Iris Murdoch (1919-99)


Life
b. Blessington, Co. Dublin, her mother being a trained opera singer who married at 18; visited Ireland as a child; ed. Badminton and Oxford, 1942 (Classics); wartime employment in Whitehall; engaged in post-war UN relief for Belgium and Austria; took Sarah Smithson studentship in Philosophy at Newnham Coll., Cambridge; Fellow and Tutor in Philosophy at St. Anne’s College, Oxford, spent 13 years; ; Irish concerns and characters include the Protestant Jake and his Catholic manservant Finn in Under the Net (1954); passionate relationship with Elias Canetti, her ‘black prince’, but m. John Bayley, 1956;
 
issued The Sandcastle (1957), concerning Tim Burke; ‘issued Something Special’, a story concerning an Irish girl (Yvonne Geary) and her relationship with her mother and with her spurned lover, the Jewish Dublin boy Sam; Martin Lynch-Gibbon in A Severed Head (1961); issued The Red and the Green (1965), set at Castle Gaze, Co.Wicklow, where Peter Crean-Smith incarcerates his wife over the period of the 1916 Rising; other Irish characters incl. Pati Driscoll - half-Irish and half-Jamaican - in Time of the Angels (1966) and Fivey in Nice and the Good (1968);
 
issued Sacred and Profane Love Machine (1974); issued The Sea, The Sea (1978), on anIrish theme, winner of the Booker Prize; much affected by Alzheimer’s in latter years, having written 26 novels in all; her life with John Bayley was the subject of a memoir by him (Iris 1998), later made into a film (Iris, 2001) which won a Bafta award for Judi Dench - with Kate Winslett as the younger Iris; there is an obit. by Lorna Sage in Times Literary Supplement (19 Feb. 1999); there is an adultatory biography by Peter Conradi (2002) and a more hostile study by A. N. Wilson (2003). DIW OCEL OCIL WJM

Snippets

“Literature could be said to be a sort of disciplined technique for arousing certain emotions.” (The Listener, 1978.)

Iris Murdoch famously said that being a woman “is like being Irish ... everyone says you’re important and nice, but you take second place all the time.” (Quoted in Anne Enright, "Diary", London Review of Books, 19 Sept. 2017.

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Works
Novels  
  • Under the Net (1954);
  • The Flight from the Enchanter (1956);
  • The Sandcastle (1957);
  • The Bell (1958);
  • A Severed Head (1961);
  • An Unofficial Rose (1962);
  • The Unicorn (1963);
  • The Red and the Green (1965);
  • The Italian Girl (London: Chatto & Windus 1964), 214pp., ills. by Reynolds Stone;
  • The Red and the Green and The Time of the Angels (1966);
  • Bruno’s Dream (1969);
  • The Nice and the Good (1968);
  • A Fairly Honourable Defeat (1970);
  • An Accidental Man (1971);
  • The Black Prince (1973);
  • The Sacred and Profane Love Machine (1974);
  • A Word Child (1975);
  • Henry and Cato (1976);
  • The Sea, The Sea (1978);
  • Nuns and Soldiers (1980);
  • The Philosopher’s Pupil (1983);
  • The Good Apprentice (1985);
  • The Message to the Planet (1989);
  • The Green Knight (London: Chatto & Windus 1993);
  • Jackson’s Dilemma (London: Chatto & Windus 1995), 249pp.
 
Philosophical writings
  • Sartre: Romantic Realist (1953);
  • The Sovereignty of Good (1970);
  • Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (London: Chatto & Windus/Viking 1992);
  • Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature (London: Chatto & Windus [1997]), 546pp.

See also ‘The Sublime and Beautiful Revisited’, in The Yale Review, XLIX (Winter 1959) [q.pp.]; ‘Against Dryness: A Polemical Sketch’ [1961], in The Novel Today, ed. Malcolm Bradbury (London: Fontana 1975), cp.24; . Also, Something Special: A Short Story [1957] (London: Chatto & Windus 1999), 41pp.

 
Reprints in 2003:

An Accidental Man (London: Vintage 2003), 384pp.; The Book and the Brotherhood (London: Vintage 2003), 608pp.; The Sacred and Profane Love Machine (London: Vintage 2003), 576pp.; The Sandcastle (London: Vintage 2003), 320pp. Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (London: Vintage 2003), 576pp. See also New York Review of Books, Archive [infra.]

Plays
  • Three Plays, The Black Prince, The Three Arrows, The Servants and the Snow (1st ed. Chatto and Windus 1989), 303pp.

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See Youtube
Irish Murdoch grills Jiddu Kristnamurti
on his Buddhist use of the word “experience” and other matters in a 2-hour talk on 18 October 1984 - available on Youtube [online; accessed 25.05.2012].

Miscellaneous, Reynolds in Stone: A Memorial Address (Warren Press 1981) [ltd. edn. 300].

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Criticism
  • Peter Wolfe, The Disciplined Heart: Irish Murdoch and Her Novels (Missouri UP 1966);
  • A. S. Byatt, Degrees of Freedom: The Novels of Iris Murdoch: (London: Chatto & Windus 1965);
  • Linda Kuehl, ‘Iris Murdoch: The Novelist as Magician/The Magician as Artist', in Modern Fiction Studies, 15, 3 (1969), pp.347-60;
  • Frank Baldanza, Iris Murdoch (Twayne 1974);
  • Donna Gerstenberger, Iris Murdoch [The Irish Writers Ser.] Bucknell UP 1975), 85pp.;
  • Michael O. Bellamy, ‘An Interview with Iris Murdoch’, in Contemporary Literature, 18, 2 (Spring 1977), pp.129-40 [interview of 23 June 1976; text approved by Murdoch]; [available at JSTOR - online];
  • Jack I. Biles, ‘An Interview with Iris Murdoch', in Studies in the Literary Imagination 11 (1978) [q.pp.];
  • Norman Vance, ‘Iris Murdoch’s Serious Fun’, in Theology, 84 (November 1981), pp.420-28;
  • John Fletcher, ‘Reading Beckett with Iris Murdoch’s Eyes', in AUMLA, 55 (1981), pp.7-14;
  • Kingsley Widmer, ‘The Wages of Intellectuality [...] and the Fictional Wagers of Iris Murdoch', in Twentieth-Century Women Novelists, ed Thomas Staley (London: Macmillan 1982), pp.16-38;
  • Elizabeth Dipple, Iris Murdoch: Work from the Spirit (Chicago UP 1982);
  • S. W. Dawson, ‘Iris Murdoch: The Limits of Contrivance', in The New Pelican Guide to English Literature: The Present, ed. Boris Ford [Vol. 8] (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1983), pp. 2224-32;
  • Richard Todd, Iris Murdoch [Contemp. Writers] (London: Methuen 1984), 112pp. [incl. bibls.];
  • Angela Hague, Iris Murdoch’s Comic Vision (Selinsgrove 1984);
  • Peter Conradi, Iris Murdoch: The Saint and the Artist (London: Methuen; NY: St. Martin’s Press 1986), xvi, 304pp.;
  • Deborah Johnson, Iris Murdoch (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf 1987);
  • Suguna Ramanathan, Iris Murdoch, Figures of Good (1990);
  • David Scott Arnold, Liminal Readings, Forms of Otherness in Melville, Joyce and Murdoch (Macmillan 1993), 161pp.;
  • Tom Shippey, ‘In a Magic Circle', review of The Green Knight, in Times Literary Supplement (10 Sept. 1993), p.20;
  • David J. Gordon, Iris Murdoch’s Fables of Unselfing (Missouri UP 1995), 199pp.;
  • Mario Antonaccio & William Schweiker, eds., Iris Murdoch and the Search for Human Goodness (Chicago UP [1997]), 266pp.;
  • Flora Alexander, ‘Iris Murdoch’s Moral Comedy’, Theresa O’Connor, ed., The Comic Tradition in Irish Women Writers (Florida UP 1996), pp.99-107;
  • Hilda D. Spear, Iris Mudoch [Modern Novelists Ser.] (Basingstoke: Macmillan 1996);
  • John Bayley, Iris: A Memoir of Irish Murdoch (London: Duckworth 1998), 189pp.;
  • Peter Conradi, Iris Murdoch: A Life (London: HarperCollins 2001), 706pp.;
  • A. N. Wilson, Iris Murdoch as I Knew Her (London: Hutchinson 2003), 384pp.;
  • Margaret Reynolds & Jonathan Noakes, Iris Murdoch: The Essential Guide (London: Vintage 2004), 224pp.

See also A. S. Byatt & Inês Sodré, [interview], in Imagining Characters: Six Conversations about Women Writers. ed. Rebecca Swift (London: Chatto 1995), q.pp.

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Titles from Continuum (London) incl. ...
  • Megan Laverty, Iris Murdoch's Ethics: A Consideration of Her Romantic Vision (London: Continuum 2007), 160pp.
  • Marije Altorf, Iris Murdoch and the Art of Imagining (London: Continuum 2009), 160pp.
  • Miles Leeson, Iris Murdoch: Philosophical Novelist (London: Continuum 2010), 208pp.
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Commentary
Lorna Sage
, Women in the House of Fiction, Post-war Women Novelists (London: Macmillan 1992), 16pp, includes discussion of Iris Murdoch, of which reviewer Isobel Armstrong says, ‘Iris Murdoch’s work, indeed, often disparaged by feminist critics, seen as both old-fashioned and lightweight, is discussed generously in this book, and is re-read in the light of feminism in an absorbing way. Murdoch’s revisionary realism is the reverse of Lessing’s. Her fiction represents the multiple realities of contingency and rejects the single, totality of metafiction. (TLS 11.9.1992).

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Elaine Showalter, A Literature of their Own (London: Virago [rev. edn.] 1984), bio-noe: 1919-, novelist and philosopher; b. Dublin; ed. Badminton School, and Somerville College, Oxford; worked with UNRRA in London, Belgium, and Austria; m. 1956, John Bayley, don and novelist; first novel, Under the Net (1953).

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David J. Gordon, Iris Murdoch’s Fables of Unselfing (Missouri UP 1995), 197pp.: also author of work on D. H. Lawrence; discusses presence of Irish elements in her work, pp.129-30; 132-34; viz., ‘The first chapter [of The Unicorn] could be drawn almost unchanged from the nineteenth-century Gothicist Sheridan Le Fanu [/ ...] “An appalling landscape” [Unicorn, p.117] that is recognisably Ireland but never quite specific (p.129-30). Gordon considers the striking thing about her The Red and the Green to be the fact that its structure is not essentially ironic: ‘The novel is a retrospective tribute to the bravery of youth in a time of crisis’ (p.132-33); he also mentions the systematic use made of Yeats’s phrase about ‘terrible beauty’ (”Easter 1916”) in the novel.

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Bart Moore-Gilbert, ‘Irish Iris?: Iris Murdoch and Protestant Gothic’, in That Other World: The Supernatural and the Fantastic in Irish Literature (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1999), pp.243-55, quotes: ‘It takes a foreigner like Nabokov or an Irishman like Beckett to animate prose language into an imaginative stuff in its own right’; ‘[It is curious] ‘that modern literature, which is so much concerned with violence, contains so few convincing pictures of evil’; opposes fantasy and speaks of ‘of the difficulty and complexity of the moral life and the opacity of persons […]’ Real people are destructive of myth, contingency is destructive of fantasy and opens the way for imagination.’ ( ‘Against Dryness: A Polemical Sketch’ [1961], rep. in in Malcolm Bradbury, ed., The Novel Today (London: Fontana 1975), pp.22-26. Further: ‘In The Unicorn (1963) Effingham Cooper, nearly mad from love for Hannah, gets lost in the bog and nearly shares the fate of the victim of Robartes’s poetic skills in Yeats’s poem in The Tower; this novel also engages with the categories in Burke’s Philosophical Enquiry into [ ...] Sublime and Beautiful (1757’). (Moore-Gilbert, op. cit., p.243.)

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Stephen Mulhall, feature review of Mario Antonaccio and William Schweiker, eds., Iris Murdoch and the Search for Human Goodness (Chicago UP [1997]), in Times Literary Supplement, 22 Aug. 1997.

Katherine Duncan-Jones, review of John Bayley, Iris (1998), quotes: ‘Lying beside meshe is like an athlete who has passed on the torch to a back-up member of the relay. I couldn’t do what she had done, but I was doing something.’ (Times Literary Supplement, 9 Oct. 1998, p.29.)

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Alex Clark, review of Something Special: A Short Story [1999], in Guardian Weekly, 11-17 Nov. 1999, p.21: Yvonne Geary, lives in cramped quarters behind the shop with her mother with whom she shares a bed; Sam is a serious young man not at all like the ‘run of Jew-boys at all’, acc. to her mother; written contemporaneously with The Bell, and considered a demonstration of her intelligence and her ability to manipulate light and shade.

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Alex Clark, reviewing Peter Conradi, Iris Murdoch: A Life (London: HarperCollins), 706pp., in Guardian Weekly (11-17 Oct. 2001), writes: ’In her polemic “Against Dryness”, Murdoch argues that literature must resist the temptation to smooth over the contingencies of everyday life, saying that against the consolations of form “we must pit the destructive power of the now so unfashionable naturalistic idea of character”.’ Clarke remarks, ‘if Irish the bohemian lover juggled a post-war libertine sensibility with a more punitive moral self-consciousness, then she met her match in Elias Canetti, the “black prince” of her life, and, later, her novels [...] mostly notably The Flight from the Enchanter’. Clark further ponders with Conradi if, in choosing Bayley over Canneti, Murdoch was not choosing ‘a good life over a morally dubious one’. Clark Notes influence by Sartre, Queneau and Weil, and her growing Platonism. [See also John Bayley, infra.]

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Notes
Iris - the film: Katherine Duncan-Jones reviews Iris in Times Literary Supplement (25 Jan. 2002), cites as Iris’s real-life lovers Eduard Fraenkel, Elias Canetti, et al. (p.20.)

John Bayley, letter to Times Literary Supplement (12 Oct. 2001), confirms Conradi’s account of Iris as a some-time spy for the Communist Party, relating that put a letter ‘in a drop’ behind trees in Hyde Park, the sole occasion when she did so and partly the reason why she left the Communist Party; Conradi’s information is from Bayley, though they agreed that neither the source - ultimately Iris - nor the details should not be disclosed. (Signed & addressed at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford.)

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