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A Fairly Honourable Defeat

3.94  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,233 Ratings  ·  110 Reviews
In a dark comedy of errors, Iris Murdoch portrays the mischief wrought by Julius, a cynical intellectual who decides to demonstrate through a Machiavellian experiment how easily loving couples, caring friends, and devoted siblings can betray their loyalties. As puppet master, Julius artfully plays on the human tendency to embrace drama and intrigue and to prefer the distra ...more
Paperback, 432 pages
Published March 1st 2001 by Penguin Classics (first published 1970)
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The Sea, the Sea by Iris MurdochThe Bell by Iris MurdochThe Black Prince by Iris MurdochUnder the Net by Iris MurdochA Severed Head by Iris Murdoch
Best of Iris Murdoch
7th out of 34 books — 45 voters
Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy BlumeThe Crystal Cave by Mary StewartBury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown84, Charing Cross Road by Helene HanffThe Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Best Books of 1970
25th out of 143 books — 49 voters


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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,251)
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Algernon
Sep 03, 2013 Algernon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013

Relationships : It's Complicated!
Tallis loves Morgan but Morgan loves Julius, Julius woos Simon but Simon loves Axel, Hilda loves Rupert but Rupert covets Morgan, Julius wants Hilda but Hilda loves Peter, Peter loves Morgan but Morgan loves Rupert. Leonard loves nobody because he's an old grinch and the exception to the rule of musical chairs deployed by Murdoch here in her study of love, morality and fidelity. If the tune sounds familiar, it's because I've spent half an hour on Google trying to
...more
David
Sep 15, 2010 David rated it it was amazing
Shelves: big-white-square
I read Iris Murdoch and then I wonder why I ever read anything else. Brilliant characters, fabulous set pieces. It should be an opera. The dialogue, the philosophy and the plot can be a bit clunky, but everything is forgiven because it is so dramatic and the characters so charming.

I've decided that, with Iris Murdoch, I know I’m going to love it when a) it is set in London and / or b) I have to write my own list of characters inside the front cover to keep a track of everyone.



"'Your letters were
...more
Manny
Jun 29, 2009 Manny rated it really liked it
OK, it's not really the great novel it sets out to be, but it's very entertaining. Julius King is one of my all-time favorite bad guys. Go Julius! Destroy that relationship! Drive that man to madness and despair! Cut up that dress! Do the washing-up! Sort of a high-brow Hannibal Lecter-lite, as it were. Though I was rather shocked to discover the explanation for his lack of affect.

Here's the bit I liked best. The woman is very taken with him, and hangs on his every word. He tells her that Turner
...more
Nancy
Feb 07, 2013 Nancy rated it really liked it
I first read this book in graduate school in the 70's and I've re-read it several times over the years. It may or may not be one of the best books I've ever read, but in some ways it is probably the most powerful.

For many years, it was the only Murdoch book I'd read, but over the past five years I've picked up others and that altered my reading experience this time. I still felt the chilly dread of what the characters were going to encounter next, but I was also hit over the head with Murdoch's
...more
Marla Glenn
Jul 14, 2012 Marla Glenn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: save-for-winter
This paragraph at the beginning of the novel, after the first few lines of dialogue, captures why I love Iris Murdoch so much:

"Hilda and Rupert Foster, celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary with a bottle of rather dry champagne, were sitting in the evening sun in the garden of their house in Priory Grove, London. S.W.10. Hilda, a plumper angel now, reclined limply, exhibiting shiny burnished knees below a short shrift dress of orangey yellow. Her feet were bare. Her undulating dark hair
...more
Tara
Apr 03, 2008 Tara rated it really liked it
Shelves: 20th-c-fiction
I love Iris Murdoch. This is not my favorite, but I do like it a good deal. I would have given this three and half stars if I could; since I wasn't able to, I let my adoration for Tallis and Simon determine my decision. In many Iris Murdoch books you kind of dislike most of the characters. This was one of the few where I really thought some of them were decent people. The title was pretty dead-on, and I felt strangely better at the end of this one than I often do with some her books. She's great ...more
Jana
Mar 24, 2008 Jana rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who wants something different from the New York Times best seller list
Recommended to Jana by: I found it unread on my shelf
What an amazing classic! Murdock was a brilliant woman and her writing and philosophizing is proof of that. This book is an amazing look at dialogue and character development almost totally through dialogue. I've been reading so many modern books that it was a treat to read a classic again. The characters in this book are not worthy of our admiration or sympathy and yet I really did not want the "Iago" character to destroy everyone. I can see how she is credited with giving new life to the novel ...more
Nicole
Apr 29, 2015 Nicole rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's been a very long time since I read any Iris Murdoch. When you've been much attached to an author in the past, there is always the fear that a later reread will reveal you've grown out of that author and that then you will lose your happy memories. Not so here. I think, too, that I am better able to articulate what I like about her: I've been carrying around memories not of my own impressions, but rather my impressions of secondary criticism, my memories of my impressions of others' impressi ...more
Corey
Oct 21, 2014 Corey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Iris Murdoch is my favorite writer. I have been saving this, the last one I hadn't read. And it is, in a word, magnificent. Of course I've never not liked one of her books, but this one ranks near the top. About Murdoch, John Updike said, “Our actions, our decisions, our vows do matter; what can fiction tell us more important than that?” I love her complicated plots, her mysterious characters, her oftentimes outrageous interaction, and, most of all, her dialog. She uses dialog to delineate her c ...more
AnnLoretta
Dec 07, 2015 AnnLoretta rated it really liked it
The GR blurb on this book says: "In a dark comedy of errors, Iris Murdoch portrays the mischief wrought by Julius, a cynical intellectual who decides to demonstrate through a Machiavellian experiment how easily loving couples, caring friends, and devoted siblings can betray their loyalties."

I think this is misleading to a potential reader and, actually, a downright misreading of the book.

"Mischief"? It's a tale of intentional malice and sloppiness of character.

One thing I have to say about the
...more
Cecily
This is a tangled web set in the late 60s, concerning Rupert and Hilda; their 20 year old drop-out son Peter; Rupert’s younger brother Simon and his boyfriend Axel; Hilda’s unstable younger sister Morgan and her estranged husband Tallis and her former lover (and college friend of Rupert and Axel), Julius.

Things are intertwined from the start, but later there are strong echoes of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream when the stage is set for a (non magical) enchantment, leading to illusions of l
...more
Lillian
Jul 07, 2013 Lillian rated it really liked it
Cynical intellectual, Julius masterminds a real life drama between friends, siblings, lovers and spouses in an effort to illustrate his beliefs in the ease in which people fall in and out of love, the inability of people to communicate openly and honestly due to their own ego, and in man's misunderstanding of goodness and evil. His insensitive manipulation of people's emotions has profound implications.

Murdoch has masterfully woven philosophical elements into this dark comedy, highlighting human
...more
Sheila
Aug 15, 2011 Sheila rated it it was amazing
As always, Iris is great. This book is about a middle class family and how they deal with each other. A bit fanciful, but that's what fiction is. I especially liked the gay couple (men). She made them seem real and not the least bit different from heterosexual couples. The ending was really good, too.
Gol
Jun 27, 2010 Gol rated it it was amazing
Shelves: novel
You could read it again and again and again, yet never get tired of it, you're always hungry for the next line, next page. The characterization is the ideal, perfect characterization. The plot is awfully innovative, intelligent and captivating. One of the best novels ever.
Saura
Jan 20, 2013 Saura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A Fairly Honourable Defeat had a great premise. A university professor, Julius, decides to test his friends' relationships by planting ideas and otherwise messing with their lives. He doesn't believe in love or emotional bonds - for him, relationships will always be selfish and one will abandon ones partner in a heartbeat if the situation was right enough.

The characters in this book aren't likeable. We have Robert and his wife Hilda, Robert's brother Simon and Simon's partner and Robert's old f
...more
Julieta Paradiso
Jan 08, 2013 Julieta Paradiso rated it really liked it
When a story opens with a couple, who seem to be the monument of perfection and when she asks her husband if it’s a disgrace to be so happy and whether they should feel guilty about it… you know they’re doomed. Happiness is not a disgrace, but a grace, declares her husband. And he should have added, only he didn’t and too bad for him, that’s why you should be careful enough to avoid falling from it. Now, the question is: Can we really avoid such a thing? Once again, Iris Murdoch will place seemi ...more
Sassy
Apr 16, 2008 Sassy rated it liked it
Recommended to Sassy by: Andria
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kathryn
Dec 25, 2010 Kathryn rated it really liked it
Not a good book to finish on Christmas Eve! Murdoch's skewers her seemingly moral and appealing characters with terrifying and demoralizing results. For a book that includes references to the Holocaust, Murdoch still makes a convincing argument that there is no greater evil than human vanity. I imagine that Julius, having experienced the worst of human cruelty and justifiably cynical, is moved to upend the comfortable and selfsatisfied lives of his aquaintences and test their pompous easy virtue ...more
Xio
Apr 14, 2008 Xio rated it really liked it
I am through Part One of this novel and am not afraid to admit-- without having read the introduction -- being currently infatuated with a character in the book, Julius.

O Julius! I swoon each time you diagnose humanity as being filled with self serving illusions! I adore Iris' manner of describing you with Elizabethan (that's Taylor not some useless queen) Violet eyes that gleam with irrepressible delight. (well I'm mashing things together but that's my privilege. She is dead.)

As usual Lady Iris
...more
Steve
Oct 01, 2011 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have to admit to a soft spot for 20th Century novels whose gay characters are not used as metaphors or killed off because the author can't think of what to do with them by the end of the book. In this book, we find a gay couple working through their problems in a very believable way.

Murdoch can lean towards the schematic in her dialogue from time to time, but even so, the ethical drive of the novel steers clear of esoteric theories and philosophical abstractions.

Love is the irrational that we
...more
Michelle Vivienne
Jul 22, 2008 Michelle Vivienne rated it really liked it
It’s so dark it makes me uncomfortable. Julius, an evil intellectual, finds humanity deplorable. He thinks people idiotic to cherish their beloved “relationships” when they can so easily be dismantled. To amuse himself he decides to demonstrate how fragile relationships are within his group of high society “friends” by setting up traps of misunderstanding which result in countless betrayals. He proves that given the right circumstances most will selfishly act outside of their lover’s interest so ...more
Nick Mendoza
Sep 08, 2007 Nick Mendoza rated it really liked it
this was my first iris murdoch book and i think i may be in love. this story is a complex social drama full of incisive psychological and philosophical insights and richly detailed descriptions. unlike many modern novelists, murdoch does not write to put herself on display, opting instead to tell a good story with lively and engaging characters as introspective as they are flawed. overall i found that this was a brilliant and darkly humorous novel with much to say on the value of stark honesty a ...more
Nitya
Oct 24, 2010 Nitya rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I liked the premise of the book - a super-scientist conducting social experiments on unsuspecting, gullible couples and siblings to reveal how our hidden desires, insecurities, needs, perceptions of self drive our relationships, and not real, true love.

But I did get bogged down in parts - couldnt take all the "darlings" and italics being thrown about. Do Brit men really talk like that? And some of the detours she took seemed very irrelevant—while I normally enjoy such interruptions in the story
...more
Sarah Beaudoin
Nov 20, 2007 Sarah Beaudoin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Iris Murdoch never ceases to amaze me, and A Fairly Honourable Defeat is no exception. She takes what could be a tragic story of deception, unrealized dreams, and marital infidelity, and turns the tables in such a way that the victims seem to deserve all they receive and the aggressors appear innocent of any wrongdoing. Murdoch's deft touch still provides some room to sympathize with the weaker characters on the losing end, but overall the novel is an entertaining ride exploring what happens whe ...more
Salvatore
Oct 29, 2015 Salvatore rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was hysterical, melodramatic, sad, amusing, intelligent, silly, wild, unbelievable, totally believable. A romp. A philosophical bagatelle. HBO should think about making this a fun miniseries.

This book questions what it means to be good. What is goodness in a relationship, in society?

Hilda and Rupert Foster are happily married for twenty years. Morgan, Hilda's sister, comes to town after leaving (or being left) by her lover Julius King (né Kahn), who also is heading to London with a bit
...more
G.G. Donnahue
Jun 28, 2015 G.G. Donnahue rated it it was amazing
Iris Murdoch was both a trained philosopher and a master writer. Her education and poignancy shines through every page of her writing.

Often overlooked as one of her less important novels, "A Fairly Honorable Defeat" has become one of my favorites. I've probably re-read the entire story four times. But my favorite scenes (the ones with Julius in them) I've dog-eared and read dozens more times. And it truly is Julius King, with his ridiculously powerful name and striking personality and looks, tha
...more
Leslie Graff
Apr 12, 2014 Leslie Graff rated it really liked it
I first read Iris Murdoch at the suggestion of my former department chair who had a fascination with her. I thought it odd considering his two areas of specialty were American Naturalism and Sci Fi. He had taken a grad class on the contemporary British novel and was completely compelled by Murdoch's philosophic writing. I think I enjoyed The Black Prince more, only because of the philosophic complexity that you have to face as part of the work, but this was a similar read. Most of the characters ...more
Jan
Sep 14, 2012 Jan rated it really liked it
Still getting accustomed to Murdoch's writing, I found this book compelling and hard to put down. I read until 2 in the morning because I needed to know what would finally happen to the characters. I felt like I knew the gay couple already, and related to the married couple until they got into philosophical trouble. Her prose is seamless, characters well developed yet unusual. Her philosophical perspective is intriguing to me. This is mature, thoughtful reading.
Liz
May 15, 2008 Liz rated it it was amazing
Third time through and still one of my favorites. A dark comedy showcasing everyone's vanity and neuroses, including a loveable little slip of a thing, Simon, who you can't help liking.
Cath Murphy
Mar 21, 2011 Cath Murphy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
My favourite Murdoch. The weaknesses and hypocrisies of a group of well-to-do Londoners are dissected with painful precision.
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Dame Jean Iris Murdoch

Irish-born British writer, university lecturer and prolific and highly professional novelist, Iris Murdoch dealt with everyday ethical or moral issues, sometimes in the light of myths. As a writer, she was a perfectionist who did not allow editors to change her text. Murdoch produced 26 novels in 40 years, the last written while she was suffering from Alzheimer disease.

"She w
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“Human beings crave for novelty and welcome even wars. Who opens the morning papers without the wild hope of huge headlines announcing another great disaster? Provided of course that it affects other people and not oneself. Rupert liked order. But there is no man who likes order who does not give houseroom to a man who dreams of disorder. The sudden wrecking of the accustomed scenery, so long as one can be fairly sure of a ringside seat, stimulates the bloodstream. And the instinctive need to feel protected and superior ensures, for most of the catastrophes of mankind, the shedding by those not immediately involved of but the most crocodile of tears.” 3 likes
“—La gente no suele saber aplicar la filosofía. Dudo de que ni siquiera los filósofos sepan hacerlo.

—La gente puede usar conceptos morales lo mismo que tú has usado ahora el concepto de la verdad para convencerme. Cualquiera puede hacerlo.

—Quizá. Pero creo que la filosofía moral es algo que resulta desesperanzadamente personal. No puede ser comunicado. «Si un león hablase, no podríamos comprenderlo», ha dicho Wittgenstein.”
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