A Fairly Honourable Defeat

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A Fairly Honourable Defeat

Author Country Language Published Media type Pages

First edition cover Iris Murdoch United States English !"# $%hatto & Windus' (rint $hardcover' )#* pp

A Fairly Honourable Defeat is a novel +y the ,ritish -riter and philosopher Iris Murdoch.

Plot summary
/he lives of several friends are thro-n into disarray +y the machinations of Julius 0ing. Julius makes a +et -ith his e12girlfriend Morgan that he can +reak up the homose1ual couple 31el and Simon4 mean-hile, Morgan and her +rother2in2la- 5upert are conned into em+arking on an affair, and Morgan6s nephe- (eter is falling in love -ith her. Julius 0ing, returning from a university 7o+ in 3merica, seeks out his old school friends, 5upert Foster and 31el 8illson. 9is former lover, Morgan ,ro-ne, Foster6s sister2in2la-, has arrived in England at the same time. Foster6s attempts to keep them apart are th-arted

= strengthened in their love and less inclined to +e shamefaced a+out +eing homose1ual.+y Morgan . sheer criminality. Morgan6s estranged hus+and (eter Foster. he takes on the e1tra task of +reaking up the homose1ual relationship +et-een 31el 8illson and Simon.ro-ne. 5upert6s -ife Simon Foster.ro-ne learns anything is unclear. and the damage done to the Fosters is gratuitously cruel. It is made clear that he finds 5upert6s self2satisfaction and optimism offensive. a senior civil servant -riting a +ook on living morally 9ilda Foster. the characters carry a load of surface information -ith them. 5upert6s colleague and Simon6s partner Morgan . his former colleague. 3t the same time. 0ing tempts his friends into situations -hich they -ould never have contemplated and -hich ultimately result not only in revealing fla-s in their characters +ut also in causing serious harm to 5upert. and though he has a :uick -ay of chastening her for her importunities. 9e is irritated +y -hat he sees as self2satisfied and patronising conduct in his friends. for -hich 0ing.ro-ne. and he sets out.-ith not much personal presence +ut considera+le moral integrity. eats. -ho is the central figure in this game of deception. 5upert Foster. Julius 0ing.ro-ne. /o make the game more interesting. -ho still loves her. is ripe and ready to +e fooled. /allis6 -ife. is curiously thin.ro-ne. 5upert and 9ilda6s son 3s is al-ays the case in Murdoch6s novels. Characters in A Fairly Honourable Defeat • • • • • • • • Julius 0ing. does. and pinches of +lackmail. Morgan. and desires is laid out :uickly. his love from the past. 0ing himself is a man of formida+le intellect. -ithout much concern for the conse:uences. /he plot is complicated further -hen. Everyone learns ho. a cool. nerveless fello-. Whether Morgan .no-2you2see2it2no-2you2don<t.get them together. >espite this determination to hide nothing. +ut 31el and Simon escape from 0ing6s la+yrinth of . /allis .ridiculously vulnera+le they are. appears to +e 7ust the mate for 5upert. takes no responsi+ility. she is avoiding her hus+and. and Morgan. full of the hot air of spurned love and dramatising her pro+lems for all to see. still in love -ith 0ing and determined to confront him. and he does not suffer anyone gladly. What everyone looks like. rather full of himself since he has 7ust finished his +ook on the po-er of good and love in life. Using a mi1ture of high cunning. 5upert6s +rother. a rather nondescript fello. he determines to include her in his plans.ro-ne. almost immediately and +y accident. Julius6s re7ected lover and 9ilda6s sister /allis . Julius 0ing meets /allis . -ill not leave him alone. and Murdoch returns on several occasions throughout the novel to give more information as it is needed to support t-ists in the plot. to put them in compromising situations. thinks. if 0ing can someho. academic 5upert Foster. 5upert6s +rother 31el 8illson. 0ing is intrigued +y his old lover6s hus+and. +ut -hat .

9e is. ought to have more sense than to think that everyone in the -orld must naturally fall in love -ith her. violent flo. +ut his situation is simply unresolved. ho-ever. is certainly intelligent enough to kno. +ut loose2endedness is particularly o+vious in the -ay she leaves characters in this -ork.their moral vie-s and understandings affect their lives. since life perceived as @muddle@ $as Murdoch puts it' does preclude resolution4 this could e1plain -hy Murdoch allo-s her characters to do :uite incredi+le things. It illustrates the parado1ical notion that -hat remains unsaid. and sho-s ho. and nothing is e1plained of his pu??ling indifference to the disaster that he causes.+etter. ho-ever.of language.ro-ne makes his integrity and moral determination clear -ith one thunderous slap across the face of a racist thug. failing to rene.he does to 5upert and to others goes +eyond sophisticated.= Murdoch has al-ays had a tendency simply to @stop@ a novel. all the protagonists are comically defeated in one manner or another.easy it is to make a good man fool himself into disaster once his vanity is aroused. smug in having got a-ay -ith as much as he did and in his .ro-ne $-ho must +e the -orst housekeeper in the history of the novel' is a thoroughly good man.his relationship -ith his -ife4 ho-ever. It is not simply a :uestion of -hy 0ing is so mean2spirited4 other characters are also a+andoned :uite up in the air. -hat is kept secret.ro-ne. Major themes /he @defeat@ of the title may +e that of /allis. can emerge as a violent and dangerous undoing. Ultimately. She likes +readth. are not really re:uired here4 Murdoch is often manipulating characters to illustrate ideas. An the surface level. a ranter -ho merits a place in a . 8othing is made of this. thick. and even Morgan. she does look -ith considera+le scarifying skill at the innocent pomposities of a good man $5upert' and on the torments and timidities of homose1uals trying to escape a life of cheap thrills. that theme influences the fate of the characters. lots of interesting participants doing surprising things. in the end. -ho is not unintelligent. this is a novel a+out various forms of silence. seemingly satisfied that enough is enough. /allis< dying father. inconsistent -ith -hat is e1pected of them. >epth of characterisation and consistency. /allis .fairly honoura+le defeat. 5upert ought to kno. mischievous chastisement to vindictiveness. Iris Murdoch is manipulating the pretensions of middle2class life and revealing ho. In fairness. 5ather than a -icked or satanic character. It may +e. :uite happily en7oying the sights of (aris. ho-ever. Iris Murdoch puts realistic characters in contrived situations. Murdoch is usually not strong on depth in character. An the surface. personifies a stunning. /here is an impressive e1ample of literary economy in the -ay in -hich /allis . What makes him more pu??ling is the very late revelation that he suffered as a concentration camp victim during the -ar.eckett novel. Julius 0ing makes good his +oast of +eing a+le to turn people into puppets +y appealing to their inclination to think .+etter. Julius is a Boki2like mischief2maker -ho 7u1taposes and undermines /allis6 moral standing. it should +e recognised that her characters of @surface@ can possess astonishing +ody: Beonard . in a sense. for e1ample.

even if innocently so. Some dim echoes of William Shakespeare are also present. she is. +ut it is sadly too late. a-are that defeat is ever2present. constantly falling out of grace. In his case. /o a lesser. +arely capa+le of saving part of the situation for those -hom 0ing has so coldly manipulated. 9ilda. ho-ever honoura+ly he acts.his -ife +ack to him or save his father from the ine1ora+le horror of a painful death. 5upert is the victim of an honoura+le defeat. or any of the several manipulators of vain mortals in Shakespeare6s -ork. and Athello seem to +e floating a+out. 0ing clearly thinks he has done -ell.ro-ne. in part. 8or is it much consolation that 0ing +elieves it necessary to confess his tricks to the really good man. In an unsystematic -ay. has managed some king of partial victory over the forces of sentimental do2gooders. and if in the end he must retreat +efore /allis . If /he /empest. 9is vanity may +e. Murdoch likes to pile literary. e1ploring the continuing +attle +et-een evil and good in the contemporary -orld. in passing. in a later novel. and mythological images in and on. needs him and -hom he can help is also a predominating motive in his getting into the mess and makes it impossi+le for him to get out. for ho-ever hard . .far too -ell of themselves. and he can take some satisfaction in stopping -hat has +een going on. 9e. allegory. -ho illustrate the proposition that honesty and courage may +e some defence against malevolence4 malevolence is only partly defeated. it is :uite intentional. 9e is a good man al-ays doing good -ork.Murdoch sees human +eings contending -ith the malevolent vagaries of life. an honoura+le defeat. 8or does the good man possess the po-er to dra. In this -ork. Morgan is in trou+le +ecause of him. is a sym+ol of the nature of things. it :uite -ins out. and in a mi1 of para+le. -hich is not uncommon in Murdoch6s more am+itious novels. and one can see Julius as an Iago. 0ing can +e seen as a Satan figure. a s:ualid mess. +ut he cannot retrieve the Fosters completely. It is a phrase -hich Murdoch uses again. and Beonard . /here is some consolation in 31el and Simon. and farce. and in 5upert6s case. Much 3do 3+out 8othing. 3 Midsummer 8ight6s >ream. in his eyes. /allis . in a sense.ro-ne as the dying Cod of %hristianity.ro-ne is also partially defeated.ro-ne6s home. ho-ever. on the secondary level. despite good intentions. is no match for evil under such circumstances. the mess goes on. 3 Word %hild $ !"D'. -ith Morgan. -ins a +it and loses a +it. /allis . he thinks.ro-ne tries. a de+ased (rospero. 9e cannot solve all the social in7ustices of the city of Bondon4 he can only keep trying. and ordering him to leave Bondon is not much punishment. ho-ever innocent he may +e in the . /allis . ho-ever. and this novel is loaded -ithout restraint. In a sense.ro-ne may order him to tell 9ilda the truth. it is. and is central to an understanding of ho. Murdoch has am+itions +eyond realism for this novel. +ut his love for her as a relative and as a human +eing -ho.ro-ne as a rather po-erless %hrist figure. /he novel6s title has to +e considered -ith some care. /allis . +i+lical. it can +e applied to at least three of the ma7or characters. and 5upert representing feckless humanity. the reason for -hich he gets involved -ith Morgan. philosophical. partial failure. Cood. too. much sadder e1tent. there is no :uestion that he is on the side of right from the +eginning. -hich is not surprising since he is conditioned to partial success.ro-ne.

+ut one -hich he takes so seriously that he is destroyed +y it. [hide] • • • v t e Works by Iris Murdoch • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • ovels Under the Net $ !D)' The Flight from the Enchanter $ !DE' The Sandcastle $ !D"' The Bell $ !DF' A Severed Head $ !E ' An Unofficial Rose $ !E*' The Unicorn $ !EG' The Italian Girl $ !E)' The Red and the Green $ !ED' The Time of the Angels $ !EE' The Nice and the Good $ !EF' Bruno's ream $ !E!' A Fairly Honourable Defeat $ !"#' An Accidental !an $ !" ' The Blac" #rince $ !"G' The Sacred and #rofane $ove !achine $ !")' A %ord &hild $ !"D' Henr' and &ato $ !"E' The Sea( the Sea $ !"F' Nuns and Soldiers $ !F#' The #hiloso)her's #u)il $ !FG' The Good A))rentice $ !FD' The Boo" and the Brotherhood $ !F"' The !essage to the #lanet $ !F!' The Green *night $ !!G' . al+eit honoura+ly.is that it is a 7oke. not insignificant. ho-ever practised. /allis . is never :uite as neat or responsive to theory as Murdoch<s characters -ould like it to +e. that he dies in such a small +ody of -ater. he has proved to himself that he is a much smaller man than he thought. if ironically so. /he +est and the -orst laid plans go a-ry.matter. @Muddle@ is the -ord that Murdoch likes to use in characterising human life. in the end. for good or ill. What he does not kno.ro-ne is left. still fighting gamely against the chaos of his kitchen. and that is e1actly -hat this novel illustrates: that life. and it is his duty to practice -hat he has preached in his +ook. perhaps. For all of his grand gestures of romantic heroism. defeated. It is.

o #latonic ialogues $ !FE' The Blac" #rince $ !F"' A /ear of Birds $ !"F. rev. .s . T.. Romantic Rationalist $ !DG' The Sovereignt' of Good $ !"#' The Fire and the Sun $ !""' !eta)h'sics as a Guide to !orals $ !!*' E1istentialists and !'stics $ !!"' !hort stories • • • • • • • • Plays Poetry • • • • • • Philosophy . $ !"G' The Servants $ !F#' Acastos. !E)' The Italian Girl $-ith James Saunders.• +ac"son's ilemma $ !!D' @Something Special@ $ !D"' A Severed Head $-ith J. !F)' #oems 0' Iris !urdoch $ !!"' Sartre.the Servants and the Sno. (riestley. !E!' The Three Arro.