Emily Tait


This essay is about the objectification of women in the early novels of Iris Murdoch, particularly A Severed Head (1961), Under the Net (1954) and The Italian Girl (1964), and how this is subverted by complex characterisation. In focusing on novels predominantly with male narrators and a first person male gaze, I will draw on Sartre’s analysis of “the look” in Being and Nothingness (1943) as well as feminist film theory to firstly consider evidence of immobilization and then re-examine criticism of Murdoch’s female characters as “puppets”. I will contend that Murdoch does not objectify her female characters but instead draws attention to their active passivity and resistance to petrification. Throughout I am concerned with the immobilizing gaze and with the comparisons that can be drawn between woman and Medusa, a figure embodying the core themes of the gaze and object-hood. To this end I examine how the gaze can be re-appropriated by female characters and utilized as a tool of female empowerment rather than objectification.

Author Biography

Emily Tait was born and grew up in Edinburgh and is currently in her third year of Undergraduate study at St. Catharine's College, Cambridge, reading English.