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A Fairly Honourable Defeat

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  1,480 Ratings  ·  128 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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Aug 01, 2013 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
Nov 20, 2008 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
Sep 01, 2010 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
Jul 09, 2012 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
Feb 07, 2013 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
Oct 28, 2013 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
Mar 24, 2008 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
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
Oct 10, 2014 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
Apr 03, 2008 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
Jun 03, 2008 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
Aug 15, 2011 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
Andrew Fairweather
Aug 30, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: limey-lit, fiction
God damn, Julius is a DICK! The straight-up bleakness of 'A Fairly Honorable Defeat' was immensely disappointing. For so many high-minded characters and turns of phrases, this story is pretty straight forward—evil begets evil, and excessive pride is foolish.

Yet, I was *absolutely* willing to follow along. Murdoch's writing is very engaging. I found myself daydreaming about Tallis, Simon and Axel and other characters in this dark web, and I resumed the story at just about any moment I could spare
Sep 14, 2012 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.
Jul 14, 2011 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.
Jun 27, 2010 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.
Stephen Brody
Aug 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
“Moralists are far too timid, especially now when they feel they have to placate the logical positivists and the psychologists and the sociologists and the computerologists and God knows who else. They fill their pages with apologies and write everybody’s language but their own.”

“She poured out a little whisky and sipped it. She felt an instance of false comfort. The whisky did not know of her troubles.”

“Cynicism? Why use that nasty word? Let us say a sensible acceptance of the second rate.”

* *
Apr 16, 2008 rated it liked it
Recommended to Kristy by: Andria
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Iris Murdoch makes her readers work at reading. Although her novels are entertaining and often described as comic, there is always something complex going on; namely, what are her character's motivations? They always behave so irrationally, but then again, she proves that human motivations are actually pretty limited and predictable.

In this novel, the amoral Julius sees himself as "an instrument of justice," tricking his friends and enemies alike into ruining their own relationships. He laughs a
Nov 23, 2012 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
Julieta Paradiso
Dec 28, 2012 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
Jul 28, 2010 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
Mar 24, 2008 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
Sep 03, 2011 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
Nick Mendoza
Jun 11, 2007 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
Oct 17, 2010 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
Sarah Beaudoin
Aug 18, 2007 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
Apr 20, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not one of her best, a few too many suspension of disbelief moments required, but still well worth the read. Characters are fabulous. A great portrayal of a gay couple - Murdoch makes no special mention of their homosexuality, but neither is it trivalized and as the book was written in 1970 (mentions made of the 'dirty run down slum houses in Notting Hill' make you realise how long ago this was) she really was ahead of her time.
Erica Miles
Mar 21, 2015 rated it it was amazing
INMHO, the best novel philosopher and novelist, Iris Murdoch, ever wrote! It was groundbreaking in that it featured gay protagonists in a very natural way, with absolutely no judgment or making a point of their relationship, as if it were the most natural thing in the world! A novel way ahead of its time!
Cath Murphy
Mar 21, 2011 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.” 4 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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