Murdoch on philosophy in fiction

Poking around in the BBC radio archives, I happened upon a short clip from A.S. Byatt’s 1971 interview with Iris Murdoch, in which Murdoch discusses (third item) the extent to which her novels are driven by philosophy.

Murdoch says she became aware of her novels’ engagement with philosophical problems, including “one of the oldest of all philosophical problems” — “the incompleteness of moral argument” — by looking “at what I’ve done rather than intended to do”:

I have a horror of writing philosophical novels in a full theoretical sense, where the philosophy’s really sticking out or weighing down on the thing. I think this would destroy one’s ability to tell a good story and one’s ability to create character, which is what I very much more want to do than produce theoretical explanations of the world. But there is certainly a psychological motive force, I think . . .

Byatt: I like it because your characters think, which is very rare in novels. They actually are capable of quite complicated thought.

Murdoch: Yes, one must be careful about this, though. (Both chuckle.) I mean, I think if one’s characters do too much thinking — well, this could very well bore the reader, and also, I think, it could take away from the characters — the everydayness, the ordinary and contingent being, which is so important, which one very much wants to display.


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