Under the Net was Iris Murdoch’s debut as a novelist. Her philosophical concerns are apparent in this earliest novel, as is the humor for which she became well known. As in her later works, much of the humor in Under the Net is derived from its complex plot centered on a few midsummer weeks in the life of protagonist Jake Donaghue, a loner with a nose for trouble. Jake speaks dismissively about his relationship with the people closest to him, Madge and Finn in particular. Meanwhile, he has totally unrealistic fantasies about those he has lost touch with through his own neglect: Hugo and Anna. The goal of the novel is to transform Jake from the shallow person he is to the artist he has the potential to be.
Dave Gellman, the philosopher, is the one character who sees through Jake. Jake dislikes Dave’s honesty; however, he relies on Dave, who takes care of Finn, Mister Mars, and Jake’s mail without demanding compensation for these services. Dave tells Jake at the outset of the novel, “Society should take you by the neck and shake you and make you do a sensible job. Then in your evenings you would have the possibility to write a great book.” In the end, this is just what Jake decides he must do.
In this moral fable, Jake has the potential to be an artist but has been misusing this potential to write a bad novel, The Silencer, and to translate bad fiction—the novels of Jean Pierre—from French to English. He refuses to believe that he is capable of achieving his own redemption. Because of this, Jake chases after illusory relationships, only to find that they are not at all what he had imagined. Though Jake cannot see it clearly, most of the people he knows seem to be avoiding him.
When Jake is finally able to confront Hugo, the veil of self-deception is lifted from his eyes. Their conversation and subsequent escape provides the novel’s climax. As Jake says, “He wanted to be rid of me. I wanted to be rid of him.” Hugo, the saint, has provided Jake, the artist, with the ability to finally see reality and...
(The entire section is 850 words.)