Edward Lannion, the young master of Hatting Hall, is about to marry Marian Fox. At Penndean, a nearby house, preparations are under way for the wedding, overseen by the anxious Benet. Family and friends gather together for a celebratory dinner on the eve of the ceremony. The night is warm and clear, and after dinner the guests walk in the grounds and under the stars, full of happy anticipation. But then there is a sudden and extraordinary event, which changes everything. Iris Murdoch's novel is a marvellous and compelling human comedy. Edward and Marian, the couple at the centre of the story, are led by events to learn the truth about themselves; in the process, their friends, and lovers, are forced to make new choices, and see things as they are. And watching over all of them is Jackson, Benet's servant, a dark, mysterious and dangerous presence. It is Jackson who must intervene in the story to set the two young lovers onto the right path.
Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin in 1919. She read Classics at Somerville College, Oxford, and after working in the Treasury and abroad, was awarded a research studentship in philosophy at Newnham College, Cambridge. In 1948 she returned to Oxford as fellow and tutor at St Anne's College and later taught at the Royal College of Art. Until her death in 1999, she lived in Oxford with her husband, the academic and critic, John Bayley. She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1987 and in the 1997 PEN Awards received the Gold Pen for Distinguished Service to Literature. Iris Murdoch made her writing debut in 1954 with Under the Net. Her twenty-six novels include the Booker prize-winning The Sea, The Sea (1978), the James Tait Black Memorial prize-winning The Black Prince (1973) and the Whitbread prize-winning The Sacred and Profane Love Machine (1974). Her philosophy includes Sartre: Romantic Rationalist (1953) and Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (1992); other philosophical writings, including The Sovereignty of Good (1970), are collected in Existentialists and Mystics (1997).