Confusion: Iris Murdoch, the Gothic, and the Sense of Place.

Sarah Perry

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis comprises my novel Confusion together with a critical piece exploring depictions and uses of the sense of place – in particular architecture and the built environment – in the Gothic, and in the Gothic legacy in contemporary fiction. I have chosen to focus on two key Gothic texts and two novels by Iris Murdoch.

My novel Confusion depicts a man’s entry into a house in which the inhabitants are each struggling with distinct and ‘confusing’ moral, sexual, spiritual and emotional problems. John Cole is at first only able to understand the situation in which he finds himself by ‘reading’ his life – and that of others – as a kind of fiction. The novel’s use of third person narration interspersed with diary entries permits an exploration of the distance between John’s perception of events (in his role as ‘reader’) and the events themselves, and the inevitable narrowing of that distance as he enters the ‘text’ he is at first content merely to ‘read’. The novel places particular emphasis on the sense of place evoked through John’s perception of what he sees, and, though intended as realist fiction, draws on Gothic motifs of ruin, madness and transgression.

The critical component of the thesis sets Confusion within the context of essentially realist contemporary novels which nonetheless appear to exploit Gothic narrative protocols, focusing particularly on the treatment of place in the novels of Iris Murdoch. The Introduction explores the origins of the Gothic, the crucial importance of the sense of place as a Gothic device, and the extent to which realist fiction may make use of Gothic protocols. It emphasises the importance of consciousness – both of character and reader – to the construction and perception of the sense of place. Chapter 1 explores the extent to which a Gothic sense of place permits and enhances fictional portrayals of madness and reason/unreason in Charles Robert Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer and in Iris Murdoch’s The Unicorn. Chapter 2 examines the use of the Gothic built environment in the form of ‘consecrated ground’, exploring matters of transgression and goodness in M. G. Lewis’ The Monk, and in Iris Murdoch’s The Bell. In Chapter 3, I conclude with an examination of how my own childhood, faith and faith-crisis formed the themes and motifs of my fiction, in particular the use of Gothic protocols.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Motion, Andrew, Supervisor
  • Hampson, Robert, Supervisor
Award date1 Nov 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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