At the onset, I wasn’t really that keen on Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea. However, the more I ruminate on it and its profound but obscured messages, I begun to appreciate the 1978 Man Booker Prize-winning masterpiece. Although it felt gloomy and bleak at times, I cannot help but be fascinated by the depth of language that was skillfully engraved into the novel by Iris Murdoch. Albeit it took time, the novel’s message eventually made its way into the depths of my heart.

Speaking of language, Murdoch has displayed an uncanny ability of constructing memorable (although leaning on the morose side) lines. I have rounded up fifteen of the best quotes from this modern classic that tackle a plethora of subjects such as life, death, the arts, the theater, grief, and, ultimately, love.

If you haven’t read my review of Murdoch’s masterpiece, The Sea, The Sea, you may click here.



“Then I felt too that I might take this opportunity to tie up a few loose ends. Only of course loose ends can never be properly tied. One is always producing new ones. Time, like the sea, unties all knots. Judgements on people are never final. They emerge from summings up which at once suggest the need of a reconsideration. Human arrangements are nothing but loose ends and hazy reckoning, whatever art may otherwise pretend in order to console us.” ~ Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea


“How different each death is, and yet it leads us into the self-same country, that country which we inhabit so rarely, where we see the worthlessness of what we have long pursued and will so soon return to pursuing.” ~ Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea


“Of course this chattering diary is a facade, the literary equivalent of the everyday smiling face which hides the inward ravages of jealousy, remorse, fear and the consciousness of irretrievable moral failure. Yet such pretenses are not only consolations but may even be productive of a little ersatz courage.” ~ Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea


“What a queer gamble our existence is. We decide to do A instead of B and then the two roads diverse utterly and may lead in the end to heaven and to hell. Only later one sees how much and how awfully the fates differ. Yet what were the reasons for the choice? They may have been forgotten. Did one know what one was choosing? Certainly not.” ~ Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea


“However life, unlike art, has an irritating way of bumping and limping on, undoing conversions, casting doubt on solutions and generally illustrating the impossibility of living happily or virtuously ever after.” ~ Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea


“Jealousy is perhaps the most involuntary of all strong emotions. It steals consciousness, it lies deeper than thought. It is always there, like a blackness in the eye, it dicolours the world.” ~ Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea


“The theatre is an attack on mankind carried on by magic: to victimize an audience every night, to make them laugh and cry and suffer and miss their trains. Of course actors regard audiences as enemies, to be deceived, drugged, incarcerated, stupefied. This is partly because the audience is also a court against which there is no appeal.” ~ Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea


“Even if readers claim that they ‘take it all with a grain of salt’, they do not really. They yearn to believe and the believe, because believing is easier than disbelieving, and because anything which is written down is likely to be ‘true in a way’.” ~ Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea


“The sun shone calm and bright on the grass, refreshed by the rain, on the border of pretty stones, on the sparkling yellow rocks. It was a caricature of a happy scene.” ~ Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea


“It is strange to think that when I went to the sea I imagined that I was giving up the world. But one surrenders power in one form, and grasps it in another.” ~ Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea


“The sea is golden, speckled with white points of light, lapping with a sort of mechanical self-satisfaction under a pale green sky. How huge it is, how empty, this great space for which I have been longing all my life.” ~ Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea


“You seem to think the past is unreal, a pit full of ghosts. But to me the past is in some ways the most real thing of all, and loyalty to it the most important thing of all.” ~ Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea


“The past and the present are after all so close, so almost one, as if time were an artificial teasing out of a material which longs to join, to interpenetrate, and to become heavy and very small like some of those heavenly bodies scientists tell us of.” ~ Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea


“We are conditioned beings who salivate when the bell rings. This sheer conditioning is another of our most characteristic dooms. Anything can be tarnished by association, and if you have enough associations you can blacken the world.” ~ Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea


“And what is love anyway? Love’s all over the mountain where the beautiful go to die no doubt, but I cannot attach much meaning to your idea of such a long-lasting love for someone you lost sight of so long ago. Perhaps it’s something you’ve invented now.” ~ Iris Murdoch, The Sea, The Sea

The metaphor hemmed into the tapestry that is The Sea, The Sea is remarkable to read and sift through. There is no doubt that Iris Murdoch has the prowess of summing up realities in profound lines. How about you readers, what lines in this Booker Prize-winning classic have caught your attention? Do share it on the comment section.

Happy reading!