Narrative techniques in the novels of Iris Murdoch

Master Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

In this thesis I have departed from the prevalent critical concentration on the affiliations between Murdoch's fiction and philosophy, and have attempted to explore the relationship between her narrative techniques and the conventions of realism. In doing so, I use the narrative theory of Dorrit Cohn, who proposes that novelists concerned to render a sense of "reality" are also those who construct the most elaborate and artificial fictive worlds and characters. I propose that Murdoch's "real-isation" of her fictional world incorporates the problems of access to, and representation of the real. This links her to two ostensibly antithetical traditions: that of British realism (within which she would place herself), and also a fictional mode consonant with the poststructuralist writing that focuses on such problems. An examination of the early novels in terms of the correlation between "realism" and technical sophistication implied by Cohn reveals a division of narrative purpose that Murdoch has herself described in the early part of her career as an alternation between "open" and "closed" novels. I suggest in the thesis that these two fictional modes are deliberate choices of style on Murdoch's part, rather than a "failed" realism, and that their different readerly rewards are compounded by the successful merging of these competing .views of the real in the later novels. My narratological emphasis in this dissertation indicates also the ways in which Murdoch's fiction incorporates the comedic, the romantic and the gothic into a framework of orthodox verisimilitude, utilising the clashes between these genres to foreground the difficulties of a unified view. This is particularly successful in the first-person novels, where the overt problematising of self-representation paradoxically feeds into our sense of their "realism".

Bibliography: pages 154-163.