Under the Net Critical Overview
by Iris Murdoch

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Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

Under the Net was Murdoch’s first published novel. She later felt somewhat embarrassed by this book, claiming it was juvenile. However, as Cheryl K. Bove in her study Understanding Iris Murdoch points out: “Under the Net foreshadows [Murdoch’s] mature works with its fast-paced plot, closely detailed settings, fully developed characters, and attention to moral issues.”

Under the Net marked the beginning of a long writing career for Murdoch, who also taught philosophy but only to the point it did not interfere with her writing schedule. Each of Murdoch’s twenty-six novels was written longhand and, as John Russell explains in a New York Times article, she took each manuscript “to her publishers in London in a capacious paper bag.” Her editors were never allowed to make any changes.

Peter J. Conradi, in his biography and study Iris Murdoch: A Life, takes great lengths to compare the life of Murdoch to the characters in her books. “It is no accident,” Conradi writes, “that each of her first-person male narrators is the same age as Iris at the time of the novel’s composition.” It is her “first-person novels,” Conradi states, that “are often among her best work” and it was through a male narrator that Murdoch was able to “liberate” her writing. Conradi, who notes that upon the publication of Under the Net, the Times Literary Supplement hailed Murdoch as a “brilliant talent that, despite a lack of ‘fit’ between characters and plot, promised great things.” Conradi writes that author Kingsley Amis in the Spectator “admired her ‘complete control of her material; [she was] a distinguished novelist of a rare kind.’” Conradi also observes that Asa Briggs, a noted British historian, “was struck by [Murdoch’s] ability to turn common experience into poetry.”

In a collection of critical reviews of Murdoch’s works titled Iris Murdoch, Steven G. Kellman notes that a few critics find Under the Net to be Murdoch’s best work: “Such critics tend to see Under the Net as her most successful work, as well as her most original, and her painstaking efforts at creating a fuller and more realistic world in her later books as an aberration, or a retreat into English bourgeois complacencies.”