Read A Fairly Honourable Defeat by Iris Murdoch Online


Hilda Foster is alone in an isolated cottage when she receives an important telephone call. She must get in touch with her husband but it is virtually impossible. How can she avert the crisis?Hilda's troubles began when she trusts a slippery intellectual called Julius King who decides to demonstrate how he can persuade easily loving couples, caring friends, and devoted sibHilda Foster is alone in an isolated cottage when she receives an important telephone call. She must get in touch with her husband but it is virtually impossible. How can she avert the crisis?Hilda's troubles began when she trusts a slippery intellectual called Julius King who decides to demonstrate how he can persuade easily loving couples, caring friends, and devoted siblings to betray their loyalties to one another. Melodramatic incidents, purloined letters, apparently unmotivated actions abound as this dark comedy of errors unfolds....

Title : A Fairly Honourable Defeat
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780099285335
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 438 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

A Fairly Honourable Defeat Reviews

  • Algernon
    2019-04-20 11:34

    Relationships : It's Complicated!Tallis loves Morgan but Morgan loves Julius, Julius woos Simon but Simon loves Axel, Hilda loves Rupert but Rupert covets Morgan, Julius wants Hilda but Hilda loves Peter, Peter loves Morgan but Morgan loves Rupert. Leonard loves nobody because he's an old grinch and the exception to the rule of musical chairs deployed by Murdoch here in her study of love, morality and fidelity. If the tune sounds familiar, it's because I've spent half an hour on Google trying to identify a song that I kept humming back in the 80's. Turns up it's by a band named Chilly: Joey wants Penny but Penny loves Bo Bo isn't ready 'cos he's havin' fun - Playin' with many is better than none. Johnny loves Jenny but Jenny loves Joe I used to love Iris Murdoch, but after the rather ponderous and deprimantDream of BrunoI took a break that turned to last two decades. Now I'm back, and I'm glad to report that her books can be not only deep, philosophical and provocative but also a lot of fun. Rambunctious is not a qualifier that I had occasion to use before, but it describes accurately the madcap permutations in the affections of the close knit group of friends and relatives at the center of this story. To borrow a title from my next review, the book could aptly be named :The Disorderly Lovers, a commedy of manners that could only be set in England, where appearances, stiff-upper-lips and repressed sexuality trump sincerity and trust: You are preserving your dignity by refusing to show your feelings. But there are moments when love ought to be undignified, extravagant, even violent.says Rupert at one time to Tallis about the latter's failure to convince runaway wife Morgan to come back to him.I'm getting ahead of the story. I should get back and properly introduce the actors before commenting on their foibles. Briefly, the novel starts with Rupert, a high ranking government official and his stay at home wife Hilda celebrating the 20th anniversary of their steady and slightly boring marriage. It's one of those elusive hot summer days in London and the couple gossips extensively about their guests as they sample liberaly from the drinks cabinet. We learn that Hilda's sister Morgan is expected to return soon from the United States where she had a torrid affair with Julius, a former school colleague of Rupert. Their son Peter is living out with Morgan's abandoned husband Tallis, while Rupert's brother Simon is expected to join them in the company of his 'significant other' Axel, another mate from Rupert and Julius school days. At this point I recommend a spreadsheet and some colored markers in order to keep track of who is involved with whom.To make it easier, I would say the novel is a cross between two literary classics :A Midsummer Night Dreamby Shakespeare andLes Liaisons Dangereusesby Pierre Choderlos de Laclos. I am not qualified to comment in detail on the connections, as I am only familiar with the movie versions of these stories, but I see Rupert and Hilda as Oberon and Titania around whom the others gravitate, Morgan as the Marquise de Merteuil and Julius as the disruptive, malicious Puck / Vicomte de Valmont. This artificiality / theatricality is in fact the one major complaint I could level at the novel. In order to touch on as many aspects of the subject as possible, Murdoch uses a sandbox approach, with the characters acting sometimes as puppets whose strings are in their creator's hands and who move in predetermined patterns that puts them in exactly the situation that illustrates best the point Murdoch wants to make. With the same goal in mind, all the characters are upper class, highly educated and introspective, able to analyze their emotions and extremely articulate about expressing them. What saves the characters as people is the level of detail of Murdoch analysis and the real pain they go through as they try to reach out and touch one another. I had some issues with Peter and Simon, who are a little too stereotypical in their roles, one as a teenager refusing his parents love and the other as the effete, promiscuous, flashy dresser, gay interior decorator: Peter:- Peter, do drink something not just water. It would do you good. - What sort of good? You people all drink in order to escape from reality. I happen to like reality. I'm staying with it, not taking off for the land of make-believe.Peter , again :- I'm afraid nowadays it's you young people who are cynical and we middle-aged ones who are idealistic.- We aren't cynical. And you aren't idealistic. You're just a lot of self-centred habit-ridden hedonists.Simon:Simon was greedy for the surface texture of his life whose substance he luxuriously munched second after second as if it were a fruit with a thin soft furry exterior and a firm sweet fleshy inside. [...] Simon loved times of day, eating, drinking, looking, touching. All his experiences were ceremonies. He liked the slow savouring of moments of pleasure and he engineered his life to contain as many of these as possible.It sometimes seemed to him that all his enjoyments were similar in kind though not in degree, whether he was stroking a cat or a Chippendale chair or drinking a dry martini or looking at a picture by Titian or getting into bed with Alex. Murdoch most reliable characters for presenting her position on the major themes of the novel are Rupert and Julius. Rupert is actually writing a philosophical book about the power of love and positive thinking. Julius thinks Rupert is conceited and misguided and sets up to demonstrate that his own cynical approach to love is closer to reality. Rupert:Love is the last and secret name of all the virtues.Julius:- All human beings fly from consciousness. Drink, Love, Art are methods of flight. Philosophy is another one, perhaps the subtlest of them all. Even subtler than theology. - One can attempt to be truthful, Julius. The attempt has meaning. - About these things, no. The Venerable Bede observed that human life was like a sparrow that flies through a lighted hall, in one door and out the other. What can that poor sparrow know? Nothing. These attempted truths are tisues of illusion. Theories.Julius , again :Human beings are roughly constructed entities full of indeterminacies and vagueness and empty spaces. Driven along by their own private needs they latch blindly onto each other, then pull away, then latch again. Their little sadisms and their little masochisms are surface phenomena. Anyone will do to play their roles. They never really see each other at all. There is no relationship, dear Morgan, which cannot quite easily be broken and there is none the breaking of which is a matter of any genuine seriousness. Human beings are essentially finders of substitutes. ... and so, Julius proceeds to put his theories into practice by sabotaging the relationships he sees as conceited and insincere. He uses Simon's insecurity, Axel's reticence, Morgan's self-centeredness, Rupert's idealism, Peter's teenage rebelliousness, Hilda's complacency. The comedy that entertained me so much in the beginning of the novel gains tragic dimmensions as the victims of Julius seem unable to escape his devilish machinations. Jealousy rears its ugly head, and reason flies out the window . Julius :Mix up pity and vanity and novelty in an emotional person and you at once produce something very much like being in love. Murdoch defines the ensuing chaos as a 'muddle' , the very opposite of order and clarity, the very thing that Englishmen find abhorrent (I believe I'm quoting E. M. Forster on this). Life is a mess, and good intentions are not enough to see us through. I've been quoting most of the characters in the book, it's time to shine the spotlight onAxel: Eating reveals the characteristic grossness of the human race and also the in-built failure of its satisfaction. We arrive eager, we stuff ourselves and we go away depressed and disappointed and probably feeling a bit queasy into the bargain. It's an image of thedecuin human existence. A greedy start and a stupefied finish. Waiters, who are constantly observing this cycle, must be the most disillusioned of men. Pretentious drivel or astute observation? As a seriously overweight person, I cannot refute this, at least as far as expectations and fullfilment in the matter of food are concerned. There is lot more to discover in the book than just troubled relationships and self-deceiving individuals. I could go on at length about age and disillusionment as seen through the eyes of Leonard, the one actor who isn't playing the game anymore and is just waiting for the exit. But I don't want to end the review on such a bleak note. I have seen several interpretations of the 'defeat' from the title : Rupert's awakening to the shallow nature of his philosophical musings when confronted with a real life crisis, Julius exile from London when his dirty deeds are exposed, Morgan's inability to see beyond her own needs, Tallis slovenness and incapacity to put either his kitchen or his emotions in order. But Murdoch chooses to close the novel with neither of these images, she picks the only couple to emerge strengthened and closer to each other from the ordeal: Of course our love is selfish. Almost all human love is bloody selfish. If one has anything to hang onto at all one clings to it relentlessly. We've tried to face it and to suffer it. To take refuge in love is an instinct and not a disreputable one.

  • Manny
    2019-04-17 09:30

    OK, it's not really the great novel it sets out to be, but it's very entertaining. Julius King is one of my all-time favorite bad guys. Go Julius! Destroy that relationship! Drive that man to madness and despair! Cut up that dress! Do the washing-up! Sort of a high-brow Hannibal Lecter-lite, as it were. Though I was rather shocked to discover the explanation for his lack of affect.Here's the bit I liked best. The woman is very taken with him, and hangs on his every word. He tells her that Turner is rubbish, no talent at all. She uncritically believes him. Then, a bit later, she visits the National Gallery, and is delighted when she now experiences the Turners as amateurish and poor.Ruining someone's ability to appreciate Turner, just for fun. Now that's a creative portrayal of evil.

  • David
    2019-04-06 06:32

    I read Iris Murdoch and then I wonder why I ever read anything else. Brilliant characters, fabulous set pieces. It should be an opera. The dialogue, the philosophy and the plot can be a bit clunky, but everything is forgiven because it is so dramatic and the characters so charming.I've decided that, with Iris Murdoch, I know I’m going to love it when a) it is set in London and / or b) I have to write my own list of characters inside the front cover to keep a track of everyone."'Your letters weren't terribly informative, actually! They moved from the curt to the enigmatic to the frantic.'""'And take eating, if you're lucky enough to do any. Stuffing pieces of dead animals into a hole in your face. Then munch, munch, munch. If there's anybody watching they must be dying of laughter.'""as if his mouth were a sea anemone trying to turn itself inside out.""'Well, why don’t you treat yourself to a shave if it comes to that? You look like something growing on the side of a tree trunk. ... The sort of thing you can't resist scraping off with your foot and then wish you hadn’t.'""'It's so gorgeously untidy, like London.''Exactly, I love the village life of Rome.''Those innumerable little squares.''And the fountains.''And the white statues among the trees.''And the ancient pillars built into Renaissance walks.''And the neon lights at night on tawny-coloured houses.''And the naked boys bathing in the Tiber.''Ah, the naked boys bathing in the Tiber!'This could go on forever, thought Simon.""'I couldn’t live like that.''Like what? Without a false picture of yourself?''No. In cynicism.''Why use that nasty word? Let us say a sensible acceptance of the second-rate.''I won’t accept the second-rate.''If you stay in the same house as yourself you may have to.'""How could her dreamy converse with Rupert have occasioned, have caused, this terrible violence? It was like the humming of a song causing an aeroplane crash.""He remembered Morgan's jokey self-consciousness about her wedding ring and the peculiar shy ache of his pleasure when she displayed it."

  • Nancy
    2019-04-13 11:20

    I first read this book in graduate school in the 70's and I've re-read it several times over the years. It may or may not be one of the best books I've ever read, but in some ways it is probably the most powerful.For many years, it was the only Murdoch book I'd read, but over the past five years I've picked up others and that altered my reading experience this time. I still felt the chilly dread of what the characters were going to encounter next, but I was also hit over the head with Murdoch's philosophy. . . in the same way that I did reading Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged (okay, okay. . . I get it!)This awareness didn't diminish my interest in this novel, or Murdoch's writing, but it made me think about how present her voice and her personality are in the book. It chills me to consider her cynicism and contempt for people, but also intrigues me that in addition to the frightening, amoral personalities she creates there is also a seeker and a hopeful belief that "love conquers all. "I haven't decided whether it would have been fascinating or frightening to sit down to dinner with Iris Murdoch at her peak, but I am confident it woul have been memorable.

  • Marla
    2019-03-29 10:30

    This paragraph at the beginning of the novel, after the first few lines of dialogue, captures why I love Iris Murdoch so much:"Hilda and Rupert Foster, celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary with a bottle of rather dry champagne, were sitting in the evening sun in the garden of their house in Priory Grove, London. S.W.10. Hilda, a plumper angel now, reclined limply, exhibiting shiny burnished knees below a short shrift dress of orangey yellow. Her feet were bare. Her undulating dark hair showed some needle-thin lines of grey. Her burly boyish-faced husband, whom she had at last persuaded to stop wearing shorts, sat open shirted, cooking in the sun. He was red, hoping later to be brown...."There is no one like her in all of literature!

  • Nicole
    2019-04-18 05:41

    It's been a very long time since I read any Iris Murdoch. When you've been much attached to an author in the past, there is always the fear that a later reread will reveal you've grown out of that author and that then you will lose your happy memories. Not so here. I think, too, that I am better able to articulate what I like about her: I've been carrying around memories not of my own impressions, but rather my impressions of secondary criticism, my memories of my impressions of others' impressions of Iris Murdoch. Specifically, I remember (if hazily) a Martha Nussbaum lecture about her that described her books as little clockwork machines: the characters wound up and placed into a moral dilemma to provide a sort of real world philosophical experiment, and investigation into philosophical particulars rather than general principles. In a way, think this is true, but it places too little emphasis on that particularity, oh how different it is to talk about or think about specific people and specific situations than to provide general principles, abstract arguments. One of the things I had forgotten was just how calmly and precisely Murdoch describes the people in her books: not only their physical attributes, but what kinds of things go on in their heads. There is a detachment in this description, but I think that it is actually a mistake to therefore assume that disinterested equals uninterested. The author is not Julius. She is curious, but she is not cruel. I liked too what this book has to say about the value of truth in relationships. In this respect, Simon and Axel's story is the one that I found the most moving and the most familiar. Simon's interior workings seem very real to me: a shame about feeling ashamed or insecure to begin with, a humiliation about having a problem that stops a person from doing exactly that thing that would fix the problem, a spiral down into lies, not to hurt the other person, but out of a lack of genuine respect for one's self, and inability to believe that he could truly, genuinely be loved. And Axel is not as secure as he seems, either; his rules about absolute truth are correct and effective, but they are not coming from a place of philosophical conviction, but rather from a deep-seated fear that he has himself. I was quite moved to see them end happily, and I think the lesson about love relationships and intimacy is quite specifically true. I felt like I recognized other characters as well, though I had less empathy for them. Though the "villain", in so far as there is one, is meant to be Julius, I found him far less frightening and horrible than Morgan. Perhaps she is upset, perhaps she is even ill, but the damage that she inflicted seemed somehow so much worse, a narcissistic flailing that destroyed everything in its path, and had a frightening randomness that Julius's cruelty lacked. I was sorry but not surprised to see her forgiven. I'm so pleased, Iris, that you've held up for all these years. The temptation to binge read everything now is huge. Perhaps one more over the summer is enough for now.

  • Jana
    2019-03-26 10:20

    What an amazing classic! Murdock was a brilliant woman and her writing and philosophizing is proof of that. This book is an amazing look at dialogue and character development almost totally through dialogue. I've been reading so many modern books that it was a treat to read a classic again. The characters in this book are not worthy of our admiration or sympathy and yet I really did not want the "Iago" character to destroy everyone. I can see how she is credited with giving new life to the novel. Pure character development!

  • Cecily
    2019-03-28 08:30

    This is a tangled web set in the late 60s, concerning Rupert and Hilda; their 20 year old drop-out son Peter; Rupert’s younger brother Simon and his boyfriend Axel; Hilda’s unstable younger sister Morgan and her estranged husband Tallis and her former lover (and college friend of Rupert and Axel), Julius.Things are intertwined from the start, but later there are strong echoes of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream when the stage is set for a (non magical) enchantment, leading to illusions of love and betrayal with the metaphorical puppeteer appearing to soothe, whilst actually sowing doubts and creating scenarios. Although the story is entirely naturalistic (rather than magical realism etc), there are occasions when some of the characters think they sense supernatural demons or ghosts, yet none of them realise the real power that is manipulating their lives.It opens inauspiciously with a long conversation between Rupert and Hilda, which explains the back story, but which they would not be discussing in that way between themselves. However, after that it becomes a trademark Murdoch psychological novel. In some ways her protagonists are a little like the British equivalent of Woody Allen’s shrink-addicted New Yorkers, as they endlessly analyse their relationships, interconnectedness, motives etc.The narrative slips seamlessly between pages of pure dialogue, to more descriptive passages. In some of the dialogue sections it is not always clear who is saying what, but that is actually very effective, especially when there is a large gathering, with multiple conversations and the reader is effectively eaves-hopping between them.The book is slightly dated in places (especially early on, when Murdoch seems embarrassed about the terminology regarding Simon and Axel: “liaison”, “association”, “his friend” and there are a couple of awkward racial comments), but mostly it reads very well and would also be good for a reading group, though probably too unfashionable to be picked – unless it rose to prominence on the back of a film. You could spend ages merely on “Both you and X are wounded people. X is the more wounded because X is the more guilty and for that reason is probably the more proud.” And “Good is dull. What novelist ever succeeded in making a good man interesting?”. Fortunately this novel devotes plenty of pages to those who are not good.I’d love to read another book about Julius, so this one must have been excellent.

  • Corey
    2019-03-20 07:46

    Iris Murdoch is my favorite writer. I have been saving this, the last one I hadn't read. And it is, in a word, magnificent. Of course I've never not liked one of her books, but this one ranks near the top. About Murdoch, John Updike said, “Our actions, our decisions, our vows do matter; what can fiction tell us more important than that?” I love her complicated plots, her mysterious characters, her oftentimes outrageous interaction, and, most of all, her dialog. She uses dialog to delineate her characters better than any other writer I can think of. Thanks, Dame Murdoch, for decades of great reading. I guess I'll start over now and re-read my favorites.

  • Tara
    2019-04-16 07:21

    I love Iris Murdoch. This is not my favorite, but I do like it a good deal. I would have given this three and half stars if I could; since I wasn't able to, I let my adoration for Tallis and Simon determine my decision. In many Iris Murdoch books you kind of dislike most of the characters. This was one of the few where I really thought some of them were decent people. The title was pretty dead-on, and I felt strangely better at the end of this one than I often do with some her books. She's great, it's a shame her work is not more widely acclaimed.

  • Michelle
    2019-04-19 10:24

    It’s so dark it makes me uncomfortable. Julius, an evil intellectual, finds humanity deplorable. He thinks people idiotic to cherish their beloved “relationships” when they can so easily be dismantled. To amuse himself he decides to demonstrate how fragile relationships are within his group of high society “friends” by setting up traps of misunderstanding which result in countless betrayals. He proves that given the right circumstances most will selfishly act outside of their lover’s interest so how deep or strong can your love or relationship really be? He’s got a compelling argument and it makes me feel icky…Can you trust anyone? I believe in love damn it!...I think. I loved Murdoch’s hoity toity English intellectual characters and their ridiculous philosophical conversations. But what I loved most about this book was her writing style. My next book will be by her but is non-fiction...I need to be centered again...Oh, the filth has got to stop.

  • Lillian
    2019-03-22 10:40

    Cynical intellectual, Julius masterminds a real life drama between friends, siblings, lovers and spouses in an effort to illustrate his beliefs in the ease in which people fall in and out of love, the inability of people to communicate openly and honestly due to their own ego, and in man's misunderstanding of goodness and evil. His insensitive manipulation of people's emotions has profound implications.Murdoch has masterfully woven philosophical elements into this dark comedy, highlighting human frailties with empathy and pathos.I personally found this a painful, troubling read. My heart ached for the the characters and I had difficulty seeing the 'humorous side' of the novel.

  • Andrew Fairweather
    2019-04-08 09:35

    God damn, Julius is a DICK! The straight-up bleakness of 'A Fairly Honorable Defeat' was immensely disappointing. For so many high-minded characters and turns of phrases, this story is pretty straight forward—evil begets evil, and excessive pride is foolish.Yet, I was *absolutely* willing to follow along. Murdoch's writing is very engaging. I found myself daydreaming about Tallis, Simon and Axel and other characters in this dark web, and I resumed the story at just about any moment I could spare. Good enough for a poke, I'd say.

  • Jan
    2019-03-28 08:29

    Still getting accustomed to Murdoch's writing, I found this book compelling and hard to put down. I read until 2 in the morning because I needed to know what would finally happen to the characters. I felt like I knew the gay couple already, and related to the married couple until they got into philosophical trouble. Her prose is seamless, characters well developed yet unusual. Her philosophical perspective is intriguing to me. This is mature, thoughtful reading.

  • Sheila
    2019-04-20 05:23

    As always, Iris is great. This book is about a middle class family and how they deal with each other. A bit fanciful, but that's what fiction is. I especially liked the gay couple (men). She made them seem real and not the least bit different from heterosexual couples. The ending was really good, too.

  • Gol
    2019-04-19 03:35

    You could read it again and again and again, yet never get tired of it, you're always hungry for the next line, next page. The characterization is the ideal, perfect characterization. The plot is awfully innovative, intelligent and captivating. One of the best novels ever.

  • Stephen Brody
    2019-04-03 07:28

    “Moralists are far too timid, especially now when they feel they have to placate the logical positivists and the psychologists and the sociologists and the computerologists and God knows who else. They fill their pages with apologies and write everybody’s language but their own.”“She poured out a little whisky and sipped it. She felt an instance of false comfort. The whisky did not know of her troubles.”“Cynicism? Why use that nasty word? Let us say a sensible acceptance of the second rate.” * * * * * This is a diabolically clever book exploring in the form of a highly readable novel Murdoch’s preoccupation, how to be good without god if we can say what “good” is anyway, and in which she plays the Devil’s Advocate – against herself. She allows to be ruthlessly mocked, derided as a deceitful self-deluded liar, a character who is writing what is quite evidently her own Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, “all that dreary High Church Platonism”. A relevant passage between the aspirant moralist, Rupert Foster, an industriously worthy but unimaginative civil servant, and Julius King, an enigmatic figure retired from something to do with biological warfare not for any ethical reasons but because he was bored with the provincialism of an American college campus, is worth quoting at length.“All right, we are without guarantees, but we do know some things are certain,” Rupert asserts.“Such as what?”“That Tintoretto is a better painter than Puvis de Chavannes.”“Touché! You know my weakness for the Venetian masters. But we talk a lot of nonsense about art really. What we actually experience is intimate and ambiguous compared with the great long tale we tell ourselves about it”“I agree up to a point, but ….”“No buts my dear fellow. Kant showed us conclusively that we cannot really know reality – yet we go on obstinately imagining that we can.”“Kant thought we had inklings. That was indeed the point.”“Kant was stupidly Christian. So are you, though you deny it. Christianity is one of the most glorious and glittering illusions the human race has ever invented.”“Surely Julius you don’t take the old-fashioned view that it is merely a tissue of fabrications? Is it not, in its own way, a vehicle of the spirit?”“Possibly. But what is that? Nothing could be more ambiguous.”“Spirit may be ambiguous. But goodness isn’t. And if we …”“As for evil being dreary that’s an old story too. Have you ever noticed how small children naturally accept the doctrine of the Trinity, which is after all one of the most peculiar of all human conceptual inventions? Grown men show an equal facility for making completely absurd metaphysical assumptions which they feel instinctively to be comforting – for instance the assumption that good is bright and beautiful and evil is shabby, dreary or at least dark. In fact experience entirely contradicts this assumption. Good is dull. What novelist ever succeeded in making a good man interesting? It is characteristic of this planet that the path of virtue is so unutterably depressing that it can be guaranteed to break the spirit and quench the vision of anybody who consistently attempts to tread it. Evil, on the contrary, is exciting and fascinating and alive. It is also very much more mysterious than is good. Good can be seen through. Evil is opaque.”“I would like to say exactly the opposite.”“That is because you fancy something to be present which is not present at all except as a shadowy dream. What passes as human goodness is in fact a tiny phenomenon, messy, limited, truncated and as a I say dull. Whereas evil (though I would prefer some less emotive name for it) reaches far far away into the depths of the human spirit and is connected with the springs of human vitality.”“I am interested that you want to change the word! I imagine that you will soon want to substitute some more neutral terms, such as ‘life-force’ or some such nonsense, only I won’t let you.”“Life-force! Really Rupert, I’ve got past that stage.”“All right, evil has depths, though I don’t think these days they are all that unfathomable, but why not admit that good has heights? I don’t even mind if you reverse the metaphor, so long as you allow the distance.”“The distance is just what I won’t allow. Let’s keep your up and down structure, it’s convenient and traditional. My point is that the top of the structure is completely empty. The thing is truncated. Human beings have often dreamed of the extension of goodness beyond the pitiful level at which they muck along, but it is precisely a dream and a totally vague one at that. It’s not just that human nature precludes goodness, it is that goodness, in that extended sense, is not even a coherent concept, it is unimaginable, like certain things in physics.”“There have been saints ….”“Come come Rupert. Of course people have sacrificed themselves, but that has nothing to do with goodness. Most so-called saints interest us because they are really artists, or because they have been portrayed by artists, or else because they are men of power.”“But you admit there is goodness, even though it is limited and dull?”“There is helping other people and letting oneself be imposed upon. That isn’t very interesting, and as you know it can proceed from all sorts of motives.”“On your view it seems far from clear why human beings ever conceived of the idea of goodness or thought it important at all!”“My dear Rupert, you know as well as I do there are hundreds of reasons for that. Ask any Marxist ……..”EtcDejected Rupert surveys his accumulated notebooks and wonders whether he should just burn them all, much as Murdoch herself admitted in one or two despairing moments that she wasn’t a very good philosopher. (Some critics were inclined to agree with her, possibly out of jealousy, and indeed it could be said that it’s as a metaphysician that she excels, whatever that is exactly but more akin to Oriental thought than to classical Western philosophy since Plato.) But Julius is also prone to mischief-making for his own entertainment in more mundane circumstances. Rupert’s sister-in-law, a highly neurotic would-be blue stocking very keen on ‘life-force’ and free expression of her inner soul, has been dismissed from an affair with Julius on the grounds of becoming tedious but is convinced that he “still loves her really”. Forcing her way into his flat and all other female wiles having failed she takes all her clothes off in the misguided expectation that the sight of her charms will disarm him. Glancing at her scrawny body with distaste Julius take up a pair of scissors, meticulously cuts every garment into shreds, hustles her out of the bedroom, locks the door, picks up a suitcase, announces that he’s going away indefinitely and leaves. Thrilled at first by this display of what she still interprets as highly original passion, she soon starts to feel cold and the room in which she’s confined being bereft of any fabric except a small dishcloth begins to be rather alarmed; she can leave, the front door remains unlocked, but wearing only a dishcloth in one of the smarter parts of town, life-force wilts. She’s rescued by the unprecedented arrival of Rupert’s younger brother on a sly mission of his own, flutteringly homosexual and living with another excessively dry, puritanical and fiercely possessive man, whose clothes she borrows leaving him naked when Julius makes an unexpected return. The boyfriend is not pleased when suspicions of this unseemly episode rapidly reach his attention. Delighted, Julius makes a wager that he can break up their cosy ménage in a matter of days, and proceeds to do so. He lures the younger one behind a false wall in an obscure room in a museum where through a spy-hole can be observed a clandestine rendezvous between his ‘happily married’ brother and his wife’s sister, she already having being toying with her new admirer’s son, while having a “little talk” with the silly boy about the subterfuges and deceits of monogamy. By now everyone is in tears except himself, even if slightly chastened at the results of his mischievous efforts, “a little lesson in orderliness” as he puts it. It’s much easier to start a novel than to finish one - it’s much like life placed within an artificially confining frame like a picture - and sometimes Murdoch almost seems to have lost interest by that time, but here she achieves it with remarkable skill. There has to be some sort of resolution because life has to go on, but Rupert meets “death by misadventure” and everything else is irredeemably damaged and altered and the survivors have to blunder on as well as they can, older and wiser or not. If Murdoch ever sank so low as sarcasm there’d be a very discreetly biting satire here on the affectations and hypocrisies of the affluent chattering classes downing champagne by the crateful, gossiping maliciously about each other under the guise of ‘concern’ and personally managing all the world’s wrongs without really knowing anything about them, those who in these more anxiety-ridden days would be holding up signs saying Immigrants Welcome while taking every care never to come into contact with one. That’s at a superficial level. At a much deeper one there is a morality tale about the importance of telling the truth, thus triumphantly demolishing the Devil’s Advocate and affirming the Platonic tri-partite, truth equals beauty equals goodness. It’s also extremely funny, though perhaps not for readers whose own secret consciences are uneasy.* * * * *“How can one live properly when the beginnings of one’s actions seem so inevitable and justified while the ends are so completely unpredictable and unexpected?”

  • Kristy
    2019-03-30 08:20

    It took me a long time to read this book. I picked it up and put it down several times, which is unusual for me. The extent to which I find most British fictional characters tolerable is inversely proportionate to the age of the book. This is a relatively modern novel, set in the 1970s, so the characters were somewhat less ridiculous and insufferable to me than say, any of Austen's. They were still very British, but I enjoyed the way Murdoch acknowledged and explored that quality as being integral to the events in the novel. For example, at a very strained and awkward dinner party at which the hostess is being crushed by the belief that her beloved husband and sister are having an affair, the character Simon thinks to himself how good British people are at concealing their true feelings.The part of this novel I am really struggling with is the identity of Julius King and, to a lesser degree, of Tallis. Julius is a wolf in sheep's clothing throughout the book. He is clearly identified as being evil through the use of common literary conventions; he is a spiritual vampire or a devil. For that reason, the revelation of his concealed Jewishness disturbs me. The fact that his parents converted to Christianity and changed their name from Khan to King seems to further the wolf in sheep's clothing motif in a whole new disturbing way. The fact that he found their conversion unaccceptable and broke off ties with them takes it even further. And the concentration camp tattoo finishes the whole thing off. What is Murdoch saying?? Am I wrong to read this as antisemitism? It seems like there is the strongly implied idea that Tallis and Julius embody good vs. evil, yet it seems to be only Julius who is aware of this. He speaks to Tallis as if he is a true Christ figure, almost mythically so, but Tallis does not pick up on or respond to this. Is Julius delusional? He speaks of his relationship to Tallis as if they exist on an epic plane. And why does he behave so kindly toward tallis in the end?I think the best part of this book, and the most devastatingly accurate, is the unfolding of Rupert and Morgan's "affair." The description of Rupert and Hilda's marriage and the ways in which it is destroyed by the proliferation of white lies is dead on, and Morgan and Rupert both behave as ridiculously as most people would.It also bothers me that we never have direct contact with Hilda after Rupert's death. We only know some details of her new life through tallis's thoughts on her letters and the conversation between Simon and Axel. This feels like a cop-out to me, since Hilda is the character who is the most innocent but has also lost the most.

  • Chrystal
    2019-04-12 11:28

    Iris Murdoch makes her readers work at reading. Although her novels are entertaining and often described as comic, there is always something complex going on; namely, what are her character's motivations? They always behave so irrationally, but then again, she proves that human motivations are actually pretty limited and predictable.In this novel, the amoral Julius sees himself as "an instrument of justice," tricking his friends and enemies alike into ruining their own relationships. He laughs at them as they fall deeper and deeper, scoffing at how puppet-like and predictable they are. He traces all relational mistakes back to vanity. "People are never too unwilling to believe themselves valued. Ordinary natural vanity led them into this maze." Even when his little experiments lead to tragedy, he is unrepentant, even while freely admitting that he had caused the whole thing. He is unaffected by what he has caused, because he doesn't think he is to blame: it is their vanity that led them to where they are.We get a glimpse into Julius's own motivations when we find out that he "has a strong sense of history," and "what has happened is justified somehow." Without revealing what he means (that comes at the end of the novel), we can see that Julius himself is not immune to vanity himself. We don't see precisely into his motivations, but can guess at them. He is human himself, after all.My favorite part of the book is when Morgan, the most unbalanced and irrational character of them all, breaks down when she finally has to admit to herself that she regrets having an abortion. That scene, which is the only time she is really honest with herself and is not spouting nutty nonsense about loving everyone, is one of the most realistic and emotional scenes I've come across in a novel in a long time. There's a long scene where she chases a pigeon around the Underground, and we begin to see just how desperate she has become.

  • Saura
    2019-03-29 08:31

    A Fairly Honourable Defeat had a great premise. A university professor, Julius, decides to test his friends' relationships by planting ideas and otherwise messing with their lives. He doesn't believe in love or emotional bonds - for him, relationships will always be selfish and one will abandon ones partner in a heartbeat if the situation was right enough. The characters in this book aren't likeable. We have Robert and his wife Hilda, Robert's brother Simon and Simon's partner and Robert's old friend Axel, Hilda's sister Morgan, Morgan's husband Thallis and finally Julius King, Axel and Robert's friend form college. The only people I found likable at all was Thallis, Hilda and Simon. The others act selfishly the whole book and I found myself despising them sometimes. Morgan, absorbed in herself and looking for something huge and life-defining, is the worst here. She's immature and has never learnt that her actions have consequences. She kinds of rushes through her decisions and ideas and expects everyone else to change or adjust themselves accordingly. For example, she cheats on her husband, comes back and kind of throws her dislike of him in his face but doesn't want a divorce. I really hate that kind of character.Axel got on my nerves too on many occasions. But still, the point *is* to somewhat dislike these characters. None of them is in any way in touch with reality except Thallis - though he tries his best to occupy his mind and time with something else to escape life. He's in many ways the complete opposite of the rest of the characters. He is 'a man of action' while the rest of the characters do nothing but talk about doing the right thing (the restaurant scene and the ending comes to mind).I liked the book. The first half is a little dry and nothing happened for a while, but once the book picks up the plot, it gets really good.

  • Julieta Paradiso
    2019-03-29 07:21

    When a story opens with a couple, who seem to be the monument of perfection and when she asks her husband if it’s a disgrace to be so happy and whether they should feel guilty about it… you know they’re doomed. Happiness is not a disgrace, but a grace, declares her husband. And he should have added, only he didn’t and too bad for him, that’s why you should be careful enough to avoid falling from it. Now, the question is: Can we really avoid such a thing? Once again, Iris Murdoch will place seemingly nice, ordinary people face to face with moral choices that will make them see the world and themselves in a new light. Only that the role of the author will be played by a cynical, Machiavellian character who will know how to spot and exploit the rest of the cast’s innermost fears and vulnerabilities. This is one of the darkest stories I’ve read by Iris Murdoch, and character-wise, I didn’t think much of any of them, with the exception of Tallis, though I wish he’d just stop for a minute to give his place a good scrubbing. At times certain situations seemed a bit far-fetched, esp. the purloining of the letters, but overall the events seemed in line with the idea Murdoch was trying to illustrate. There could be a Julius out there for all I know, though I hope to stay away from him as long as I live. And as always, Murdoch makes us think, posing questions rather than providing answers about our human nature, goodness, evil, truth, and most important of all… love—because love, with all its limitations, fears, anxieties, excesses could well be our solace.

  • Kathryn
    2019-03-20 11:19

    Not a good book to finish on Christmas Eve! Murdoch's skewers her seemingly moral and appealing characters with terrifying and demoralizing results. For a book that includes references to the Holocaust, Murdoch still makes a convincing argument that there is no greater evil than human vanity. I imagine that Julius, having experienced the worst of human cruelty and justifiably cynical, is moved to upend the comfortable and selfsatisfied lives of his aquaintences and test their pompous easy virtue. Rupert is writing a book about living an ethical life without even considering or thinking about pretty recent efforts to exterminate the Jews and the nature of human cruelty. Julius systematically and gleefully destroys him. Is the end because Rupert has destroyed his marriage or because he knows he's an intellectual flop? Julius is Jewish and his character is heartless, calculating and cruel without regard for the suffering he's caused. I hope Murdoch is using Julius as a foil to the petty satisfaction and self-absorption of her wealthy London characters but charges of anti-Semitism are not totally unfounded. The gay characters get off much better.

  • Xio
    2019-04-19 03:41

    I am through Part One of this novel and am not afraid to admit-- without having read the introduction -- being currently infatuated with a character in the book, Julius.O Julius! I swoon each time you diagnose humanity as being filled with self serving illusions! I adore Iris' manner of describing you with Elizabethan (that's Taylor not some useless queen) Violet eyes that gleam with irrepressible delight. (well I'm mashing things together but that's my privilege. She is dead.)As usual Lady Iris has created a world with tons of philosophical debate, fascinatingly developed characters and a little too much environmental description (I skip over it when it's overly florid so as to maintain my focus on what issues she is handling). Her characters are at their best when at apparent ease in twilit cocktail's always the calm before the largest debates!I like to read one of her novels every six months or so and each time it is like coming home to a much more interesting family.

  • Steve
    2019-04-12 08:22

    I have to admit to a soft spot for 20th Century novels whose gay characters are not used as metaphors or killed off because the author can't think of what to do with them by the end of the book. In this book, we find a gay couple working through their problems in a very believable way.Murdoch can lean towards the schematic in her dialogue from time to time, but even so, the ethical drive of the novel steers clear of esoteric theories and philosophical abstractions.Love is the irrational that we accept into our lives without much question. 'A Fairly Honourable Defeat' makes those questions present in the lives of the characters and works out their consequences to various ends. What is required of us to accept the love of another person? and, ultimately, what does it mean to actually live without love? These are the questions that carry the reader through this novel of intersecting and colliding lives. When the drama ends, the questions remain for us.

  • Nick Mendoza
    2019-03-24 08:25

    this was my first iris murdoch book and i think i may be in love. this story is a complex social drama full of incisive psychological and philosophical insights and richly detailed descriptions. unlike many modern novelists, murdoch does not write to put herself on display, opting instead to tell a good story with lively and engaging characters as introspective as they are flawed. overall i found that this was a brilliant and darkly humorous novel with much to say on the value of stark honesty and the problems of attempting to spare the feelings of others with innocent lies and omissions. murdoch is clearly a genius of social observation and a sharp wit to boot. highly recommended for anyone looking for a fun read with some quality intellectual content.

  • Nitya
    2019-03-21 11:20

    I liked the premise of the book - a super-scientist conducting social experiments on unsuspecting, gullible couples and siblings to reveal how our hidden desires, insecurities, needs, perceptions of self drive our relationships, and not real, true love. But I did get bogged down in parts - couldnt take all the "darlings" and italics being thrown about. Do Brit men really talk like that? And some of the detours she took seemed very irrelevant—while I normally enjoy such interruptions in the story, these weren't very interesting (like that bit about property rights, when Tallis asked if stealing was wrong - huh?).Would not recommend it as a quick read.

  • Sarah Beaudoin
    2019-04-06 06:34

    Iris Murdoch never ceases to amaze me, and A Fairly Honourable Defeat is no exception. She takes what could be a tragic story of deception, unrealized dreams, and marital infidelity, and turns the tables in such a way that the victims seem to deserve all they receive and the aggressors appear innocent of any wrongdoing. Murdoch's deft touch still provides some room to sympathize with the weaker characters on the losing end, but overall the novel is an entertaining ride exploring what happens when bad things happen to good people, while allowing the reader the space to cheer for those responsible for the pain and suffering.

  • Esther
    2019-04-02 03:30

    Not one of her best, a few too many suspension of disbelief moments required, but still well worth the read. Characters are fabulous. A great portrayal of a gay couple - Murdoch makes no special mention of their homosexuality, but neither is it trivalized and as the book was written in 1970 (mentions made of the 'dirty run down slum houses in Notting Hill' make you realise how long ago this was) she really was ahead of her time.

  • Erica Miles
    2019-03-21 11:18

    INMHO, the best novel philosopher and novelist, Iris Murdoch, ever wrote! It was groundbreaking in that it featured gay protagonists in a very natural way, with absolutely no judgment or making a point of their relationship, as if it were the most natural thing in the world! A novel way ahead of its time!

  • Cath Murphy
    2019-03-25 11:40

    My favourite Murdoch. The weaknesses and hypocrisies of a group of well-to-do Londoners are dissected with painful precision.