Iris Murdoch’s Under the Net in a Harvey Weinstein-world Blog Post by Amber Millar

Harvey Weinstein, a world-renowned film director and co-founder of the Weinstein Group, was accused of sexual assault, harassment and rape by more than 50 actresses during 2017. The disproportionate power dynamic of Weinstein’s relationships and interactions with these actresses allowed him to continue assaulting women for decades before public recognition of his crimes. Weinstein’s actions are representative of an insidious problem in the world of film-making and the abuses of power of those in charge of making and directing art.

Iris Murdoch addresses similar concerns in her novel Under the Net. Whilst, on the surface, the novel is concerned with a lazy but loveable picaro protagonist Jake and his adventures across London and Paris, Murdoch addresses the inappropriate behaviour of the male characters towards the women they engage with. Jake’s first encounter in the novel with Anna, an old girlfriend, starts with a non-consensual kiss and embrace. The language used to describe this experience describes Anna with ‘eyes wide with alarm’ and ‘laying stiffly in my arms like a great doll’. This encounter with Anna begins his obsession with her, eventually following her to Paris to try to win her over. This kind of relationship is often presented to a contemporary audience as ‘romantic’, instead of unhealthy and toxic but Murdoch insinuates the harsh reality of the situation through her language.

Hugo, the owner of a film studio, is also shown to demonstrate entitled sexual behaviour towards the women in the novel. Sadie, an actress and the sister of Anna, repeatedly receives phone calls and harassment from her ‘admirer’ Hugo. This presentation of unwanted sexual advances from a film director to his actress ring almost painfully relevant from a contemporary view. Whilst showing these inappropriate encounters between artists and their muses, Murdoch allows the reader to understand the deep-rooted tradition of abuse, not only in Hollywood, but by men throughout history, in ways and in situations that we are expected to believe are acceptable.



14 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Fern Dalton on January 23, 2018 at 11:25 am

    Great blog, Amber! I really like how you have included ongoing issues in today’s society with this novel, especially because at first glance, this topic is overlooked, I think, because of the male perspective. However, when you read again, it is very evident that unwanted attention is there. Furthermore, I think relating it to a modern day concept, allows us to fully understand the roots of abuse, as you have mentioned, and it has allowed me to look at this novel in a different light.


  2. Posted by zoha on January 23, 2018 at 1:06 pm

    A very insightful and thought-provoking blog! The way you created the link between Murdoch’s novel and the present situation highlights the poignant reality of so many women. Murdoch’s novel incorporates a subversive style of presenting issues that are pertinent in today’s time. The use of a male protagonist, while at first confuses one because she is a female writer and her protagonist should be a female, later, once you have unearthed the intricacies of Murdoch’s choice to have a male voice, you realise how ahead of her time she really was. And how she wanted the world to know this ‘tradition of abuse’ as you have pointed out.


  3. Posted by Georgia on January 23, 2018 at 1:22 pm

    I think it’s really interesting to link this to a modern-day example, the Harvey Weinstein allegations are horrifying, and yet it seems like this kind of behaviour has been going on for decades but just swept under the mat. I think it’s very observant of Murdoch to incorporate the character of Hugo as a predatory figure, from Jake’s perspective he is harmless, and Sadie doesn’t really seem to go into much detail of their encounters so it takes a closer reading for us to see the worrying truth. I can’t help but wish that Murdoch had made it into a bigger issue in the novel, rather than making it seem like women are complicit, however this very well may have been the way things were back then as there was not really rights in place to allow women to speak up.


  4. Posted by Hannah Mitchell on January 23, 2018 at 3:35 pm

    I really like how you have linked the novel to a very modern example. I think Murdoch portrays the harassment in quite a realistic way, where some people would not see the abusive and intoxicating effects. It is sad to see that this form of harassment is still evident. However, there is a sense of good that it is now seen as wrong and punishment is in order.


  5. This is a really great post Amber! It’s great the way you have linked a novel written almost 70 years ago with current issues, particularly ones surround sexual assault as it is so often ignored, or made light of. I completely agree that on the surface some of Jake’s actions are presented as romantic, but that Murdoch herself does not perceive them so. However, I think Murdoch doesn’t want us to completely dislike Jake and Hugo, something a modern reader may find difficult, especially when likening their actions to the likes of Weinstein. After that, it is hard to view Hugo in the same way!


  6. Posted by Rachel Chandar on January 23, 2018 at 11:01 pm

    Really enjoyed this post! I also found the link between Under the Net and the contemporary issues involving the Weinstein allegations to be very interesting, as I didn’t originally think of linking the two. I think the quote you included, of Jake describing Anna ‘like a great doll’, really portrays this domineering and oppressive male power and control over women. I feel that as Murdoch doesn’t explicitly highlight these issues, but expresses it through language, it does show how these issues were and currently are often kept in the dark.


  7. Posted by Lily Money on January 24, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    Great blog post Amber. I really liked how you incorporated present issues with older ones. Although, it is sad that women are still having to deal with harassment within the work place. I think Murdoch illustrated this issue through her writing clearly, especially through the female characters. I also liked how Murdoch did not write in the traditional way other female writers wrote.


  8. I really enjoyed reading your post and thought it refreshing to see an older text being linked to more contemporary themes. Knowing more or Murdoch and her struggle with sexuality I think plays on how Under The Net is written. She was criticised for her style and the lack of feminine issues she touched upon, however as she did feel more like a man this would explain it. This then raises the question of when Jake did first meet Anna, was he intending to come across as forceful because this is what Murdoch expects of men or was she engaging with her own experiences?


  9. Posted by Ella Bukbardis on January 24, 2018 at 5:45 pm

    Hi Amber, really great post. Comparing themes which go on in the book with a current issue in society really helps to bring the topics in the book to life and reinstates their importance. I believe another important issue is the shallow way Jake looked at both Madge and Anna, as well as the ideas of his ‘ideal woman’ were presented.


  10. Posted by Carmen on January 24, 2018 at 7:48 pm

    A really interesting blog which touches upon a topic which I was concerned whilst reading the novel so I was glad that dedicated your blog about the gender politics in Under the Net. I also liked the comparison between the novel and the contemporary issue concerning the sexual abuse committed in Hollywood throughout the past few decades. I believe that the male-centric narrative perhaps reflects the position of women in Hollywood itself as they are often marginalised and viewed as side-characters at most.


  11. Posted by Sara on January 24, 2018 at 8:38 pm

    Hi Amber, this is a really fascinating blog. I like how you have gotten a modern day example of how women are sexually subjected by men. Murdoch has created a male-centric novel to highlight the idea of the way sexual harassment of women as women is expected to overlook sexual advances of the opposite sex.


  12. I absolutely love this blog! Thank you for demonstrating the relevance of the sexism faced in Under The Net in modern society, this really was eye-opening. Feminism has come a long way, but apparently not enough.


  13. Posted by Ruzina on January 24, 2018 at 11:30 pm

    Great post Amber! It is really fascinating to see how themes in Murdoch’s novel are relevant to current issues. Although the first person narrators are all male, Murdoch is interested in the male gaze of the woman. In an interview, Murdoch says she prefers the male viewpoint because of the “unliberated position of women (…) where “you’d better be male, because a male represents ordinary human beings, unfortunately as things stand at the moment, whereas a woman is always a woman!”


  14. Posted by Bronagh on January 25, 2018 at 1:37 am

    Great post Amber, very insightful! I really enjoyed how you related Under the Net to a contemporary issue. I feel like the description of Anna as a ‘great doll’ is a poignant image. It made me imagine creative abusers, such as Harry Weinstein, as demonic puppeteers and the Hollywood actresses as puppets. But also made me think, why are creative men such as Weinstein, or artists etc. so obsessed with controlling and restricting women? Is it because they are so used to having complete control over their muses in their work life, that they struggle to distinguish fantasy from reality?


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