English literature memory retirement wisdom

Trivia quiz for Iris Murdoch, “The Sea, The Sea”

                         Trivia Quiz for The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch (1978)

For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 10/30/22

With answers below

1. Why leave? Why go there? Many reasons lie behind the choice to leave London for a retreat, at the book’s beginning. Which one of the following is not cited by narrator Charles Arrowby?

a. “To repent a life of egoism”                      

b. “It is time to think about myself at last”

c. “It affords me a curious pleasure to … watch the violent forces which the churning waves, advancing or retreating, generate inside the confined space of the rocky hole.”

d. “I looked with timorous joy towards a stately house; I saw a blackened ruin.”

e. “(There is only one bed; I am not expecting visitors!)”

2. The Sea: a landscape of the mind. Charles reveals his changing feelings by reflecting on the sea. Which one of the following is not from Murdoch’s novel?

a. “Although the sea was fairly calm I had the same irritating difficulty getting out of it…. Swallowed a lot of water and cut my foot.”

b. “What is pertinent is the calmness… its sense of restraint.”

c. “The early dawn light hung over the rocks .. with an awful intent gripping silence, as if it had seized these faintly visible shapes and were very slowly drawing them out of a darkness in which they wanted to remain.”

d. “The sea was joyful and the taste of salt water was the taste of hope and joy. … Meeting my sea-dervish companion I shouted, ‘Now aren’t you glad you came to me?’”

3-6. Uneasy truths. The Sea, The Sea includes numerous lessons on life: some are of dubious value, others are heard then forgotten. Match the saying to the source. Characters include: a. Charles ; b. James; c. Rosina  d. local folks at the Black Lion inn

3. “A man would drown there in a second.”

4. “Every meal should be a treat and one ought to bless every day which brings with it a good digestion and the precious gift of hunger.”

5. “It’s so easy to frighten people.”

6. “People lie so, even we old men do. Though in a way, if there is art enough it doesn’t matter, since there is another kind of truth in the art.”

7. Marriage and desire: painful illusions. Which of the following quips is not from The Sea, The Sea?

a. “Our marriages have become a mere farce.”

b. “One of the horrors of marriage is that the partners are supposed to tell each other everything.”

c. “A marriage is so hideously private. Whoever illicitly draws back that curtain may well be stricken … by an avenging deity.”

d. “A long marriage is very unifying, even if it’s not ideal, and those old structures must be respected.”

8. The wisdom and mystery of James. As Charles mulls over his past, the reader gleans curious insights into his relationship with his cousin James. Which one of the following does not apply to James?

a. After Charles plunges into the sea, James rescues him in a miraculous way.

b. His London home is full of gold Buddhas, fetishes, and other oddities from the Orient

c. He was a Nazi sympathizer whose secrets, when revealed, caused a public disgrace.                       

d. As a boy, he was fond of custard cream biscuits, and he offers some to Charles during a visit.

e. He warns Charles to avoid myth-making, and to stay away from Hartley.

f. When reminiscing with Charles, James says, “What larks we had.”

g. At the end, Charles inherits James’s London house and moves there.

9. Titus: a Long-lost family member? Or a weird coincidence? Which one of the following phrases is not spoken by Titus Fitch to the narrator Charles?

a. “Are you my father?”

b “I want to go home.”

c. “Oh, the sea, the sea—it’s so wonderful. … A swim? Oh—yes.

d. “I’m against forcing people, I think they should be free.”

e. “We’ll get to know each other one day. There’s time.”

10. Happy ending? A chance encounter with some animals seems to put a happy ending on Charles’s retreat. What animals show up?

a. dolphins

b. sea turtles

c.  seals

d. rabbits

11. Yet one foe may persist: the mind. Which of the following is not a description of Charles’s thoughts toward the end of the book?

a. “My thoughts still had to be kept on a leash, and there were long dark passages down which they were straining to run.”

b. “My responsibility for Titus’s death, which now so largely occupied my mind, amounted to this: I had never warned him about the sea.”

c. “But suppose nothing happened .. and nothing happened…?”

d. “Time, like the sea, unties all knots.”

e. “Last night someone on a BBC quiz show did not know who I was.”

f.  “I have now been married ten years. I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest—blest beyond what language can express.”


1. d. (That quote is from Jane Eyre.)

2. b. (That quote is from The Remains of the Day.)

3. d.

4. a.

5. c.

6. b.

7. a.  (That quote is from Père Goriot.)

8. c. (That reference applies to the employer of Stevens, in The Remains of the Day.)

9. b.

10. c.

11. f. (That is the ending of Jane Eyre.)


COME BACK NEXT MONTH, for our quiz on Marieke Lucas Rijneveld, The Discomfort of Evening (winner of the International Man Booker Prize, 2020).


Trivia Quiz for “The Green Knight” by Iris Murdoch

Trivia Quiz for The Green Knight by Iris Murdoch (1993)

For West Seattle “Classic Novels (and Movies)” book club, 2/21/21

1. The five sections of The Green Knight include all but one of the following. Which is not a subheading of the book?

a. Eros            

b. Mercy         

c. War            

d. Justice

2. In the voice of her omniscient narrator, author Iris Murdoch casts a foreboding shadow over events to come. Already on page one, we are presented with ominous warnings. Which of the following phrases is not on page one of The Green Knight ?

a. “Once upon a time there were three little girls – […] and they lived at the bottom of a well.”

b. “Dogs don’t forget. He’ll run away.”

c. Clement said to the girls, “Peter Mir is dead.” […] “Their fates are bound together.”

d. “This dog business will end in tears.”

3. After finishing The Green Knight, it appears that some of the most ordinary objects and animals may carry symbolic meaning. Which one of the following is not important to the plot?

a. snakes                     

b. seals                       

c. swans                      

d. rocks                      

4. True or False:  The omniscient narration includes long descriptions of the characters’ uncertainties, hopes, and fears, because they hide their feelings so well, and the book includes no other clues to their feelings, no letters or dialogue.                     

True  / False

5. Bits of famous myths, legends, and works of art are found throughout the book and help motor the plot of The Green Knight, though their exact significance remains unclear. Which of the following is not mentioned in The Green Knight?

a. Rembrandt’s painting, Polish Rider                      

b. Milton’s Poetical Works

c. The Celtic myth of the Selkies (or Silkies)           

d. The Bible, esp. Genesis “Cain and Abel”

e. The Greek myth of Leda and the Swan                 

f. All are mentioned in The Green Knight

6. Fears and secrets of sexuality run through The Green Knight. Which of the following quotes is not in the novel?

a. “Sometimes she thought she knew why Joan liked Tessa, and she did not like that either.”

b. “He’s been retarded by your girls, they’ve inoculated him against women, against sex.

c. “Louise who was convinced that the girls never discussed sex, was in fact quite right.”

d. “’I feel sort of paralyzed about the whole business, I wish I was gay.’ Bellamy also wished that Harvey was gay.”

7. The novel reveals a masterful sense of pacing, internal coherence, and seemingly predestined movement in time. Although the actions are more or less ordinary, the work has a mythic dimension. Which of the following lines is not by Murdoch?

a. “We need someone to come to break the enchantment, someone from elsewhere.”

b. “The Fall is ahead, and I am afraid of it.”

c. “The legend went … that this was the portal of a vault … the bones of a girl whom a monkish conclave of the drear middle ages had here buried alive, for some sin against her vow.”

d. “Well then, I dare you to walk across!”

Whose Wisdom Counts? Match the wisdom with the character who speaks the following advice. 

The characters include: a. Damien Butler; b. Tessa; c. Lucas


8. [to Harvey]: “Your kind of unhappiness must cure itself. You have a healing substance in your own body and soul, it is called courage. Your mother has it too. Call upon it, let it flow. Read, study, think.”

9. [to Sefton]: “Travel light, simplify your life. Beware of being involved in the problems of other people, altruism is too often simply a busy exercise of power. … Do not marry. Solitude is essential if real thinking is to take place.”

10. [to Bellamy]: “Do not seek solitude. Return to some small flat near to your friends and get a job … wherein you can be extremely busy every day relieving the needs and sorrows of others. And do, as a sign of sanity, go back to your dog!”

11. One character possesses a special gift, described as “a strange not unfriendly presence or form of being which joined her life with the life of things.”  Who has that power, manifest in telekinesis among other things?

a. Moy            

b. Aleph                     

c. Rosemary               

d. Sefton

12. As biographer of French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, Murdoch was well versed in Existentialism: the belief that crucial defining moments make us who we are, again and again, through our lives in recognizable patterns. The narrator thus invites us to judge characters on their actions, as in the following, which applies to which character?  “Now however, at this very moment of his being grown-up and free, he was handed a terrible new burden of responsibility.”

a. Bellamy                 

b. Emil                       

c. Peter Mir                

d. Harvey


1. c.

2. c.

3. a.

4. False

5. f.

6. c. [Louise was quite wrong about her daughters’ sexual ignorance!]

7. c. (That quote is from Charlotte Brontë, Villette.)

8. b. Tessa is the one who prods Harvey: “Your kind of unhappiness must cure itself.”

9. c. Lucas counsels Sefton: “Travel light, simplify your life.”

10. a. Damien Butler, the one-time priest, advises Bellamy, “Do not seek solitude.”

11. a. Moy

12. d. Harvey