Christel and the school teacher Osmand, who managed to discern his brilliant language skills. Osmand was the first person to carefully and interestedly relate to a teenager who everyone waved his hand at; and he first learned French, then Latin, then ancient Greek and, of course, their native language. He discovered words for himself - and this became his salvation; as the «child of love» speaks of others, one could say the «child of the word» about him. He began to study with inspiration and was so successful that he went to Oxford - the first of all generations of students in the school where he studied, and received all the prizes he could claim there. Oxford changed him, but at the same time showed how difficult it is for him to change - deep ignorance and hopeless despair became part of his existence; he did not make real friends, he was touchy, unsociable and was forever afraid to make a mistake. He tried to compensate for this by his success in exams - he tried for his own sake and for Christel's sake, dreaming of how his sister would settle with him in Oxford and they would end forever the hopelessness in which they had grown up. But, having become a teacher, Hilary Byrd was forced to resign. It was a collapse; since then he has vegetated, not wanting - or not able to - to establish his life, and only his sister (he believes) keeps him from suicide.

(In the department where Hilary Byrd is serving, they are preparing to put on a Christmas pantomime based on Peter Pan, a story about a boy who did not want to grow up; there is much talk about this, and the statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens is one of Hilary's favorite places.)

On Mondays, Byrd spends the evening with Clifford Larr, his former Oxford fellow practitioner, who now serves with him at the same institution, but stands on a career ladder much higher. Larr, in his own words, collects oddities, which include Hilary Byrd; he has touching admiration for the fact that his sister Christel is a virgin. In the service they pretend that they are strangers, keeping a chaste silence about the terrible secrets of each other. It was Larr who persuaded him to hand over one of the rooms of his apartment to Christopher, his former lover (he is homosexual). Christopher, in his early youth, the head of a rock band, one of whose songs entered the top ten in the UK, is now addicted to the «search for God» and drugs.

On Tuesdays, Byrd spends the evening with Arthur Fish - he serves in the same institution and obeys Byrd, and in addition, is in love with Christel and wants to marry her.

Wednesday is «this is my day for myself,» says Byrd to his mistress Tommy, with whom she spends Fridays, when she wants to increase the number of meetings with him to two a week. As a rule, Wednesday evening takes place in a bar on the Sloan Square or Liverpool Street metro platform, which for him was "a place of deep communication with London, with the origins of life, with the abyss of humility between grief and death."

On Thursdays, he dines with Laura and Freddie Impayett, where Clifford Larr is a couple, and returning home, he goes to Kristel to pick up Arthur, who is having dinner with her tonight.

These people make up the «routine» with which he limited his life.

The measured life course of this person in the case violates a strange event - a colored girl begins to come to him. She is semi-Indian, her name is Alexandra Bisset (she asks to call herself Biscuit), and she does not explain the purpose of her visits. At the same time, he learns that their department should be headed by a new head - Ganner Joyling. Twenty years ago, he was Byrd's teacher at Oxford; not without his support, Byrd was elected a member of the college council and also began to teach; he was one of the main characters in the drama that was taking place then. Byrd had an affair with his wife Ann (it was his first love); «A man of unrestrained passions is attractive only in books» - this love did not bring happiness to anyone. When Ann came to say goodbye, wanting to end the relationship, because Ganner found out about their relationship, Byrd decided to take her away. In the car, she said that she’s pregnant, and Hanner’s child, and he knows about it. Byrd, not letting go of her, in a rage and grief squeezed on gas, the car skidded, she collided with an oncoming one. As a result of a car accident, Ann died. Hilary survived, but was crushed spiritually; he felt like a killer; he lost his self-esteem and with him the ability to manage his life. It was a collapse - not only for him, but also for Christel. He resigned, Ganner too. Ganner became a politician, then a government official, acquired a name and fame, got married again ... And then life brought them together again, and the past, which was more vibrant and brighter than the present, surged on Hilary Byrd. he felt like a killer; he lost his self-esteem and with him the ability to manage his life. It was a collapse - not only for him, but also for Christel. He resigned, Ganner too. Ganner became a politician, then a government official, acquired a name and fame, got married again ... And then life brought them together again, and the past, which was more vibrant and brighter than the present, surged on Hilary Byrd. he felt like a killer; he lost his self-esteem and with him the ability to manage his life. It was a collapse - not only for him, but also for Christel. He resigned, Ganner too. Ganner became a politician, then a government official, acquired a name and fame, got married again ... And then life brought them together again, and the past, which was more vibrant and brighter than the present, surged on Hilary Byrd.

The biscuit turns out to be the maid of Ganner Joyling's second wife, Lady Kitty; she brings Hilary a letter from her mistress asking her to meet with her to talk about how to help her husband get rid of the ghosts of the past. The meeting took place; Kitty asks Hilary to speak with Ganner, who still has not overcome his grief and hatred.

Immersed in his own suffering and guilt, Hilary only now realizes that he was not the only one to suffer. He agrees. He also falls in love with Lady Kitty.

Suddenly, Christel, to whom he tells all this, sharply resists his meetings with Ganner and Lady Kitty, begging him to resign and leave London. Feeling that she had not convinced him, she confesses that she loved Ganner twenty years ago, and on the night after the disaster, when Anne died and Hilary survived, she, comforting Ganner, came to his room and lost her innocence. That is why she refused Arthur Fish, unable to reveal the past to him, and not because, as Hilary thought, there was nothing more dear to her brother than her, and he did not want this marriage at heart.

Having fallen in love with Lady Kitty, Hilary Byrd breaks the engagement letter with Tommy, who, under the influence of a minute, promised to marry her, which Tommy strives with all her might, for she really loves him wholeheartedly. She does not want to come to terms with the gap, pursues him with letters, comes to his house; he sleeps in a hotel, does not answer letters, and makes it clear in every way that everything is over between them.

The first conversation with Ganner does not lead to the desired result; only after meeting with Christel Ganner thawed and they were able to talk for real; it seems to them that the conversation brought relief and the past is slowly starting to let them go.

At the same time, the «case» of Hilary Byrd begins to gradually collapse. It turns out that Laura Impayette and Christopher have been in touch for a year now, using Hilary as a screen. Once Christopher and his friends pumped Hilary and Laura with drugs, she didn’t return home, her husband looked for her with Hilary, and «to clarify everything», next Thursday Laura arranges a loud showdown between Freddy, Hilary and Christopher, as a result of which Hilary refuse at home - his Thursdays are released; and Christopher finally literally fulfills what Hilary shouted to him more than once: «Get out!» He moves out of the apartment.

Tommy also literally fulfills Hilary’s repeated request to leave him alone: she comes to say goodbye, announcing that she is getting married.

Clifford Larr, having learned from Hilary about Hanner and Christel, takes this unexpectedly painfully, rushes to the overthrown idol - Christel - and insults her; Hilary catches up with him, there is a fight. When, after some time, Hilary arrives at Clifford’s apartment, he learns from his heirs that Larr committed suicide.

Comforting Christel, Hilary promises not to meet with the Joylings anymore, to leave her from London and settle together somewhere in the wilderness. He only needs to see Lady Kitty for the last time, because he already promised, and say goodbye to her forever.

Their meeting takes place on the pier, near the Joylings house. Suddenly, hugging Kitty, Hilary sees Ganner. «I'll kill him now,» Ganner says, but Kitty falls from the pier. He jumps after her. She dies in the hospital from hypothermia - before the arrival of the rescue boat she spent too long in the icy December water of the Thames.


The name of Hilary Byrd did not appear in the newspapers in connection with this story - he swam out himself, far from the boat. This time he did not begin to tell Christel everything. Twenty years ago, he admitted that Ann's death fell upon her sister with all her weight, but when everything was so terribly repeated, he realized that it was cruel to lay this burden on her. For the first time in his life, he separated Christel from himself. Kristel married Arthur.

The biscuit, having received an inheritance after the death of Lady Kitty, married Christopher.

Tommy repented that she had sent Ganner an anonymous letter stating that Hilary Byrd was in love with his wife. "In her naivety, Tommy gave birth to a meeting, as a result of which Kitty died, Kristel got married and a double eternal curse distorted my life and the life of Ganner."

To the sound of Christmas bells, Tommy decisively tells Hilary that she intends to marry him.