Nuns and Soldiers

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Nuns and Soldiers
First edition cover
Author Iris Murdoch
Cover artist Will Carter
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Publisher Chatto and Windus
Publication date
Sep 1980
Pages 512
ISBN 0-7011-2519-5

Nuns and Soldiers is a 1980 novel by Iris Murdoch. The setting is England and two of the main characters are Gertrude, a widow, and Anne, an ex-nun.


Guy Openshaw is 44 years old and on his death bed. Cancer is coming down hard on Guy, and he cannot stand the stream of visitors to his London flat. His wife Gertrude entertains the drop-ins, who were once part of a lively set that came by after work hours for a drink and chat. The visitors all relied on Guy for advice and money, and as he dies the varied people in the novel begin to fray.

One of the visitors to the Openshaw flat is the youngish Tim Reede, an artist who cannot sell his work and who is lost without Guy’s support. He has a girlfriend named Daisy who dresses like a punk and talks and drinks like a sailor; they’re a perfect pair of starving misfits. Daisy makes Tim visit Gertrude once Guy has passed and ask her for money, but Gertrude begins questioning Tim about his craft and winds up wanting to support him in other ways, namely giving him run of her home in the French countryside.

The Tim-Gertrude affair and subsequent marriage is the heart of the book, and it is a good study of class relations and the younger man-older woman romance. Tim is both a hero and a colossal screw-up, but he is also kind and lets Gertrude’s friends run him down because it doesn’t bother her and he still gets to be with her at the end of the day. Some of Gertrude’s circle are genuinely concerned, but most are either in love with her or what she could do for them with Guy’s inheritance.

There is a fair amount of treachery and coincidence in the novel, but the heavy touches are softened by consequences which Murdoch lets play out in natural time.