Form and Content
A Fairly Honourable Defeat is the story of a group of people, active in the busy world of London, whose lives are anchored in the various kinds of love they have found, or lost. The two sisters at the heart of the novel, Hilda and Morgan, respectively exemplify a devoted, dedicated love for one man and the muddled explorations of love by a promiscuous woman. At the time Iris Murdoch wrote the novel, she was interested in exploring the power of evil, and her title refers to the triumph of evil over good as the theme is played out in the plot. In the context of the book, “good” might be defined as pure, disinterested love. The defeat is “fairly honourable,” however, because evil seems to have so many more tricks at its disposal that the odds are heavily in its favor. Although the story is told in an overtly realistic style, with careful descriptions of room interiors, clothes, weather, and various London locales, there are many suggestions of the supernatural that expand the novel into another dimension.
Much of the action has taken place before the novel opens; Peter, the prodigal son, has disappointed his parents by leaving the University of Cambridge and dropping out of society. Morgan, the errant sister, has abandoned her husband, Tallis, for a passionate love affair with Julius King. At the opening of the novel, Morgan and Julius have separated, and both have returned to London. Hilda and Rupert Foster, the successful, admirable couple...
(The entire section is 581 words.)