Another country : bereavement, mourning and survival in the novels of Iris Murdoch

Osborn, Pamela (2013) Another country : bereavement, mourning and survival in the novels of Iris Murdoch. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis identifies the expression of mourning and the status of outliving, or surviving the dead, as critically significant in Iris Murdoch’s novels. It analyses Murdoch’s use of post-structuralist techniques in the writing of mourning and assesses the ethical problems associated with survival, the inability to mourn, and biographical responses to Murdoch’s own death. Close readings of selected texts which demonstrate Murdoch’s developing concern with mourning engage in dialogues with Sigmund Freud and Jacques Derrida’s ideas about mourning, Elias Canetti’s concept of survival and contemporary philosophical, theological and psychological theories of mourning. These dialogues, which identify mourning in Murdoch’s work as particularly complex and ambiguous, establish Murdoch’s innovative contribution to mourning studies, which has until recently been dominated by Freud’s definitions.The study begins by demonstratingMurdoch’s relevance to psycho-analytical and current philosophical debate on mourning with reference to The Sea, The Sea, ThePhilosopher’s Pupil and Jackson’s Dilemma. It classifies The Sea, The Sea as Murdoch’s major mourning text, which contradicts prevailing Freudian theory about mourning and distinguishes Murdoch’s method of incorporating mourning into her work as deconstructionist. It proceeds to explore how her approach to survival develops a dialogue begun with Elias Canetti in the early 1950s which conflicts with her apparent support for his work. An analysis of ‘survivor guilt’ in The Message to the Planet forms part of Murdoch’s response to the Holocaustand relates her work to current trauma and Holocaust theory. An investigation into Murdoch’s demonic characters in An Unofficial Rose, The Time of the Angels and A Fairly Honourable Defeat follows, whichidentifiesthe inability to mourn as a significant barrier to goodness. In addition an enquiry into the cultural distaste for mourning and mourners in the mid-twentieth century reveals Murdoch to be writing against a background in which the mourner is overlooked and even ostracised. Finally, the ways in which life writing about Murdoch since her death both constitutes and describes mourning for her are considered. This study concludes by contending that biographical responses to Murdoch’s death both engage with and contradict accepted mourning theory in ways that were anticipated in Murdoch’s own fiction.

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