Iris Murdoch Murdoch, Iris (Vol. 1)

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Murdoch, Iris (Vol. 1)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Murdoch, Iris 1919–

Irish-born English novelist, author of The Severed Head, The Italian Girl, and The Red and the Green. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 13-14.)

Although honest, intelligent, and well written, the novels of Iris Murdoch nevertheless lack clear definition. Hers seems to be a talent for humor, but she appears unable to sustain it for more than a scene or a temporary interchange…. Another danger that Miss Murdoch has not avoided is that of creating characters who are suitable only for the comic situations but for little else. When they must rise to a more serious response, their triteness precludes real change. This fault is especially true of the characters in The Flight from the Enchanter, a curious mixture of the frivolous and the serious….

This is not to gainsay Miss Murdoch's substantial qualities…. Verbal skill, incisive conception of some characters, ability to convey humor and sadness, awareness of the large world, a philosophical point of view—all these qualities are admirably present in Miss Murdoch's work. Nevertheless, through her first five novels, they have remained merely potential, or else only sporadically realized. Her themes take forms that yield less than her skill warrants, which suggests that she could do much more than she tries. The obvious fact that she does this well with her off-beat material indicates that her talent places her high above many of her contemporaries, several of whom have been more widely publicized and read. These five novels, with their mixed quality, seem to be preparation for the big work which will synthesize the comic and tragic tones in her fiction and establish her as a major novelist.

Frederick R. Karl, "Iris Murdoch," in his A Reader's Guide to the Contemporary English Novel (reprinted with the permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.; © 1962 by Frederick R. Karl), Farrar, Straus, 1962, pp. 260-65.

[Iris] Murdoch's fiction can be read or interpreted as a willingness or a desire on her part to loosen the claims for the formal, and to allow the contingent, the inexplicable, and the elusive to pass in review. Politically too, she is afraid that excesses of the orderly, the neat, the formal mean the destruction of the rich, the varied, the curious, the eccentric. Her own fiction is indebted to Sartre or at least presents a view of the human situation very like his. Man, a lonely creature in an absurd world, is impelled to make moral decisions, the consequences of which are uncertain. Unlike Sartre, however, Miss Murdoch can create living characters. Her talent is for evoking the concrete, a sense of mystery, the flow of events. And she has what Sartre lacks completely, a sense of humor….

Miss Murdoch is a kind of twentieth-century Congreve. Her characters are interesting puppets and interesting symbols, and she can make them dance or place them erect in an eerie green light. An intellectual game is going on. There is no sweat, no anguish, and no real love making. All of these are illusions. The real game is between Miss Murdoch and her reader, not between the reader and the characters. This is her strength and her limitation.

William Van O'Connor, "Iris Murdoch: The Formal and the Contingent" (© 1963 by Southern Illinois University Press; reprinted by permission of Southern Illinois University Press), in his The New University Wits and the End of Modernism ("Crosscurrents/Modern Critiques" Series), Southern Illinois University Press, 1963, pp. 54-74.

Iris Murdoch, a sometime Oxford lecturer in philosophy, is better known as a talented and original novelist. Starting in 1953 with a small but enlightening study of the French existentialist, Sartre, she launched into fiction with Under the Net (1954), a semi-ribald semi-picaresque account of masculine racketing in London, robust and vigorous, though with some incoherence of plot. Her second novel, The Flight from the Enchanter (1956), is more substantial, with a rich texture in striking contrast with the threadbare...

(The entire section is 3,682 words.)