Iris Murdoch and Women’s Writing: by Lilly Schofield, Group B

Iris Murdoch


Rachel Cusk begins her essay on Iris Murdoch by stating that ‘Iris Murdoch, though a woman, was not a women’s writer.’1 This assertion, which forms the underlying argument of Cusk’s essay, raises many of the questions that have been central to this module and allows a discourse on Iris Murdoch specifically from the standpoint of women’s writing and feminist critical theory. Cusk bases her main argument on what she sees as the distinctive feature of women’s writing, its ‘inalienably personal connection to lived life’ and specifically its engagement with the ordinariness of life.2 Dame Iris Murdoch, moral philosopher and Oxford fellow, certainly was not an ordinary woman. In her novels, it was such concepts as good, evil and the morality of decisions within an ordinary life which interested her rather than the minutiae of the ordinary itself. Drawing on DH Lawrence, Cusk states that ‘the more stringently personal the artist, the greater the sphere of his creation’.3 This assertion, which redefines the role of the artist as subject, also invites a reevaluation of the popular classification of subject matter in ‘high’ art (philosophy, morality) and ‘low’ art (the female ‘ordinary’). Following Cusk’s argument, by allying herself with the patriarchal world of culture, intellect and history Murdoch ‘loses her connection to her womanhood and hence to personal truth’.4 As such, it is the immasculation of Murdoch’s life and work which alienates her from ‘ordinary female experience’.5


To base a woman’s connection to her womanhood specifically on that which is ordinary in female experience is an uncomfortable thought for many. Cusk herself mentions that ‘[t]he idea that a woman artist is not free to create without acknowledging the fact of her womanhood is abhorrent to many people’.6 And yet it is a fundamentally important debate in which Cusk engages, namely the responsibility of gender for a woman writer. Iris Murdoch chose to live her life apart from gender restrictions and her achievements as a woman in the androcentric world of academia can also be seen not as immasculation but as disrupting the authority of that very androcentrism. And yet, it would have been enriching to have such an extraordinarily intelligent, eloquent and insightful woman and writer as Iris Murdoch engage with the powerlessness and historical silence of the woman reader.


1Cusk, p. 1




3Cusk, p. 2


4Cusk, p. 1




6Cusk, p. 2


One response to this post.

  1. Would it be fair to say though, that a lot of Iris Murdoch’s popularity is due to her immasculation?

    By not falling into the trap of “writing like a woman” she has the chance of gaining a wider readership of her ideas than if she had gendered herself. While it’s a shame she didn’t involve herself more with the silence of the woman reader, it could be argued that writing this way has done a better job overall because it has shown women as capable of writing interesting and eloquent novels on a part with those of male authors, and her style facilitates this by garnering a wider readership.


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