Philosophical Prose

 Though Iris Murdoch was intellectually sophisticated, her novels are often melodramatic and comedic, rooted, she famously said, in the desire to tell a “jolly good yarn.” She was strongly influenced by philosophers like Plato, Freud, Simone Weil and Sartre, and by the 19th century English and Russian novelists, especially Fyodor Dostoevsky, as well as Marcel Proust and Shakespeare. She also met and held discussions with philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti. Her novels often include upper middle class intellectual males caught in moral dilemmas, gay characters, Anglo-Catholics with crises of faith, empathetic pets, curiously “knowing” children and sometimes a powerful and almost demonic male “enchanter” who imposes his will on the other characters — a type of man Murdoch is said[1] to have modeled on her lover, the Nobel laureate, Elias Canetti.
Although she wrote primarily in a realistic manner, on occasion Murdoch would introduce ambiguity into her work through a sometimes misleading use of symbolism, and by mixing elements of fantasy within her precisely described scenes. The Unicorn (1963) can be read as a sophisticated Gothic romance, or as a novel with Gothic trappings, or perhaps as a parody of the Gothic mode of writing. The Black Prince (1973), for which Murdoch won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, is a study of erotic obsession, and the text becomes more complicated, suggesting multiple interpretations, when subordinate characters contradict the narrator and the mysterious “editor” of the book in a series of afterwords.

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