Iris Murdoch's Novels of Male Adultery: The Sandcastle, An Unofficial Rose, The Sacred and Profane Love Machine, and the Message to the Planet.
Dooley, Gillian Mary
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The moral problem of adultery obviously fascinated Iris Murdoch as a novelist – as of course it has many other writers. In her novels we often see a situation where one party to a marriage, often the husband, has divided loyalties. The attraction for Murdoch is clearly the conflict of moral codes implied in their choices. In this paper I examine four novels: The Sandcastle (1957), An Unofficial Rose (1962), The Sacred and Profane Love Machine (1974) and Message to the Planet (1989). In these novels, we can see Murdoch’s mind at work on the theme of male adultery, considering the implications, in each case, of a similar situation altered in one or two important ways. The facts change – which of the characters knows about the adulterous relationship, what they believe about it, whether or not there are children involved – but, just as importantly, the point of view alters. Despite her claim that she identified more with men than women, in the case of this particular theme, I show that Murdoch’s sympathies underwent a change over the years. After The Sandcastle, with its sympathetic male (would-be) adulterer and unsympathetic wife, she has, in this procession of novels, quietly shifted her authorial approval from the husbands to the wives.