Posts Tagged ‘Iris Murdoch’

Iris Murdoch: Under the Net Part II


Jean Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir



Under the Net (1954) is one of Murdoch’s most self-reflexive novels. Like Murdoch, the central character Jake is an aspiring writer trying to find his feet as a novelist and as a human being after the devastation of War. Two figures are central to his and Murdoch’s development, both French:  Jean Paul Sartre the existentialist philosopher and the writer Raymond Queneau (to whom Under the Net is dedicated).


Raymond Queneau

Thus the major questions of the novel are: ‘in a post-war society that witnessed grave limitations on human existence how free are we – really?’; and, ‘at this stage in human history what are the moral, political and cultural responsibilities of the writer and what kind of novel should s/he write?’. Critics at the time daubed Murdoch as conventional social realist, missing the European influences on her writing and thinking. It’s both significant and unique that a female writer, functioning simultaneously in the role of philosopher and novelist, was demanding so much of the novel and experimenting with its form at this time. Murdoch certainly brings great moral seriousness to the novel – yet has been criticised enduringly by feminists. So for this reason we will look at this novel afresh, trying to rationalise why Murdoch chose in this important debut novel, to adopt the narrative voice of a man.


Charlotte Street, London, 1950s

We will also look at the perceptions of femininity and the role of women in society that she explores within it. What conclusions does the book draw about mid twentieth-century gender relations and where they might be heading?. She is not afraid to shirk her responsibilities here; she is telling the truth as she sees it and won’t conform to any preconceived ideas about what a female writer should be writing – and I think this is what many find unpalatable. Do you?


The Novel of Ideas: Iris Murdoch Under the Net (1954) Part 1



Published in 1954, Under the Net is Iris Murdoch’s first published novel. As such, some biographical background, some understanding of the book’s literary and philosophical influences, and a short assessment of why it is relevant to the subject of women’s writing in the twentieth century, might be useful to your reading.











Murdoch was born in Ireland but came to London as a baby. An only child, and cocooned in a ‘perfect trinity of love’ with her parents, she had a privileged childhood both emotionally and educationally. Her father was a senior Civil Servant and the young Iris first attended the Froebel Institute in London, then won a scholarship to Badminton School, Bristol and from there went to Somerville College, Oxford.








She was conscripted into the Civil Service on leaving Oxford in 1939 and worked at the Treasury in Whitehall. Between 1942 and 1944 she worked with refugees in the camps in Austria and Belgium for UNRRA (the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Association) and was deeply affected by their plight. Deracination – the fear of being stripped of one’s home and one’s identity underlies Under the Net.


On her return she spent a year at Cambridge as a postgraduate student; Wittgenstein taught there – though she did not fall under his tutelage – but his ideas on language are also are fundamental to the book – the ‘net’ is an image taken from his Tractatus, and is an image of the net of language, from under which all writing struggles to emerge. In what ways does the nature of language itself figure in this text?