Volume Five, December 2004

home » articles » Clementina Mihailescu


The concept of flight, present in the very title of the novel The Flight from the Enchanter, is the entry point to our understanding the characters’ emotional involvement with the “enchanter,” “Mischa Fox.”
Mischa’s relation with the historian “Peter Saward” is the key to understanding the meaning of this novel. It can be interpreted, following Kelly’s terminology, as being tied with the self’s “ethical” imperative of communicating with others, of achieving some sort of “commonality” (spiritual similarity) through a process of “sociality” (playing a social role by getting emotionally involved with other people). Mischa’s embracing such cardinal wishes is proved by his intention to pass his Eastern cultural heritage on to Peter Saward, showing him primary school pictures and pictures of the cathedral from his native place. Such images then become archetypal for Mischa because they symbolize the protective character of the maternal archetype; his native place, some sort of lost paradise, symbolizes Mother as an emotional point of departure and of everlasting return. Since such cultural heritage is mainly an oral tradition, the psychologists, who are endlessly struggling to answer the ever more pressing question of how the individual can find reasoned affirmation in the nihilistic present, require we should consider that one’s life story told at a certain moment would be essential for making one’s life meaningful. Gergen has coined the term “self-narrative” for the narratives built by the individual about his own past and where he has harmoniously and coherently integrated his various life experiences.1 Consistent with such approaches, Bettleheim posits that stories keep us from experiencing moral void, helping the individual acquire a feeling of existential unity.
It follows that Mischa’s stories about his childhood and native place narrated by him to Peter Saward are essential for making his life meaningful and for helping him acquire a sense of continuity and moral stability. Therefore they appear as his identity-establishing cultural heritage through such reconstructing details as the name of his schoolmistress, a picture of a fountain with a bronze fish, another picture of a square where there used to be the annual autumn fair, when day-old little chickens were offered as prizes; the last detail is associated with the author’s comment on Mischa sometimes killing defenseless and poor animals. The pursuit of exact and complete details is for him a vital necessity, almost a miracle, making him feel that “after all, nothing dies.”2 It is most illuminating that Mischa entrusts his autobiographic memories to Peter, to keep his childhood with him. As historian, Peter, through his goodness, his work and his illness, sets himself apart from the world depicted in the novel. He pursues in complete isolation his attempt to decipher a script about pre-Babylonian empires. In the final pages of the book, Saward speaks to Rosa about the existence of a bilingual stone that explains the meaning of the hieroglyphs on which he has been working for a long time:

“So all your work was for nothing, for nothing” she spoke half angrily, half in grief “Well, what can one do?” said Peter, “one reads the signs as best one can, and one may be totally misled. But it is never certain that the evidence will turn up that makes everything plain. It was worth trying. Now, I can go back to my other work in peace...”3

The quotation testifies to Murdoch’s concern for the element of chance involved in any attempt to find truth. It contains a puzzling negative connotation, namely, that we may be misled, and that the sudden revelation may not come at all, or that it may come from a totally unexpected source. There is, however, also an implied positive connotation in “it was worth trying”. Saward’s approach is just like Murdoch’s own statement that objective reality exists, as under the form of a bilingual stone, and that the individual must strive to get closer to what is real and true.
Such conduct can be best uncovered through Jung’s archetype of “meaning”, which requires that people should be in control of their passions, opinions and superstitions in order to reach moral completeness, hence “individuation.” Consequently, Peter becomes an enlightening source for Mischa who is perceived by everybody as a contradictory, almost paradoxical individual. Mischa’s behavior, in Peter’s opinion, reflects his ambivalent inner structure, an unusual combination of “cruelty and pity.”4 This dichotomy is completed and supported by some other obvious dualities, such as his being perceived as a mould of “god” and a “demon”5 or his exterior duality “one blue eye and one brown eye.”6 The emergent negative pole of such emotional constellations, namely, the demonic side of his personality, can be satisfactorily explained through Jung’s archetypes of “shadow,” “persona” and “anima.”
Mischa seems incapable of facing his shadow, the dark side of his personality, so as to experience the annihilation of its coercive force. Moreover, under the uncertain circumstances of his life, Mischa’s shadow will be projected upon a person, within his proximity, who is more likely to take over a negative charge. In this case, that person is Mischa’s associate, “Calvin Blick.” He is tall, with pale eyes, whose colour one can hardly recall. Having been psychologically abused by Mischa in his youth, in adulthood, he becomes the latter’s “dark half,” deriving advantage from a communal space of material plenitude, but of little morality.7 Calvin does most of the unpleasant and morally damaging actions required by his master, so that Mischa could preserve his innocence. Mischa also adopts a social mask and totally identifies himself with it. Growing ever more aware of his social part, he unconsciously experiences the “inflation of the persona”, turning into a mere “reflection” of society, being entirely deprived of his individuality.8
As regards anima, the feminine part of one’s soul, this archetype seems to have projected itself upon “Rosa,” the woman who has proved capable of making a strong impression upon Mischa, who had loved her but was turned down. So, Rosa fears that he might now take revenge on her by engulfing the family magazine “Artemis” into his newspaper empire. This circumstance not only frightens her but increases her awareness that she is still fascinated by Fox, regarded by everybody as “the very figure of evil” and a “mischief maker.”9
Rosa experiences two striking moments of insight; one is related to Peter Saward, the historian of empires, whose love for her “was her only luxury.”10 Another insight points to a discouraging experience for Rosa Keepe in connection with the “Lusiewicz” brothers, two recently immigrant engineers, entirely dependent on her. Kelly’s construct of “hostility,” of unconditionally imposing unsuited patterns upon the emotional reality of the other people, would satisfactorily explain the two immigrants’ conduct, their demonic energy that will turn them into figures of power, of genuine enchanters. After having protected, guided, given money to them and after teaching them English, she becomes the brothers’ lover, loses her power and begins to experience fear. Moreover, she felt that her “relation with the brothers was drawing nearer to the brink of some disaster.”11 This incestuous relation, a parody of marriage, can be considered to possess “demonic” connotations. The brothers often said: “You are our sister. You belong to both... Wife is nothing.”12 Rosa is delighted by their primitive sensuality in the beginning; however, now she is frightened of this relation. Her intuition tells her that the power of such enchanters can only be broken by a greater enchanter, by Mischa. Dreaded by Mischa’s interest for the magazine Artemis, she keeps putting off meeting him. She also starts looking for persons who might help her financially in order to save the paper from being incorporated into Mischa’s financial empire. She is also unaware of the connection between Calvin Blick and her brother, “Hunter.” (Calvin had shown Hunter a picture of Rosa in the hands of the Lusiewicz brothers and they have settled that Artemis must the price of not making the photo public.) To save Rosa from public contempt, Hunter will yield and give up Artemis. The meeting of the Artemis shareholders reveals Rosa concern for the paper, as she has asked all those present, most of them women, to contribute considerable amounts of money to the maintenance of the paper, preventing its sale to Mischa.
Interestingly, the shareholders’ meeting intermingles with a party organized by Mischa in his house, where he is perceived by everybody as an “oriental sage.”13 This trope reads as a state of consciousness with obvious emotional connotations, through the implied ironical dichotomy of Mischa’s identity. Moreover, he shows up in the guests’ dining-room, holding Peter Saward by his arm and introducing him as a celebrity, on the one hand, and on the other, when chatting with Rosa, they look both “moved, distant, inaccessible” to the other guests.14 Owing to the illuminating adjectival sequence: moved, distanced, inaccessible, the scene reads as an instance of “reactionary formation”15 through the conversion of Mischa’s feelings of revenge towards Rosa into the opposite pulsation; it also reads as an instance of “retroactive annulment,” the latter signifying Mischa’s attempt to suppress not only the consequences of Rosa’s having formerly abandoned him, but the event itself.
The events to come will greatly affect Rosa’s personal life. Stephen Lusiewicz moves into her house and plays the part of the master, which makes her seek Mischa’s assistance to dispose of him. She does not view this as a positive action, but as part of Mischa’s enslaving plot:

When she felt she had to go to Mischa she was quite ready to acknowledge herself to be under a spell. It was as if the climax was to come after perhaps years of preparation: and suddenly all the force of those years was to be felt in the pull which drew her in spite of herself towards him. She knew that even if at that moment Mischa were obvious of her existence, yet he was drawing her all the same. She was reminded of stories of love philters which will draw the loved one over mountains and across the seas. 16

To be under a spell usually involves being no longer liable for one’s actions. Mention should be made here of Murdoch’ s statement, in one of her interviews, cited by Zohreh Sullivan, that “some characters want to be manipulated by others.” To this she adds: “People very often elect a god in their lives, they elect somebody whose puppet they want to be, and… almost subconsciously, are ready to receive suggestions from this person.”17 Such point of view can be regarded as a way of avoiding truth, of living safely, without responsibility. Deprived of direct responsibility for action, Rosa realizes that “she felt again as Fox’s pawn.”18 Soon the Parliament settles up the rights of Eastern immigrants and part of her troubles get solved.
Mischa’s capacity of emotionally imprisoning people is also reflected in his relation with “Annette,” a nineteen year-old girl, the daughter of a diplomat, whose need for affection drives her towards him. Annette has taken refuge with “Rainborough,” a civil servant and friend of Mischa, after having left school and quarrelled with Rosa Keepe, her guardian. She overhears the two men’s talk about women. Mischa examines adolescents’ dreams of “dominating the forces of evil” as they think that virtue can conquer everything.19 According to Murdoch, such dreams lead adolescents to the “dragon,” imagining that they will be protected; yet the dragon symbolically eats them. Every detail of this paradox applies to Annette, as she has completely fallen under the enchantment of Mischa, the symbolic dragon. The scene reminds the reader of Frye’s description of a demonic human world, dichotomized between the ruthless, inscrutable dragon and the sacrificed virtuous victims.
Murdoch further examines Annette’s attempts to attract Mischa’s attention, which provokes Rosa’s jealousy. The two women struggle madly, as Rosa, the mother-substitute for Annette, is almost eager to destroy her young rival and troublemaker, attesting to the irrational dimension of the characters’ minds. After this wild scene, Mischa drives Annette to the sea; sensing Mischa’s melancholy, she attaches a “socially invalidated anticipation” to this construct, imagining that she could comfort, save, cure Mischa from his suffering and his dramatically charged state of consciousness.20 Misconstruing the situation, Annette experiences intense inner discomfort. Her self-revelation occurs when Mischa’s associate, Calvin, his alter ego, henchman and “minotaur” comes to fetch the coat that his master lent to her on the seashore. Her last hope gone in the realization of how unsuccessful she has been in her endeavours to seduce Mischa, she feels confused and exhausted. In order to escape the overwhelming problems bothering her, Annette attempts suicide in the presence of some guests, gesturing towards the darkness enveloping her romantically inflicted mind. Fortunately, her parents show up, she is saved from her melancholy, travelling with her family around the world.
As a newspaper magnate, Mischa is involved in various social and political spheres. Kelly’s construct of hostility, of someone’s imposing socially invalidated patterns upon the people around him, would be a good entry point to understanding Mischa’s business schemes, dependent upon his exploitation of immigrant employees. Through elaborating and enacting socially pathologic behaviours, Mischa resembles Procustus, who always made his guests stretch and finally cut their feet off to fit the size of his bed rather than provide them with a more appropriate one.21 The seamstress “Nina,” who symbolizes these alienated and uprooted immigrants, can be figuratively regarded as one of Mischa’s “guests,” to whom he plays the “host,” in one of his “safe” houses for the illegal immigrants. Yet this abject house in which she lives and works, becomes a place of revelation, where she has a “dream epiphany” of human abjection and brutality. The dream is materialized in the form of her running through a dark wood chased by her sewing machine, which first produces an endless stream of cloth and then becomes savage, threatening her with its steel jaws.
Murdoch’s creative impulse to give a voice to such marginal people as Nina can be seen as “maternal function,” in Zamfirescu’s terms.22 The significant moment of discontinuity in Nina’s quest for self-fulfilment takes place when she first desires to break away from such humiliating conditions, to completely forget them by starting totally anew in Australia. For Nina and all the invisible immigrants subtly hinted at in the novel, Australia becomes the great cultural archetype of the promised land. Nina’s life makes up a complex pattern of continuity and discontinuity, of appropriation and rejection, of received cultural traditions and patterns of behaviour. Innocent, suffering because of the others’ misuse of power, Nina makes several attempts to find some sort of illumination in her relationship with Rosa. Moreover, being unable to counteract Mischa, she regards Rosa as someone endowed with some sort of power. Nina’s choice is apparently a happy one. But the Platonic supernaturalism that has infused Murdoch’s text offers a spectacular upsetting of evidence. When Nina first comes to pay a visit to Rosa, the latter has another caller, who gives her some financial assistance to save Artemis, and so an unspeaking Nina departs. After Rosa has decided to ask Mischa for help in her fight against Stephen Lusiewicz, Nina tries again to speak to her, but fails again. After the Parliament debates the rights of Eastern immigrants, she makes her last attempt. Rosa is in a hurry to leave for Italy and contact Fox regarding the magazine, so Nina fails again.
All these attempts reveal her confusion and are preliminary symptoms of her intense anxiety, explained by Kelly as occurring when the social events of one’s life are no longer well organized by his or her construct system. Nina’s distorted consciousness is reflected in the split discourse of the novel as follows:
As the crying ceased, it was replaced by a low and regular wailing sound, which came from her lips, without her will, in a rhythmical cadence. It rose and fell like a song. She had heard lamentation like this in her childhood, but she had never understood it. Now she knew how it was possible to sing in the presence of death. People whom she had known long ago came to her now, not clearly seen, but present in multitude, in a great community. She held out her hand to them across the recent past. She stumbled across the room and opened the window very wild. Hazy with sunshine and budding trees the afternoon was revealed. She mounted on a chair...23

In spite of its tragic overtones, such a riveting passage reminds us that critics must not ignore stylistic devices, as it is through them that Murdoch reaches culmination. The quotation poetically mirrors Nina’s collapse, through such nouns as: “wailing,” “lamentation,” “death,” accompanied by the verbs of motion “rise” and “fall.” The syntagm “held out her hands” illustrates the desperate need of friendship and love of a profoundly injured consciousness. Taken aesthetically, the passage also reveals a process of transcending the real and of imposing the poetic dimension in the syntagm “now she knew how it was possible to sing in the presence of death.” The wailing, lamentation and death favour a “triangulation” in comprehending the inevitability of Nina’s tragic suicide.
Nina’s suicide shows that Mischa is not always successful as a plot-maker. His failure can be regarded as a result of his inability to predict and then control the plans of those enslaved by him. Nina’s attempt to escape is a long considered and concealed plan and it mainly fails due to the mechanical nature of the people around her.
Iris Murdoch is obviously not pleased with the concept of power and she seems to favor the apprehension of the reality of the others, being concerned with moral issues regarding the most significant qualities of man. Nina’s death causes Rosa’s deepest insight into the problems of lonely and insecure people. Under the unconscious influence of Mischa, she has proved unable to apprehend the moral values of ordinary people. Her sudden understanding of the “otherness” of people makes her direct her loving attention towards Peter Saward.24 He teaches Rosa that, in order to identify with somebody and read the significant signs of their personality, one must remain objectively detached, as otherwise “you will never know the truth and you will read the signs in accordance with your deepest wishes.”25 The syntagm – objectively detached – sends us to Murdoch’s moral philosophy (that resembles Kelly’s corollary of commonality and sociality), through the implication that one does not need to change another individual to “properly” (i.e., unselfishly) understand him.

1 Ioan Radu. Psihologie sociala (Cluj-Napoca: Ed. EXM SRL, 1994), 149.
2 Iris Murdoch, The Flight from the Enchanter (London: Chatto & Windus, 1977), 206.
3 Ibid., 278.
4 Ibid., 287.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid., 79.
7 Ibid., 33.
8 Calvin S. Hall, Lindzey Gardner & John Campbell. Theories of Personality (4th ed.) (Singapore et al.: John Wiley, 2002), 89.
9 Murdoch, Enchanter, 103, 118.
10 Ibid., 38.
11 Ibid., 100.
12 Ibid., 65.
13 Ibid., 190.
14 Ibid., 191.
15 Serban Ionescu, Madeleine Jacquet & Claude Lhote, Mecanisme de aparare: Teorie si aspecte clinice. (Iasi: Polirom, 2002), 184.
16 Murdoch, Enchanter, 236.
17 Bryan Magee. Men of Ideas: Some Creators of Contemporary Philosophy. London: BBC Books, 1978, 57.
18 Murdoch, Enchanter, 241.
19 Ibid., 133.
20 Eric Gilder. “Uniting the Alpha and Omega of Critical Discourse: A Kellean Rhetorical Analysis of Wayne C. Booth as ‘Career Author’.” (Dissertation) (The Ohio State University, 1992), 87.
21 Ibid., 89.
22 Vasile Dem. Zamfirescu. Filozofia inconstientului (Vol. 2) (Bucharest: Ed. Trei, 2001), 192.
23 Murdoch, Enchanter, 157.
24 Gabriele Griffin. The Influence of the Writing of Simone Weil on the Fiction of Iris Murdoch (London: Mellen, 1993), 114.
25 Murdoch, Enchanter, 286.


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