A Shadow of Truth : Honor Klein in Iris Murdoch's A Severed Head



Year of publication 2017
Type Appeared in Conference without Proceedings
MU Faculty or unit

Faculty of Arts

Description Iris Murdoch’s plots offer a deep insight into human relationships. The reader is repeatedly confronted with various traumatic experiences undergone by characters’ sexual obsessions, ignorance, lies, egoism, desire. Trauma is usually caused by sudden recognition / knowledge: main characters are confronted with something s/he was not aware of or did not want to see – and so is the reader. This unwanted and gained knowledge may send the character(s) into anxiety and even death or suicide. This presentation focuses on Murdoch’s A Severed Head (1961). This early novel symbolizes an apt example of convoluted relationships that appear hilarious in a superficial reading. A close reading, however, reveals the suffering triggered by the behaviour of the central characters. The most mysterious and murky female protagonist, the sexually ambivalent Honor Klein, deploys a wide range of possible interpretations. Honor’s powerful figure is like an axis around which the rest of the characters rotate. The question is, nonetheless, if she stands for a real figure. The presentation argues that this pivotal character is not a real person but a dreamy and ghostly concentration of elements in relation with the protagonist Martin Lynch-Gibbon. Honor Klein is a force, is suspicion, fear. This character is not in truth real, but it seems to be an external projection of Martin’s subconscious imaginary fears and trauma. She is the ghost of a repeated trauma, she is his analyst, confronting Martin with a veiled and suppressed knowledge, giving him, at the end of the narrative the force to overcome a series of failed relationships. She has a similar narrative function as Shakespeare’s ghosts in Macbeth, Hamlet or Julius Caesar. The presentation will focus on the analysis of those passages in which the narrator is confronted with Honor’s knowledge-power.
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