In Iris Murdoch’s novel The Bell (2004 ), Dora, the young female protagonist, visits the National Gallery in London during a period of great stress in her life. During this visit, which is described in some detail, Dora, who ‘had been to the National Gallery a thousand times’ (p. 194) is initially calmed by the familiarity of the paintings, as they are well known to her. Yet, as she progresses she sees the work afresh, prompting her to think about both the art and herself anew:
Dora was always moved by the pictures. Today she was moved, but in a new way. She marvelled, with a kind of gratitude, that they were all still here. … It occurred to her that here at last was something real and something perfect. Who had said that, about perfection and reality being in the same place? Here was something that her consciousness could not wretchedly devour, and by making it part of her fantasy make it worthless … the pictures were something real outside herself, which spoke to her kindly and yet in sovereign tones, something superior and good whose presence destroyed the dreary trance-like solipsism of her earlier mood. When the world had seemed to be subjective it had seemed to be without interest or value. But now there was something else in it after all. These thoughts, not clearly articulated, flitted through Dora’s mind. She had never thought about the pictures in this way before; nor did she draw now any very explicit moral. Yet she felt she had had a revelation.