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A Shadow of Truth: Honor Klein in Iris Murdoch’s A Severed Head

Abstract

Iris Murdoch’s novel A Severed Head (1961) is an example of convoluted relationships that may appear hilarious upon superficial analysis. A close reading, however, reveals the suffering triggered by the behaviour of the central characters. The most mysterious female protagonist, the sexually ambivalent Honor Klein, deploys a wide range of possible interpretations. Honor’s powerful figure is like an axis around which the rest of the characters rotate and without whom the plot would fall apart. The question is, nonetheless, if she is a real figure or not. This paper argues that this pivotal character is not a real person but a dreamy and ghostly concentration of elements in relation to the protagonist Martin Lynch-Gibbon. Honor Klein is a force, is suspicion, and fear, and seems to be an external projection of Martin’s subconscious imaginary fears and trauma. She has a similar narrative function as Shakespeare‘s ghosts in, e.g., Macbeth, Hamlet and Julius Caesar.

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