"Seething Underneath": Objectification in Iris Murdoch's Early Fiction

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Vol: 17, Issue: 2, Page: 54

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Tait, Emily
Murdoch; Objectification; Medusa; Women's Studies
article description
This essay is about the objectification of women in the early novels of Iris Murdoch, particularly A Severed Head (1961), Under the Net (1954) and The Italian Girl (1964), and how this is subverted by complex characterisation. In focusing on novels predominantly with male narrators and a first person male gaze, I will draw on Sartre’s analysis of “the look” in Being and Nothingness (1943) as well as feminist film theory to firstly consider evidence of immobilization and then re-examine criticism of Murdoch’s female characters as “puppets”. I will contend that Murdoch does not objectify her female characters but instead draws attention to their active passivity and resistance to petrification. Throughout I am concerned with the immobilizing gaze and with the comparisons that can be drawn between woman and Medusa, a figure embodying the core themes of the gaze and object-hood. To this end I examine how the gaze can be re-appropriated by female characters and utilized as a tool of female empowerment rather than objectification.