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A Severed Head [Kindle Edition]

Iris Murdoch
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $15.00
Kindle Price: $10.99
You Save: $4.01 (27%)
Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

A novel about the frightfulness and ruthlessness of being in love

Martin Lynch-Gibson believes he can possess both a beautiful wife and a delightful lover. But when his wife, Antonia, suddenly leaves him for her psychoanalyst, Martin is plunged into an intensive emotional reeducation. He attempts to behave beautifully and sensibly. Then he meets a woman whose demonic splendor at first repels him and later arouses a consuming and monstrous passion. As his Medusa informs him, “this is nothing to do with happiness.”

A Severed Head was adapted for a successful stage production in 1963 and was later made into a film starring Claire Bloom, Lee Remick, Richard Attenborough, and Ian Holm.

Editorial Reviews


“The is a comedy with that touch of ferocity about it which makes for excitement.”—Elizabeth Jane Howard

“Immensely readable . . . Miss Murdoch is blessedly clever withour any of the aridity which, for some reason, that word is supposed to imply.”—Philip Toynbee


"A power of intellect quite exceptional in a novelist." -"Sunday Times"

"She is incapable of writing without fascinating and beautiful colour." -"The Times"

Product Details

  • File Size: 410 KB
  • Print Length: 210 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0140020039
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (November 18, 1976)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004ELAAP6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #415,174 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
44 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece of Sly Humour August 16, 2001
In "A Severed Head," Iris Murdoch takes the bedroom farce to a whole new level. It's a tangled tale of love, adultery, deception, self-deception, jealousy and attempted suicide, all rendered with deadpan humour and with just enough darkness lurking behind the scenes to make it even more interesting. Many of Murdoch's novels have a central character cast as the master manipulator, but here it's never clear who is manipulating whom. The portrayal of the ponderous, rather smug protagonist is a masterpiece of sly character assassination and the immortal Honor Klein is...well, you'll have to read the book to find out. Heartily recommended.
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66 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tops September 3, 2001
By A Customer
As an Iris Murdoch "junkie", I relish all of her works, and I'm still in the process of completing the list. My personal favorites have to be A Severed Head, The Sea, The Sea, Bruno's Dream and The Green Knight, so far. A Severed Head is particularly enjoyable because its plot is fast-moving and doesn't get sidetracked with lengthy philosophical or religious theory that is inherent in so many of her books. While I do enjoy examining these topics, it's also great just to get engrossed in a good story without having to think existentially, if you know what I mean. She has incredible talent as a novelist in developing characters, describing setting, developing plot and building suspense. She uses these gifts, combined with her great sense of humor, to bring her stories to an unanticipated climax, with an even more unexpected, and often happy, ending. She treats her readers as intellectual equals, which is a nice compliment, although I know I've come up short a few times -- particularly when one of her characters spouts off a phrase in a foreign language. It's the price you pay for good art, and I wouldn't change a thing. This book is a great jumping off point for new Iris Murdoch readers, who can then graduate to her lengthier, (and more philosophical) works later. Not many people can write like Iris Murdoch, and she is missed by many. Luckily, she left her legacy in her writings that we can all enjoy for many, many years to come.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Will become a classic! November 10, 2000
Honor Klein is one of the most fascinating of all of Murdoch's memorable characters. Murdoch uses humor deftly in this novel weaving a web of enchantment that underlies the more serious discussions of sex, human responsibility and morality. I will never forget the the scene in the cellar between Honor and Martin, the ride from the train station and the hilarious and touching final scene are etched in my memory forever. I have read hundreds of "serious" novels in my life and The Severed Head has become my favorite. With her recent death we lost one of the worlds best writers.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The irrationality of love March 25, 1999
What is so special about this book is the way in which it manages to balance the funny with the tragic, and the romantic with the demonic. It is extremely funny to see how the characters are affected by love, and how they are gradually transformed from rational beings into irrational and occasionally ridiculous beings. Some of the scenes are terrifically funny sometimes bordering on slapstick. In this sense "The Severed Head" reminded me of a typical Shakespearean comedy. But as is also known, comedy often, if not always, also has a more serious dimension which is perhaps not as lucid as the comic elements but is nonetheless tacitly present. For example one might question whether it is actually love which drives the characters towards eachother. Is it not rather desire and self-obsession, which is mistaken for love? Are the characters not just looking for something meaningfull, and trying to find a purpose with their existence? At the end of the book love no longer seems to mean love in the romantic sense since almost all of the characters have had affairs with eachother. Here we clearly see a quite serious and contemporary problem, is there such a thing as true love in modern society or is it all just a game without true feelings? For Geordie, one of the female characters in the book it is not all a game since she tries to commit suicide, because her lover, the protagonist of the story, has leaft her. To sum up, it was this blend of the comic and the tragic which for me made the story so good. Although the book is fairly old, it works 100 percent in our postmodern age where doubt and insecurity are some of the key characteristics. As the novel deftly exemplifies this can be treated and observed in many ways and in many modes, and this plurality should appeal to the contemporary reader in many ways.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars English Decadence July 5, 2001
This is my first foray into Iris Murdoch territory and I must say I am quite impressed. She writes with wit and vitality and there is much wisdom here also.

This story has to do with a group of people in contemporary (at least as of 1962, when the book was written), English aristocracy. They are all civilized and elegant and tasteful. The plot has to do with the various marital infidelities committed by each and every one of them, and their varying reactions to these discoveries.

The inclination of these people is to treat these things in a very civilized, low-key way. For example, there is an amusing scene in which the husband goes to get champagne to celebrate the announcement that his wife has found happiness by carrying on with . . . well, better not say too much. This emerges as an interesting theme. At want point does civility itself become immoral, when faced with immoral behavior? Must one continue to wear the famous vaunted, stoic, brave English face while inside one is churning with pain?

Well, one does if one recognizes that one is standing in the way of another's happiness. But what is happiness? Love? Perhaps, but another important theme of the novel is that love is not always what we think it is. Simple desire often clouds the issue, as does envy, or even baser motives, such as revenge. So how does civility fit in when faced with such complex and undefinable human emotions?

Ms. Murdoch offers no easy answers. In fact, the somewhat ambiguous ending would seem to indicate that humans--or at least upper-class English humans--will always flout convention when pursuing happiness. Or love. Or the perception of these.

This a fine novel. Although towards the end it careens into farce, one does not have to be an expert in the manners of mid-century English society to recognize what are, indeed, universal themes.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Ernst Lubitsch should have filmed this
Martin Lynch-Gibbon, a wine merchant, 41, is married to Antonia, 46. He also has a mistress in her twenties, the complete opposite of his wife in every aspect. Read more
Published on September 19, 2012 by Guillermo Maynez
4.0 out of 5 stars Compelling, funny, enduring
Early Murdoch, and terrific. The novel is compelling on every level--intriguing characters, great story, and themes that stick with you. It's also wickedly satirical. Read more
Published on September 18, 2012 by Christopher
4.0 out of 5 stars Soap Opera antics enthrall reader
In what could qualify as antics capable of entertaining even the most jaded soap opera fans of the twenty-first century, the drama in Iris Murdoch's "A Severed Head" (published in... Read more
Published on June 20, 2012 by PuroShaggy
4.0 out of 5 stars Change Partners and Dance
"A Severed Head," (1961), is the fifth novel from Dublin-born, Anglo-Irish Iris Murdoch, British writer, Oxford university don, and highly praised, professional, prolific novelist. Read more
Published on April 17, 2012 by Stephanie De Pue
1.0 out of 5 stars incongruous
Incongruous and shallow, full of falsely complex characters who get involved in inexplicable acts. Today the material looks too 'early sixties' - and it has aged badly.
Published on December 2, 2011 by Salvi Delarosa
4.0 out of 5 stars A Special Book
To start with, I'll have to point out that Iris Murdoch's A Severed Head is about the most abrasive book title I've come across, along with Nabokov's Invitation to a Beheading,... Read more
Published on September 27, 2011 by cpauthor
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing, utterly compelling account of adultery and the muddle of...
Martin Lynch-Gibbon, a successful wine merchant and happily two-timing sophisticate douche bag, has been betraying his wife, Antonia, by having an affair for some time with... Read more
Published on May 26, 2011 by bobbygw
3.0 out of 5 stars A strange experience...
I am not quite sure how I feel about this book, certainly I enjoyed the writing, very analytical and composed, certainly I felt enough underlying cynical tone about the insanity of... Read more
Published on May 4, 2011 by whj
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written tale of the '60s
When A Severed Head opens, Martin Lynch-Gibbons, a successful wine merchant, is relaxing in his mistress's London flat, knowing that his wife Antonia is safely occupied in a... Read more
Published on February 9, 2011 by Steven Davis
5.0 out of 5 stars Freudian classic
If you liked other Freudian works, A Severed Head is the novel for you--classic in every way.
Published on February 11, 2009 by A. Markavage
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More About the Author

Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) was one of the most influential British writers of the twentieth century. She was awarded the 1978 Booker Prize for The Sea, The Sea, won the Royal Society Literary Award in 1987, and was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1987 by Queen Elizabeth. Her final years were clouded by a long struggle with Alzheimer's before her passing in 1999.

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