February 9, 1999OBITUARY
Iris Murdoch, Novelist and Philosopher, Is Dead
By RICHARD NICHOLLS
Iris Murdoch, a prodigiously inventive and idiosyncratic British writer whose 26 novels offered lively plots, complex characters and intellectual speculation, died yesterday at a nursing home in Oxford, England. She was 79 and had Alzheimer's disease.
Her struggle with Alzheimer's was documented recently in ''Elegy for Iris,'' a memoir by her husband, the critic and novelist John Bayley, who was at her bedside when she died.
Miss Murdoch's first novel was published in 1954 and in a career that lasted for more than four decades, her fiction received many honors, including the Booker Prize for ''The Sea, the Sea,'' the Whitbread Literary Award for Fiction for ''The Sacred and Profane Love Machine'' and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for ''The Black Prince.'' Although she was made a Dame of the British Empire, she rarely garnered the attention given to gaudier contemporaries. She spent much of her career quietly teaching and writing, away from lecture tours, prize committees and television appearances.
Along with novels, she produced a half a dozen works on philosophy, several plays, critical writing on literature and modern ideas and poetry.
Miss Murdoch had a background in philosophy -- she knew and wrote about Jean-Paul Sartre, studied with Ludwig Wittgenstein and was a lecturer in philosophy at Oxford University -- and her fiction grappled with such questions as the nature of good and evil. This led many who knew her work superficially to assume that her novels were philosophical explorations of the origins of morality and behavior and too esoteric or intellectually rigorous for a general audience.
In fact, many of Miss Murdoch's novels are exuberantly melodramatic, offering bemused records of romantic or erotic follies, as well as more somber battles between individuals representing moral good and its opposite. Her characters, drawn largely from the middle class, are described with loving exactitude and in such depth that their struggles to define what it means to live a good life take on dramatic force.In Books, Happiness And Moral Lessons
Far from viewing fiction as another and lesser way of dealing with philosophical questions, Miss Murdoch argued that literature was meant ''to be grasped by enjoyment,'' and that the art of the tale was ''a fundamental form of thought'' in its own right. The ideal reader, she told one interviewer, was ''someone who likes a jolly good yarn and enjoys thinking about the book as well, about the moral issues.'' In another interview she went further, asserting that good art offers ''uncontaminated'' happiness that also teaches ''how to look at the world and to understand it; it makes everything far more interesting.''
Her belief in literature had its inception in her happy and book-filled childhood. Jean Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin on July 15, 1919, the only child of British and Irish parents. When she was a year old her family moved to London, where her father, Wills John Hughes Murdoch, joined the civil service. In interviews she remembered that as a child she had existed ''in a perfect trinity of love.'' Her mother, the former Irene Alice Richardson, who had trained as an opera singer, was a ''beautiful, lively, witty woman with a happy temperament.''
Her father began discussing books with her early on and encouraged her to read widely. She progressed rapidly from Lewis Carroll (one of her favorites) and Robert Louis Stevenson to more adult fare. Her great pleasure in reading, and her early attempts to write stories led to the conviction, which she formed as a child, that she would become a writer.
She attended boarding school in Bristol, and in 1938 entered Somerville College, a women's college at Oxford, where she studied the classics, ancient history and philosophy. She graduated with honors in 1942 and immediately took a job with the Treasury. In 1944 she began working for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, which helped Europeans displaced by World War II. The somber experiences of the war had a profound impact on her thinking. Close friends died while in service, and her work, often on the front lines, with poor and elderly refugees was hard but instructive.
If her childhood had been mostly idyllic, there was, she later noted, at least one shadow falling across her memories of those years: her family members were largely ''wanderers,'' cut off from their Irish relations and their roots. Working with refugees led her to reflect further on the place of the exile in modern society, as well as on the sources of evil, raising questions that she would pursue in many novels.
After leaving the United Nations, Miss Murdoch took up further study in philosophy at Cambridge University, where she worked with Wittgenstein. While she expressed no lasting allegiance to his school of thought, she said her studies with him spurred her development as a writer.
In 1948 she became a fellow and tutor at St. Anne's College at Oxford, where she remained for 15 years as a lecturer in philosophy. It was a particularly heady time for anyone concerned with the study and application of philosophical thought; new schools of philosophy were contending for primacy and often combative works were being produced to define these emerging disciplines.
Miss Murdoch had met Sartre, the most visible proponent of existentialism, while working with refugees in Belgium. Existentialism, with its focus on individual will, appealed to her, but she found its emphasis on the primacy of the self disturbing. Her first published work, ''Sartre: Romantic Rationalist'' (1953), was a serious, clear explanation of existentialism and its place in contemporary thought. While it was balanced, it was not uncritical: Miss Murdoch felt that existentialism encouraged an almost hermetic focus on the self, ignoring the corrosive implications of such a perspective on society.
Her study paid special attention to Sartre's fiction. She had already written and discarded several novels, but now she had become absorbed with how fiction expressed ideas and the ways fiction and ideas could best be blended. ''Under the Net,'' her first published novel, appeared to generally positive reviews. It focused on the picaresque adventures of a free-spirited Irishman making the rounds of some of the more raffish areas of London and Paris. A reviewer in The Times Literary Supplement said the work seemed to announce the emergence of ''a brilliant talent.''
The novel signaled the beginning of an industrious and prolific career. Miss Murdoch published, on average, a novel every two years for the next four decades. Her work, while varied in setting and tone, rarely moved far from several central preoccupations and themes.
She first encountered existentialist writings while working with refugees, and she drew deeply from her fascination with those experiences in her second novel, ''Flight From the Enchanter'' (1956). It concerns the well-intentioned, conventionally liberal Rose Keep, who attempts to offer solace to two Polish brothers, refugees from the war. Her efforts founder because she cannot see the brothers as something more than symbols of displaced, wounded humanity.Revisiting Themes Of Pure Love
The double-edged nature of love figures often in Miss Murdoch's fiction. True love, she asserted in the essay ''The Sublime and the Good,'' was perhaps the best way to overcome isolation and the absorption with one's crippled and constricted self. ''Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real,'' she argued.
Many of the figures in her fourth novel, ''The Bell'' (1958), are crippled by their inability to clearly see, and thus to truly love, those around them. ''The Bell'' reached a new level of sophistication for Miss Murdoch, displaying elements that would become hallmarks of her fiction: effortless shifting between the grim and the humorous; deft marshaling of a large, varied cast of characters and numerous subplots, and creation of fables or myths that could suggest the struggle between true and diminished forms of love.
In many of Miss Murdoch's novels, romantic disasters, suicides and even murder are set in motion by a character who is brilliant and ferociously self-absorbed. Such figures, usually men, often go beyond egotism into evil.
In ''A Fairly Honorable Defeat'' (1970), a biologist who helps create biological weapons sets out to destroy those around him. But goodness, Miss Murdoch suggests, while imperiled, is also resilient.
In ''The Sacred and Profane Love Machine'' (1974), the only character who comes close to true altruism is destroyed. But the novel suggests that her death may have opened the hearts of those around her to a better, more responsible life.
''The Sea, the Sea'' (1978), which received the Booker Prize, is considered one of Miss Murdoch's best novels. Its protagonist, a retired theatrical director trying to win back his first love, is not so much evil as simply self-absorbed and dangerously certain of his limited view of the world. ''A Severed Head'' (1961) was a black farce about infidelity, incest and violence.Storytelling And Large Truths
Miss Murdoch was always balancing the demands of storytelling with the more urgent need to examine how the truth of a fleeting life reflected the larger, permanent truths of existence.
''The Red and the Green'' charts the fates of two friends who find themselves on opposite sides during Ireland's 1916 Easter rebellion against British rule.
''The Nice and the Good'' follows the efforts of a decent man to uncover the reasons for a colleague's suicide and extricate himself from the seamy web of blackmail and the occult that he uncovers.
''Italian Girl'' traces the struggle of a young man to liberate himself from the corrosive effects of family secrets and a shallow, destructive image of love.
The tension generated by this iconoclastic approach to fiction has made Murdoch's novels unique and controversial. Her fiction takes a distinctive vigor and texture from its combination of the usual elements of a tale with a sustained, sophisticated inquiry into such concepts as the defining characteristics of goodness, the nature of morality, the place of faith in everyday life and the conflict between spiritual and carnal love.
When most other writers were content to dwell on the heated specifics of individual lives or to simply offer a catalogue of society's ills, Miss Murdoch dared to suggest that fiction should be a means of dealing with life's largest and most basic issues and a way to learn about moral behavior.
This quest ''for a passion beyond any center of self,'' as David Bromwich wrote in The New York Times Book Review, made her fiction unlike that of any other contemporary Western writer. It also let her in for both considerable acclaim and criticism. Harold Bloom, while praising her ''formidable combination of intellectual drive and storytelling exuberance'' in a review of her novel ''The Good Apprentice'' in The Times, and noting her ''mastery'' in ''representing the maelstrom of falling in love,'' also found that her narrative voice often lacked authority, ''being too qualified and fussy.''
Anthony Burgess, while noting the highly original ''synthesis of the traditional and revolutionary'' in her work and praising her talent for creating stories that were ''both thoroughly realistic yet at the same time loaded with symbols,'' also argued in his 1967 book ''The Novel Now'' that her characters were too often ''caught up in a purely intellectual pattern.'' In a memorable phrase, he contended that, while Miss Murdoch had a rare ability ''to dredge that world of the strange and mysterious'' that rested ''on the boundary of the ordinary,'' her work rarely offered a convincing portrait of the more common realms of life.
In a body of work so large, both admirers and critics were bound to find material to advance their arguments, and this was true as well in her later novels, such as ''The Message to the Planet'' (1989) and ''The Green Knight'' (1994).
But neither criticism nor praise seemed much to affect her. She said that she never read her reviews. She rarely read modern writers, preferring the British and European novelists of the 19th century (Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Henry James, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky), with whom she felt an affinity, describing them as ''moralistic writers who portray the complexity of morality and the difficulty of being good.''
She lived for many years in the small village of Steeple Aston, near Oxford, in a house crowded with books and paintings. The quiet life there, and in the house in Oxford to which she moved in 1986, has been described memorably by her husband, an Oxford don, in ''Elegy for Iris,'' his memoir of their lives together.
John Bayley fell in love with Iris Murdoch when he was in his late 20's and she was in her early 30's; she passed his window on a bicycle. ''I indulged the momentary fantasy that nothing had ever happened to her; that she was simply bicycling about, waiting for me to arrive,'' he wrote. ''She was not a woman with a past or an unknown present.'' They were married in 1956; he is her only close survivor.
The novelist Mary Gordon, reviewing ''Elegy for Iris'' in The Times, touched on their relationship. ''Radical privacy, sealing compartments of her life off from each other, was always a condition of Iris Murdoch's selfhood, and anyone who married her had to deal with that. From the beginning, she had friendships that she kept from Bayley, and love affairs that he was meant to understand had nothing to do with him. There are some hints that this was not always easy, but Bayley rose to the challenge.'' Ms. Gordon then quotes Mr. Bayley's memoir: ''In early days, I always thought it would be vulgar -- as well as not my place -- to give any indications of jealousy, but she knew when it was there, and she soothed it just by being the self she always was with me, which I soon knew to be wholly and entirely different from any way that she was with other people.''Slipping Into A Baffling Darkness
In 1995 Miss Murdoch told an interviewer that she was experiencing severe writer's block, noting that the struggle to write had left her in ''a hard, dark place.'' In 1996, Mr. Bayley announced that she had Alzheimer's disease, which she had suffered for five years by the time she died. Her final three weeks were spent in a nursing home. If ''Elegy for Iris'' offers a moving evocation of a great love story, it also provides a grim record of watching the personality of a loved one gradually dwindle under the burden of fear, bafflement and grief.
She was, Miss Murdoch confided to one of her friends, ''sailing into the darkness.'' Mr. Bayley's descriptions of his struggle to understand his wife's suffering, to find ways to ameliorate it and to come to grips with the physical demands of his new responsibilities and to understand the conflicting emotions aroused in him by the experience are exact, penetrating and unsparing. Miss Murdoch became like ''a very nice 3-year-old,'' her husband said, and she needed to be fed, bathed and changed.
The note on which the book concludes, however, is one of reconciliation, and of a painfully won serenity. ''Every day,'' Mr. Bayley wrote of their lives together in Miss Murdoch's last years, ''we are physically closer. . . . She is not sailing into the dark. The voyage is over, and under the dark escort of Alzheimer's, she has arrived somewhere. So have I.''
|Born||Jean Iris Murdoch|
(1919-07-15)15 July 1919
|Died||8 February 1999(1999-02-08) (aged 79)|
|Cause of death||Alzheimer's disease|
|Notable work||Sartre: Romantic Rationalist|
Under the Net
The Sovereignty of Good
|Spouse(s)||John Bayley (m. 1956–1999)|
|Era||20th Century Philosophy|
|Sovereignty of the Good|
Idea of Perfection
Dame Jean Iris MurdochDBE (; 15 July 1919 – 8 February 1999) was a British novelist and philosopher born in Ireland to Irish parentage. Murdoch is best known for her novels about good and evil, sexual relationships, morality, and the power of the unconscious. Her first published novel, Under the Net, was selected in 1998 as one of Modern Library's 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. In 1987, she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. Her books include The Bell (1958), A Severed Head (1961), The Red and the Green (1965), The Nice and the Good (1968), The Black Prince (1973), Henry and Cato (1976), The Sea, the Sea (1978, Booker Prize), The Philosopher's Pupil (1983), The Good Apprentice (1985), The Book and the Brotherhood (1987), The Message to the Planet (1989), and The Green Knight (1993). In 2008, The Times ranked Murdoch twelfth on a list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".
Iris Murdoch was born in Phibsborough, Dublin, Ireland, the daughter of Irene Alice (née Richardson, 1899–1985) and Wills John Hughes Murdoch. Her father, a civil servant, came from a mainly Presbyterian sheep farming family from Hillhall, County Down. In 1915, he enlisted as a soldier in King Edward's Horse and served in France during the First World War before being commissioned as a Second lieutenant. Her mother had trained as a singer before Iris was born, and was from a middle-class Church of Ireland family in Dublin. Iris Murdoch's parents first met in Dublin when her father was on leave and were married in 1918.:14 Iris was the couple's only child. When she was a few weeks old the family moved to London, where her father had joined the Ministry of Health as a second-class clerk.:67
Murdoch was educated in progressive independent schools, entering the Froebel Demonstration School in 1925 and attending Badminton School in Bristol as a boarder from 1932 to 1938. In 1938 she went up to Somerville College, Oxford, with the intention of studying English, but switched to Classics. At Oxford she studied philosophy with Donald M. MacKinnon and attended Eduard Fraenkel's seminars on Agamemnon. She was awarded a first-class honours degree in 1942. After leaving Oxford she went to work in London for HM Treasury. In June 1944 she left the Treasury and went to work for the UNRRA. At first she was stationed in London at the agency's European Regional Office. In 1945 she was transferred first to Brussels, then to Innsbruck, and finally to Graz, Austria, where she worked in a refugee camp. She left the UNRRA in 1946.:245
From 1947 to 1948 Iris Murdoch studied philosophy as a postgraduate at Newnham College, Cambridge. She met Wittgenstein at Cambridge but did not hear him lecture, as he had left his Trinity College professorship before she arrived.:262–263 In 1948 she became a fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford, where she taught philosophy until 1963. From 1963 to 1967 she taught one day a week in the General Studies department at the Royal College of Art.:469
In 1956 Murdoch married John Bayley, a literary critic, novelist, and from 1974 to 1992 Warton Professor of English at Oxford University, whom she had met in Oxford in 1954. The unusual romantic partnership lasted more than forty years until Murdoch's death. Bayley thought that sex was "inescapably ridiculous." Murdoch in contrast had "multiple affairs with both men and women which, on discomposing occasions, [Bayley] witnessed for himself".
Iris Murdoch's first novel, Under the Net, was published in 1954. She had previously published essays on philosophy, and the first monograph about Jean-Paul Sartre published in English. She went on to produce 25 more novels and additional works of philosophy, as well as poetry and drama. In 1976 she was named to the Commander of Order of the British Empire and in 1987 was made a Dame Commander of Order of the British Empire.:571, 575 She was awarded honorary degrees by the University of Bath (DLitt,1983), University of Cambridge (1993) and Kingston University (1994), among others. She was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1982.
Her last novel, Jackson's Dilemma, was published in 1995. Iris Murdoch was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1997 and died in 1999 in Oxford. There is a bench dedicated to her in the grounds of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, where she used to enjoy walking.
For some time, Murdoch's influence and achievements as a philosopher were eclipsed by her success as a novelist, but recent appraisals have increasingly accorded her a substantial role in postwar Anglo-American philosophy, particularly for her unfashionably prescient work in moral philosophy and her reinterpretation of Aristotle and Plato. Martha Nussbaum has argued for Murdoch's "transformative impact on the discipline" of moral philosophy because she directed her analysis not at the once-dominant matters of will and choice, but at those of attention (how people learn to see and conceive of one another) and phenomenal experience (how the sensory "thinginess" of life shapes moral sensibility).
In a recent survey of Murdoch's philosophical work, Justin Broackes points to several distinctive features of Murdoch's moral philosophy, including a "moral realism or ‘naturalism’, allowing into the world cases of such properties as humility or generosity; an anti‐scientism; a rejection of Humean moral psychology; a sort of ‘particularism’; special attention to the virtues; and emphasis on the metaphor of moral perception or ‘seeing’ moral facts." Broackes also notes that Murdoch's influence on the discipline of philosophy was sometimes indirect, since it impacted both her contemporaries and the following generation of philosophers, particularly Elizabeth Anscombe, Philippa Foot, John McDowell, and Bernard Williams.
Her philosophical work was influenced by Simone Weil (from whom she borrows the concept of 'attention'), and by Plato, under whose banner she claimed to fight.:76 In re-animating Plato, she gives force to the reality of the Good, and to a sense of the moral life as a pilgrimage from illusion to reality. From this perspective, Murdoch's work offers perceptive criticism of Kant, Sartre and Wittgenstein ('early' and 'late'). Her most central parable, which appears in The Sovereignty of Good, asks us (in Nussbaum's succinct account), "to imagine a mother-in-law, M, who has contempt for D, her daughter-in-law. M sees D as common, cheap, low. Since M is a self-controlled Englishwoman, she behaves (so Murdoch stipulates) with perfect graciousness all the while, and no hint of her real view surfaces in her acts. But she realizes, too, that her feelings and thoughts are unworthy, and likely to be generated by jealousy and an excessively keen desire to hang on to her son. So she sets herself a moral task: she will change her view of D, making it more accurate, less marred by selfishness. She gives herself exercises in vision: where she is inclined to say 'coarse,' she will say, and see, 'spontaneous.' Where she is inclined to say 'common,' she will say, and see, 'fresh and naive.' As time goes on, the new images supplant the old. Eventually M does not have to make such an effort to control her actions: they flow naturally from the way she has come to see D." This is how M cultivates a pattern of behavior that leads her to view D "justly or lovingly".:317 The parable is partly meant to show (against Oxford contemporaries including R. M. Hare and Stuart Hampshire) the importance of the 'inner' life to moral action. Seeing another aright can depend on overcoming jealousy, and discoveries about the world involve inner work.
Her novels, in their attention and generosity to the inner lives of individuals, follow the tradition of novelists like Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, George Eliot, and Proust, besides showing an abiding love of Shakespeare. There is however great variety in her achievement, and the richly layered structure and compelling realistic comic imagination of The Black Prince (1973) is very different from the early comic work Under the Net (1954) or The Unicorn (1963). The Unicorn can be read as a sophisticated Gothicromance, or as a novel with Gothic trappings, or perhaps as a parody of the Gothic mode of writing. The Black Prince, for which Murdoch won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, is a study of erotic obsession, and the text becomes more complicated, suggesting multiple interpretations, when subordinate characters contradict the narrator and the mysterious "editor" of the book in a series of afterwords. Though her novels differ markedly, and her style developed, themes recur. Her novels often include upper-middle-class male intellectuals caught in moral dilemmas, gay characters, refugees, Anglo-Catholics with crises of faith, empathetic pets, curiously "knowing" children and sometimes a powerful and almost demonic male "enchanter" who imposes his will on the other characters—a type of man Murdoch is said to have modelled on her lover, the Nobel laureate Elias Canetti.:350–352
Murdoch was awarded the Booker Prize in 1978 for The Sea, the Sea, a finely detailed novel about the power of love and loss, featuring a retired stage director who is overwhelmed by jealousy when he meets his erstwhile lover after several decades apart. An authorised collection of her poetic writings, Poems by Iris Murdoch, appeared in 1997, edited by Paul Hullah and Yozo Muroya. Several of her works have been adapted for the screen, including the British television series of her novels An Unofficial Rose and The Bell. J. B. Priestley's dramatisation of her 1961 novel A Severed Head starred Ian Holm and Richard Attenborough.
In 1997, she was awarded the Golden PEN Award by English PEN for "a Lifetime's Distinguished Service to Literature".
Iris Murdoch won a scholarship to study at Vassar College in 1946, but was refused a visa to enter the United States because she had joined the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1938, while a student at Oxford. She left the party in 1942, when she went to work at the Treasury, but remained sympathetic to communism for several years.:172:15 In later years she was allowed to visit the United States, but always had to obtain a waiver from the provisions of the McCarran Act, which barred Communist Party members and former members from entering the country. In a 1990 Paris Review interview she said that her membership of the Communist Party had made her see "how strong and how awful it [Marxism] is, certainly in its organized form".:210
Aside from her Communist Party membership, her Irish heritage is the other sensitive aspect of Murdoch's political life that seems to attract interest. Part of the interest revolves around the fact that, although Irish by both birth and traced descent on both sides, Murdoch does not display the full set of political opinions that are sometimes assumed to go with this origin: "No one ever agrees about who is entitled to lay claim to Irishness. Iris's Belfast cousins today call themselves British, not Irish... [but] with both parents brought up in Ireland, and an ancestry within Ireland both North and South going back three centuries, Iris has as valid a claim to call herself Irish as most North Americans have to call themselves American".:24 Conradi notes A.N. Wilson's record that Murdoch regretted the sympathetic portrayal of the Irish nationalist cause she had given earlier in The Red and the Green, and a competing defence of the book at Caen in 1978.:465 The novel while broad of sympathy is hardly an unambiguous celebration of the 1916 rising, dwelling upon bloodshed, unintended consequences and the evils of romanticism, besides celebrating selfless individuals on both sides. Later, of Ian Paisley, Iris Murdoch stated "[he] sincerely condemns violence and did not intend to incite the Protestant terrorists. That he is emotional and angry is not surprising, after 12–15 years of murderous IRA activity. All this business is deep in my soul, I'm afraid.":465 In private correspondence with her close friend and fellow philosopher Philippa Foot, she remarked in 1978 that she felt "unsentimental about Ireland to the point of hatred" and, of a Franco-Irish conference she had attended in Caen in 1982, said that "the sounds of all those Irish voices made me feel privately sick".
Biographies and memoirs
Peter J. Conradi's 2001 biography was the fruit of long research and authorised access to journals and other papers. It is also a labour of love, and of a friendship with Murdoch that extended from a meeting at her Gifford Lectures to her death. The book was well received. John Updike commented: "There would be no need to complain of literary biographies [...] if they were all as good". The text addresses many popular questions about Murdoch, such as how Irish she was, what her politics were, etc. Though not a trained philosopher, Conradi's interest in Murdoch's achievement as a thinker is evident in the biography, and yet more so in his earlier work of literary criticism The Saint and the Artist: A Study of Iris Murdoch's Works (Macmillan 1986, HarperCollins 2001). He also recalled his personal encounters with Murdoch in Going Buddhist: Panic and Emptiness, the Buddha and Me. (Short Books, 2005). Conradi's archive of material on Murdoch, together with Iris Murdoch's Oxford library, is held at Kingston University.
An account of Murdoch's life with a different ambition is given by A. N. Wilson in his 2003 book Iris Murdoch as I Knew Her. The work was described by Galen Strawson in The Guardian as "mischievously revelatory" and labelled by Wilson himself as an "anti-biography". Wilson eschews objectivity, but is careful to stress his affection for his subject. Wilson remarks that Murdoch "had clearly been one of those delightful young women... who was prepared to go to bed with almost anyone".:59 While Murdoch's thought is an inspiration for Conradi, Wilson treats Murdoch's philosophical work as at best a distraction. In a BBC Radio 4 discussion of Murdoch and her work in 2009, Wilson stated his opinion, with which he acknowledged that "no doctor would agree", that Murdoch's struggle to complete her late philosophical book, Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, reduced her to despair and precipitated her into Alzheimer's.
David Morgan met Iris Murdoch in 1964, when he was a student at the Royal College of Art.:475 His 2010 memoir With Love and Rage: A Friendship with Iris Murdoch, describes their lifelong friendship.
John Bayley wrote two memoirs of his life with Iris Murdoch. Iris: A Memoir was published in the United Kingdom in 1998, shortly before her death. The American edition, which was published in 1999, was called Elegy for Iris. A sequel entitled Iris and the Friends was published in 1999, after her death. Murdoch was portrayed by Kate Winslet and Judi Dench in Richard Eyre's film Iris (2001), based on Bayley's memories of his wife as she developed Alzheimer's disease.
BBC Radio 4 broadcast in 2015 an "Iris Murdoch season" with several memoirs by people who knew her, and dramatizations of her novels.
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- Antonaccio, Maria (2000) Picturing the human: the moral thought of Iris MurdochOUP. ISBN 0-19-516660-4
- Bayley, John (1999) Elegy for Iris. Picador. ISBN 0-312-25382-6
- Bayley, John (1998 ) Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch. Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd. ISBN 0-7156-2848-8
- Bayley, John (1999) Iris and Her Friends: A Memoir of Memory and Desire. W. W. Norton & Company ISBN 0-393-32079-0
- Bove, Cheryl (1993) Understanding Iris Murdoch. Columbia, University of South Carolina Press. ISBN 087249876X.
- Byatt. A.S. (1965) Degrees of Freedom: The Early Novels of Iris Murdoch. Chatto & Windus
- Conradi, P.J. (2001) Iris Murdoch: A Life. W. W. Norton & Company ISBN 0-393-04875-6
- Conradi, P.J. (forward by John Bayley) The Saint and the Artist. Macmillan 1986, HarperCollins 2001 ISBN 0-00-712019-2
- Dooley, Gillian (ed.) (2003) From a Tiny Corner in the House of Fiction: Conversations With Iris Murdoch. Columbia, University of South Carolina Press ISBN 1-57003-499-0
- Laverty, Megan (2007) Iris Murdoch's Ethics: A Consideration of Her Romantic Vision. Continuum Press ISBN 0-8264-8535-9
- Martens, Paul. (2012) "Iris Murdoch: Kierkegaard as Existentialist, Romantic, Hegelian, and Problematically Religious" in Kierkegaard's Influence on Philosophy. Ashgate Publishing. ISBN 978-140-944055-0.
- Monteleone, Ester (2012) Il Bene, l'individuo, la virtù. La filosofia morale di Iris Murdoch. Rome, Armando Editore. ISBN 978-88-6677-087-9
- Morgan, David (2010) With Love and Rage: A Friendship with Iris Murdoch. Kingston University Press. ISBN 9781899999422
- Widdows, Heather (2005) The Moral Vision of Iris Murdoch. Ashgate Press ISBN 0-7546-3625-9
- Wilson, A.N. (2003) Iris Murdoch as I Knew Her. London, Hutchinson. ISBN 9780091742461
- Zuba, Sonja (2009) Iris Murdoch's Contemporary Retrieval of Plato: The Influence of an Ancient Philosopher on a Modern Novelist. New York, Edwin Mellen Press. ISBN 9780773438248