Metamorphosis pp 321-360 | Cite as

A Portrait of the Artist as a Sophist — Plato and Iris Murdoch’s Art of Fiction

  • Sabine Coelsch-Foisner
Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 81)


How does Iris Murdoch’s work fit into a congress on phenomenology? Murdoch has vehemently rejected the phenomenological novel, debunked the moral, logic, and aesthetic position of its representatives, and in 1950 described phenomenology rather callously as an “a priori theory of meaning with a psychological flavour and a highly developed descriptive technique”.1 And yet, her first novel unquestionably bears the stamp of French existentialism, and up to the present day, her fictions have voraciously absorbed Sartre, Kant, Plato, Hegel, to name only a few, and exploited a plethora of ideas and concepts borrowed from such diverse sources as Socialism, Buddhism, Christian doctrine, Symbolist aesthetics, etc., only — as I propose to show — to cast light on a question central to phenomenological enquiry: How does man fare in view of a world that exists separately and independently? To exemplify man’s approach to and recognition of external reality, a great deal of Murdoch’s fictional work self-consciously deals with the creative impulse and the process of creation, and it is a phenomenological approach which may best explain the many ambiguities, tensions, and contradictions lying at the heart of her work. The aim of this paper is on the one hand to investigate the philosophical intentions behind Murdoch’s prose fiction, and on the other to explore its technical properties and affective aspect.


External World Moral Reality External Reality Outer World Coherent Account 
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    “The Novelist as Metaphysician”, The Listener, 43 (16 March, 1950), p. 473.Google Scholar
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    Oxford: OUP, 1977. Hereafter cited as Plato. Google Scholar
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    Cf. Michael O. Bellamy, “An Interview with Iris Murdoch”, Contemporary Literature, 18 (1977), p. 131: “I don’t think philosophy influences my work as a novelist.” Cf. also Jack I. Biles, “An Interview with Iris Murdoch”, in British Novelists since 1900, Biles (ed.) (New York: AMSP, 1987): “To my mind, philosophy is a completely different game […]. This is quite unlike writing stories, and I play the game according to the rules” (p. 300). References to pronouncements by Murdoch made in these interviews are included parenthetically as ‘‘Biles”, or “Bellamy”.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Peter Wolfe’s chapter on “Under the Net: The Novel as Philosophical Criticism”, in his study The Disciplined Heart: Iris Murdoch and Her Novels (Columbia: Missouri UP, 1966), pp. 46–67; Kingsley Widmer, “The Wages of Intellectuality… and the Fictional Wagers of Iris Murdoch”, in Thomas F. Staley (ed.), Twentieth-Century Women Novelists (London and Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1982), pp. 16–38; Linda Kuehl, “Iris Murdoch: The Novelist as Magician/The Magician as Artist”, MFS 15:3 (Autumn, 1969), p. 347. Cf. also Harold Bloom’s introduction to Modern Critical Views: Iris Murdoch (New York et al.: Chelsea House, 1986), p. 2.Google Scholar
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sabine Coelsch-Foisner
    • 1
  1. 1.University of SalzburgÖsterreich

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