IRIS MURDOCH 1919 -1999
" The Artist must tell the truth about something
he has understood”
Existentialists and Mystics, 1997.
Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin in 1919. Following
the Irish troubles, the family moved to Chiswick, near London, and her father obtained
work as a civil servant. Iris’s talents were recognised by her father, who
at some sacrifice, sent her to Badminton School. She studied Greats at Oxford
between 1938 and 1942. In the latter years of the war, she helped with the
UN Rehabilitation and Relief Association in Belgium and Austria.
returned to England to teach philosophy
at Oxford University, becoming a Fellow of St. Anne’s
College. In 1952, she met and subsequently married John Bayley, the writer and critic.
Murdoch's published writing spans over 40
years. Her first novel, "Under the Net", was published in 1954. Among the awards
she received: The James Tait Memorial Prize,
the Whitbread Literary Award and the Booker Prize. She enjoyed the
unique achievement of being shortlisted for the Booker Prize
no fewer than six times. In 1987, she was made a Dame of the
In addition to her 26 novels, Iris Murdoch
wrote several philosophical works and a number of
plays. She wrote the libretto for an opera, "The
Servants", by William Matthias and has published
a volume of poetry, "A Year of Birds",,
illustrated by her friend, Reynolds Stone. Her love of art
was reflected in the choice of the many distinguished artists who
designed jacket designs and vignettes
for her novels, including John Craxton, Tom Philiips,
John Sergeant and Reynolds Stone. Iris
Murdoch's novels are concerned with moral and philosophical matters. Many have a
spiritual, almost mystical quality, but are also accessible and relevant. Her masterpieces
are generally considered to be "The Bell "(1958), "The Black Prince" (1973) and
the Booker Prizewinning novel, "The Sea, The Sea" (1978).
John Bayley, in
his moving memoir, "Iris",
describes her as “religious without religion”. The
Oscar winning film "Iris" is based on the memoir.