The Unicorn Critical Context
by Iris Murdoch

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Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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Based in the tradition of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (1847), Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847), Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1818), and the novels of Thomas Hardy, The Unicorn early baffled many critics. It has since been recognized as a typical exploration by Murdoch into the mysteries and ambiguities of contemporary existence, one of three novels of the mid-1960’s—the others are The Italian Girl (1964) and The Time of the Angels (1966)—in which Murdoch experimented with elements of the gothic, the fantastic.

Typical of Murdoch in its irresolution, the novel has contributed to her reputation as one of the greatest contemporary symbolic writers, for The Unicorn can be read as an allegory of combined sexual and spiritual devotion. In The Nice and the Good (1968), Murdoch went on to explore further the workings of sexual impulses as they determine the individual’s perceptions of and function in social reality.