In or Out? The Existential Dilemma of Homosexuals in Iris Murdoch’s A Fairly Honorable Defeat

  •  Wei Guo    


A Fairly Honorable Defeat is one of Iris Murdoch’s best acclaimed novels. Critics generally regard it as a triumph of the evil over the good, as embodied in characters Julius King and Tallis Browne. It could also be read from a different perspective as a fairly honorable defeat of the heterosexual love by the homosexual love. But Simon and Axel only win a narrow victory. Their non-normative sexuality still entangles them in gender, social and moral dilemmas. A detailed and close reading of the novel shows Murdoch’s concern not only about how the existential dilemma of homosexuals has shaped their gender identity and limited their moral vision and choice, but also about the underlying social problems of power and violence. By bringing into conversation Goffman’s theory of stigma, Butler’s theory of gender performance and Foucault’s view of male friendship, the article argues that Simon and Axel have to struggle between secrecy and disclosure of their sexual identity because of the large homophobic social environment. The insecurity and anxiety engendered by their sexual identity makes it difficult for them to associate with others in sincerity. Their moral weakness and failures are largely occasioned by the social environment.

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  • ISSN(Print): 1925-4768
  • ISSN(Online): 1925-4776
  • Started: 2011
  • Frequency: quarterly

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