A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch

Martin believes he can possess both a beautiful wife and a delightful lover. But when his wife, Antonia, suddenly leaves him for her psychoanalyst, Martin is plunged into an intensive emotional re-education. He attempts to behave beautifully and sensibly. Then he meets a woman whose demonic splendour at first repels him and later arouses a consuming and monstrous passion. How will he survive it?

This is an entertaining piece, very funny with raving mad characters. Murdoch (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iris_Murdoch) resisted the suggestion that her novels were works of philosophical fiction. She thought philosophy clarifies, whereas literature mystifies. She didn’t give herself sufficient credit for producing literary works with a subtle philosophical content. ‘Philosophy makes no progress’, she said. So we find ourselves not only discussing the same profound problems we always have but living the same lives we have always lived. In literature the writer describes these ‘same lives’ but great literature reveals meanings.

A Severed Head (1961) is driven by ethical considerations. We find this at every turn. You might feel the philosopher and moralist in Murdoch is more forceful than the novelist. Finally, a severed head may or may not refer to a disembodied spirit, the Cartesian seat of the emotions. Work this one out for yourself.

Follow up an interest in Iris Murdoch with Antonaccio, Maria (2000) Picturing the human: the moral thought of Iris Murdoch  (OUP  ISBN 0-19-516660-4) (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Picturing-Human-Moral-Thought-Murdoch/dp/0195166604/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1387230748&sr=8-1&keywords=picturing+the+human+murdoch)

Also listen to Iris Murdoch in conversation about literature with Bryan Magee in 1977 here Philosophy and Literature with Iris Murdoch and Bryan Magee (1977) – YouTube

224 pages in Vintage paperback edition

ISBN 978-0099285366

Iris Murdoch

Scroll to Top