Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Martin Lynch-Gibbon tells this story, he informs the reader, because it is about his loss of “great peace,” “the end of the old innocent world,” and about how he “was plunged into the nightmare” his life has become. An essential part of his peace is his relationship with Georgie Hands, his lover of two years. Even though she had become pregnant with his child and had had an abortion, this did nothing to disrupt his sense of peace and tranquillity, for—because she had dealt with the abortion alone, an illustration, he thinks, of her “toughness, and the stoical nature of her devotion” to him—the ordeal had been “painless” for him. Another essential aspect of his peace is that his affair with her has remained a secret; its “being so utterly private” is part of its “charm,” he informs her. It is appropriate, then, that Martin should begin his retrospective tale by describing himself and Georgie together in her apartment, a few days before Christmas, the two of them having just made love together, and staring into each other’s eyes. It is appropriate because this scene with her—wherein he assures her that he is certain that his wife, Antonia, does not know about their affair, and wherein he assures the reader that “there was no one in the world at whose feet I would . . . have lain in such an attitude of abandonment” as that expressed by Georgie when she prostrates herself at his feet—represents his “very last moment of...
(The entire section is 1317 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
A Severed Head, Murdoch’s fifth published novel, is considered the best of the comedies of manners that Murdoch was writing early in her career. The cast of characters is largely restricted to the wealthy bourgeoisie; the decadent atmosphere is evoked by careful descriptions of richly decorated rooms, heavy drinking, and romantic misconceptions. The characters suffer frequently from languor and fatigue. Yet the structure of A Severed Head is Murdoch’s own: A bumbling male protagonist lives through a series of events that destroy his complacency and teach him to recognize the separate reality of other people.
The protagonist, Martin Lynch-Gibbon, tells his own story. He is happily married to Antonia, a society beauty five years his senior. Martin’s easy complacency is shattered when Antonia declares she is going to leave him for her psychiatrist, Palmer Anderson, who is Martin’s close friend. Although Martin is repelled by Antonia’s suggestion that he remain rational about the affair, he allows Antonia to live with Palmer and remains friendly with them both.
Unknown to both Antonia and Palmer, Martin has long kept a mistress, a young teacher named Georgia Hands. Although Martin professes to love Georgia, he has denied her the trip to New York on which her heart was set and encouraged her to have an abortion. After Antonia’s revelation, Martin finds that he is extremely ambivalent toward his own mistress.
(The entire section is 773 words.)