Murdoch, Iris 1919–1999

views updated

Murdoch, Iris 1919–1999

(Jean Iris Murdoch)

PERSONAL: Born July 15, 1919, in Dublin, Ireland; died February 8, 1999; daughter of Wills John Hughes (a British civil servant) and Irene Alice (Richardson) Murdoch; married John Oliver Bayley (a professor, novelist, and critic), 1956. Education: Somerville College, Oxford, B.A. (first-class honors), 1942; Newnham College, Cambridge, Sarah Smithson studentship in philosophy, 1947–48. Religion: Christian. Hobbies and other interests: Learning languages.

CAREER: Writer. British Treasury, London, England, assistant principal, 1942–44; United National Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), administrative officer in London, Belgium, and Austria, 1944–46; St. Anne's College, Oxford University, Oxford, England, fellow and university lecturer in philosophy, 1948–63, honorary fellow, beginning 1963; Royal College of Art, London, lecturer, 1963–67. Member of Formentor Prize Committee.

AWARDS, HONORS: Book of the Year award, Yorkshire Post, 1969, for Bruno's Dream; Whitehead Literary Award for fiction, 1974, for The Sacred and Profane Love Machine; James Tait Black Memorial Prize, 1974, for The Black Prince; named commander, 1976, then dame commander, 1986, Order of the British Empire; Booker Prize, 1978, for The Sea, the Sea; honorary doctorate, Oxford University, 1987; medal of honor for literature, National Arts Club, 1990; honorary doctorate, Cambridge University, 1993. Chair of psychiatry established in Murdoch's name at Oxford University; scholarship in Murdoch's name established at St. Anne's College, Oxford.



Under the Net, Viking (New York, NY), 1954, with an introduction and notes by Dorothy Jones, Longmans, Green (London, England), 1966, Penguin (New York, NY), 1977.

The Flight from the Enchanter, Viking (New York, NY), 1956.

The Sandcastle, Viking (New York, NY), 1957.

The Bell, Viking (New York, NY), 1958, with an introduction by A.S. Byatt, Penguin (New York, NY), 2001.

A Severed Head (also see below), Viking (New York, NY), 1961.

An Unofficial Rose, Viking (New York, NY), 1962.

The Unicorn, Viking (New York, NY), 1963.

The Italian Girl (also see below), Viking (New York, NY), 1964.

The Red and the Green, Viking (New York, NY), 1965.

The Time of the Angels, Viking (New York, NY), 1966.

The Nice and the Good, Viking (New York, NY), 1968.

Bruno's Dream, Viking (New York, NY), 1969.

A Fairly Honorable Defeat, Viking (New York, NY), 1970, with an introduction by Peter J. Reed, Penguin (New York, NY), 2001.

An Accidental Man, Viking (New York, NY), 1971.

The Black Prince (also see below), Viking (New York, NY), 1973, new edition, with an introduction by Martha C. Nussbaum, Penguin (New York, NY), 2003

The Sacred and Profane Love Machine, Viking (New York, NY), 1974.

A Word Child, Viking (New York, NY), 1975.

Henry and Cato, Viking (New York, NY), 1977.

The Sea, the Sea, Viking (New York, NY), 1978, new edition, with an introduction by Mary Kinzie, Penguin (New York, NY), 2001.

Nuns and Soldiers, Viking (New York, NY), 1980, new edition, with an introduction by Karen Armstrong, Penguin (New York, NY), 2002.

The Philosopher's Pupil, Viking (New York, NY), 1983.

The Good Apprentice, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1985, Penguin (New York, NY), 1987.

The Book and the Brotherhood, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1987.

The Message to the Planet, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1989, Viking (New York, NY), 1990.

The Green Knight, Viking (New York, NY), 1994.

Jackson's Dilemma, Viking (New York, NY), 1995.


Sartre: Romantic Rationalist, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1953, reprinted, Viking (New York, NY), 1987, published as Sartre: Romantic Realist, Harvester Press (Sussex, England), 1980.

The Sovereignty of Good over Other Concepts (Leslie Stephen Lecture, 1967; also see below), Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, England), 1967.

The Sovereignty of Good (includes The Sovereignty of Good over Other Concepts), Routledge & Kegan Paul (London, England), 1970, Schocken Books (New York, NY), 1971.

The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists, Clarendon Press (Oxford, England), 1977, Viking (New York, NY), 1990.

Reynolds Stone, Warren Editions (London, England), 1981.

Acastos: Two Platonic Dialogues, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1986, Viking (New York, NY), 1987.

Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals: Philosophical Reflections, Penguin (New York, NY), 1993.

Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature (essay collection), Penguin (New York, NY), 1998.


(With J.B. Priestley) A Severed Head (three-act; based on the author's novel of the same title; first produced in London, England, 1964; produced in New York, NY, 1964), Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1964, Samuel French (New York, NY), 1964.

(With James Saunders) The Italian Girl (based on the author's novel of the same title; first produced in Bristol, England, 1967), Samuel French (New York, NY), 1968.

The Servants and the Snow (also see below), first produced in London, England, 1970.

The Three Arrows (also see below), first produced in Cambridge, England, 1972.

The Three Arrows [and] The Servants and the Snow, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1973, Viking (New York, NY), 1974.

Art and Eros, produced in London, England, 1980.

The Servants (opera libretto; adapted from the author's play, The Servants and the Snow; produced in Cardiff, Wales, 1980), Oxford University Press (Oxford, England), 1980.

The Black Prince (based on the author's novel of the same title; also see below), produced in London, England, 1989.

The Servants and the Snow, The Three Arrows, The Black Prince: Three Plays, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1989.

Joanna Joanna, Colophon Press (London, England), 1994.

The One Alone, Colophon Press (London, England), 1995.


(Author of foreword) Wendy Campbell-Purdie and Fenner Brockaway, Woman against the Desert, Gollancz (London, England), 1964.

A Year of Birds (poems), with engravings by Reynolds Stone, Compton Press (Tisbury, England), 1978.

Something Special: A Story (novella), illustrated by Michael McCurdy, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1999, Norton (New York, NY), 2000.

Contributor to The Nature of Metaphysics, Macmillan, 1957; contributor to periodicals, including Listener, Yale Review, Chicago Review, Encounter, New Statesman, Nation, and Partisan Review.

ADAPTATIONS: A Severed Head was adapted for film and produced by Columbia Pictures, 1971.

SIDELIGHTS: Iris Murdoch was "one of postwar Britain's greatest novelists," stated Malcolm Bradbury in a remembrance of the author published in Time shortly after her death in 1999. Murdoch's novels, the critic explained, are "every one distinctive and different, all displaying that exotic, fantastic imagination that can only be called Murdochian." Described by Commonweal's Linda Kuehl as "a philosopher by trade and temperament," Murdoch developed a reputation for writing novels full of characters embroiled in philosophical turmoil. Though she was originally aligned with the existentialist movement, her philosophy quickly broadened, and critics came to regard her works as "novels of ideas." In addition, Murdoch's plays and nonfiction works encompass similar philosophical debates, thus enhancing her standing as one of her generation's most prolific and important writers. Murdoch's body of work has proved influential in twentieth-century literature and thought. "She draws eclectically on the English tradition" of Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and William Thackeray "and at the same time extends it in important ways," wrote John Fletcher in the Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography. Jeffrey Meyers, recalling the writer in the New Criterion, said "The qualities that made Iris Murdoch a great novelist" include "her technical skill, richness of imagination, philosophical ideas, and moral vision."

Though born an only child of Anglo-Irish parents in Ireland, Murdoch grew up in the suburbs of London and earned a scholarship to a private school when she was thirteen. At Somerville College at Oxford, Murdoch was involved in drama and arts when not immersed in her literature and philosophy studies. Her left-wing politics led her to join the Communist Party for a brief time in the early 1940s, an affiliation that caused the United States to deny her a visa to study in the country after winning a scholarship several years later. Following her distinguished scholastic career, Murdoch worked at the British Treasury during World War II and later for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration. While working for the United Nations, she traveled to Belgium, where she met existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre, as well as French writer Raymond Queneau, whose writings greatly influenced her first novel, Under the Net. During the 1950s, Murdoch taught philosophy at St. Anne's College at Oxford, and once noted of the experience to Gill Davie and Leigh Crutchley in a Publishers Weekly interview: "I love teaching, and if I were not able to teach philosophy I would happily teach something else."

The existentialist movement, a philosophy that became popular in the 1950s in light of the widespread despair caused by World War II, was the impetus for Murdoch's first book. Popularized by such writers as Albert Camus and Sartre, existentialism proposes that because human existence is meaningless, people must act according to their own free will and may never know the difference between right and wrong. Murdoch's Sartre: Romantic Rationalist chronicles the thoughts and influences of one of existentialism's most popular writers. Many critics began to view Murdoch as an emerging theorist of the philosophy, but she once told New York Times interviewer John Russell, "I was never a Sartrean, or an existentialist." Focusing on Sartre's influential Being and Nothingness, Murdoch examines Sartre's philosophy and the events in his personal life that led him to his conclusions. Several critics praised Murdoch's work; in Commonweal, Wallace Fowlie called the book "one of the most objective and useful" interpretations of Sartre's works, and Stuart Hampshire of the New Statesman termed Murdoch "one who understands the catastrophes of intellectual politics, and who can still take them seriously."

Some reviewers noted similarities between the approach of Sartre and Murdoch. William Van O'Connor wrote in The New University Wits, and the End of Modernism, that like Sartre, Murdoch views man as a "lonely creature in an absurd world … impelled to make moral decisions, the consequences of which are uncertain." Also like Sartre, said Warner Berthoff in Fictions and Events: Essays in Criticism and Literary History, Murdoch believes that writing is "above all else a collaboration of author and reader in an act of freedom." Berthoff continued, "Following Sartre she has spoken pointedly of the making of works of art as not only a 'struggle for freedom' but as a 'task which does not come to an end.'"

Though there are indeed similarities, critics also noted some important differences between the two philosophers. Gail Kmetz wrote in Ms. that Murdoch "rejected Sartre's emphasis on the isolation and anguish of the individual in a meaningless world … because she felt it resulted in a sterile and futile solipsism. She considers the individual always as a part of society, responsible to others as well as to herself or himself; and insists that freedom means respecting the independent being of others, and that subordinating others' freedom to one's own is a denial of freedom itself. Unlike Sartre, Murdoch saw the claims of freedom and love as identical." Murdoch stated in the Chicago Review that "love is the perception of individuals … the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real," and that only when one is capable of love is one free.

One of the major themes in Murdoch's fiction is how best to respect the "reality" of others—how best to live "morally." Together with questions of "love" and "freedom," it is her major concern. Murdoch's "pervasive theme has been the quest for a passion beyond any center of self," explained New York Times Book Review critic David Bromwich. "What her characters seek may go by the name of Love or God or the Good: mere physical love is the perilous and always tempting idol that can become destroyer." "The basic idea," said Joyce Carol Oates in the New Republic, "seems to be that centuries of humanism have nourished an unrealistic conception of the powers of the will: we have gradually lost the vision of a reality separate from ourselves…. Twentieth-century obsessions with the authority of the individual, the 'existential' significance of subjectivity, are surely misguided, for the individual cannot be (as he thinks of himself, proudly) a detached observer, free to invent or reimagine his life." The consequences of trying to do so are repeatedly explored in Murdoch's fiction, beginning with her first published novel, Under the Net.

Based on Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein's idea that we each build our own "net" or system for structuring our lives, Under the Net describes the wanderings of Jake Donaghue as he attempts to structure his. However, "planned ways of life are … traps," observed James Gindin in Postwar British Fiction, "no matter how carefully or rationally the net is woven, and Jake discovers that none of these narrow paths really works." Only after a series of comic misadventures (which change his attitude rather than his circumstances) is Jake able to accept the contingencies of life and the reality of other people. He throws off the net, an act that takes great courage, in Kmetz's opinion, "for nothing is more terrifying than freedom." Under the Net attracted much critical praise; Davie and Crutchley noted that with just one novel to her credit, Murdoch became one of the outstanding English writers of her generation.

Though situations vary from book to book, the protagonists in Murdoch's novels generally fashion a "net" of some kind. It may consist of a set of community mores or a societal role. For Hilary Burde, protagonist of A Word Child, the net is a fixed routine. An unloved child born out of wedlock, Hilary becomes a violent juvenile delinquent. When he is befriended by a teacher, he learns that he possesses a remarkable skill with words. In the rigid structure of grammar he seeks shelter from life's randomness. He wins a scholarship to Oxford and begins what should be a successful career. However, as New York Times Book Review critic Bromwich explained, "The structure of things can bear only so much ordering: his university job ends disastrously with an adulterous love affair that is indirectly responsible for two deaths." Twenty years later, Gunnar—the husband of Hilary's former lover—appears in the government office where Hilary holds a menial job. "The novel's subject," related Lynne Sharon Schwartz in the Nation, "is what Hilary will do about his humiliation, his tormenting guilt and his need for forgiveness."

What he does, according to Schwartz, is the worst possible thing: "He attempts to order his friends and his days into the kind of strict system he loves in grammar. This rigid life is not only penance but protection as well, against chaos, empty time, and the unpredictable impulses of the self. The novel shows the breakdown of the system: people turn up on unexpected days, they refuse—sometimes comically—to act the roles assigned them, and Hilary's dangerous impulses do come forth and insist on playing themselves out." The tragedy of Hilary's early days is repeated. He falls in love with Gunnar's second wife; they meet in secret and are discovered. Once more, by accident, Hilary commits his original crime.

"At the novel's conclusion," wrote Saturday Review's Bruce Allen, "we must consider which is the illusion: the optimist's belief that we can atone for our crimes and outlive them or the nihilist's certainty (Hilary expresses it) that people are doomed, despite their good intentions, to whirl eternally in a muddle of 'penitence, remorse, resentment, violence, and hate.'" David Bromwich interpreted the moral issue somewhat differently. "Hilary, the artist-figure without an art," he said, "wants to make the world (word) conform to his every design, and is being guided to the awareness that its resistance to him is a lucky thing…. Hilary must consent at last to the arbitrariness of an order imposed on him." Learning to accept the chaos of life without the aid of patterns or categories is a constant struggle for Murdoch's characters.

"I believe we live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. And the great task in life is to find reality," Murdoch once told Rachel Billington in a London Times interview. However, the creation of art, she noted to Publishers Weekly, should be the novelist's goal. "I don't think a novel should be a committed statement of political and social criticism," she said. "They should aim at being beautiful…. Art holds a mirror to nature, and I think it's a very difficult thing to do." The way Murdoch mirrors nature is by creating what she called "real characters." According to Berthoff in Fictions and Events, these are "personages who will be 'more than puppets' and at the same time other than oneself." When asked why these characters are usually male, Murdoch once said she had no difficulty in imagining men; while concerned about women's struggle for equality, she did not want to make it a theme of her fiction, and she tended to identify with her male protagonists.

Linda Kuehl, writing in Modern Fiction Studies, thought Murdoch had failed in her attempt to create these "real characters." Her propensity for nineteenth-century characters produces many "types" that populate her novels, and "in each successive novel there emerges a pattern of predictable and predetermined types," the critic observed. "These include the enchanter or enchantress—occult, godly, foreign, ancient—who is torn between exhibitionism and introspection, egoism and generosity, cruelty and pity; the observer, trapped between love and fear of the enchanter, who thinks in terms of ghosts, spells, demons and destiny, and imparts an obfuscated view of life; and the accomplice, a peculiar mixture of diabolical intention and bemused charm, who has dealings with the enchanters and power over the observers," Kuehl added. "Though she produces many people," Kuehl continued, "each is tightly controlled in a superimposed design, each is rigidly cast in a classical Murdochian role."

Lawrence Graver, writing in the New York Times Book Review, expressed a similar view: "In practice, the more she [talks] about freedom and opaqueness the more over-determined and transparent her novels [seem] to become…. Despite the inventiveness of the situations and the brilliance of the design, Miss Murdoch's philosophy has recently seemed to do little more than make her people theoretically interesting." Oates mentioned this as well in her New Republic article, saying Murdoch's novels are "structures in which ideas, not things, and certainly not human beings flourish." In The Novel Now: A Guide to Contemporary Fiction, Anthony Burgess compared Murdoch to a puppeteer who exerts complete control: Murdoch's "characters dress, talk, act like ourselves, but they are caught up in a purely intellectual pattern, a sort of contrived sexual dance in which partners are always changing. They seem to be incapable of free choice."

The Message to the Planet, Murdoch's twenty-fourth novel, published in 1989, contains many of her familiar themes and conflicts. Protagonist Marcus Vallar is a somewhat sinister mathematics genius-turned-philosopher, a man of "'pure thought' who pushes his ideas to the point where they might actually kill him through their sheer intensity," commented Anatole Broyard in the New York Times Book Review. A dying man believes Vallar has cursed him. The man sends his friend, Alfred Ludens, in search of Vallar, hoping that Vallar will be able to cure him. Miraculously, Vallar does cure the man, and Ludens is so impressed that he becomes Vallar's disciple. The book's other plot involves Ludens's friend Franca. In her quest for perfect love, Franca tolerates her husband's infidelities while she nurses the dying man. After he recovers, she must deal with her husband's affairs, and eventually she consents to letting one of his lovers move in with them.

Though these creatures of an educated middle class live in a society that Toronto Globe and Mail reviewer Phyllis Gottlieb called "hermetic," they "struggle vividly and convincingly to escape the chaos beneath their frail lives," Gottlieb continued. In a Village Voice review, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. remarked of The Message to the Planet, "The nature of discipleship is a subject Murdoch has made her own, perhaps because it is the most compelling version of one of her great subjects—the character who desperately pursues his fantasy of someone else." Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times voiced a common perception of Murdoch's writing by stating that the author's "characters are paper thin and as contrived as origami decorations." Despite this, Lehmann-Haupt said, "they burn with such moral passion that we watch them with the utmost fascination." The reviewer also noted that Murdoch's message is "predictably" that "humans are accidental beings with only love to make life bearable in a random universe."

With Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, Murdoch turns to a nonfiction presentation of her philosophical views. Commonweal contributor Diogenes Allen characterized the philosophical position presented in the book as consistent with Murdoch's previous writings, "summarized as an update of Plato's allegory of the cave" and asserting the immanence of "the Good." Focusing predominantly on morality, Murdoch recommends that the Christian conception of God be replaced with a neo-Platonic conception of the Good. "Now she applies to her position the expressions 'neo-Christianity' and 'modern Christianity,'" commented Allen. Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals brought some negative responses from philosophers; Simon Blackburn, for instance, faulted Murdoch's advocacy of "salvation through Platonized religion" in his review in the Times Literary Supplement. Alasdair MacIntyre, however, writing in the New York Times Book Review, noted potential critical disagreements with Murdoch's position but remarked that "it is important not to allow such disagreements to distract attention from what is to be learned from this book, both from its central theses and from an impressive range of topics … among them the relationship of artistic to moral experience, the relevance of deconstructive arguments and the nature of political morality."

Murdoch was indeed "a philosopher of note," observed John Bemrose, assessing Murdoch's career in Maclean's, but he added that "there was no real division" between her fiction and nonfiction work because "her novels are always concerned with the complex interplay of good and evil." Similarly, Jason Cowley maintained in the New Statesman that Murdoch's "best novels are intricate moral parables, mini-quests on which her always educated creations embark to answer the question posed by Michael in The Bell: 'What is the requirement of the good life?' A moral philosopher, Murdoch was genuinely troubled by this question, and she worried away at it, returning again and again to it, as she sought to refine and animate a secular morality."

Discussing Murdoch's later work, Cowley noted that, "As she grew older, her novels, particularly the sequence of five beginning with The Philosopher's Pupil (1983) and ending in The Green Knight, became longer, more opaque and mannered: a great continuous symphony, with each work an instrument complementing and commenting on the one that went before." In 1993's The Green Knight, Murdoch tries her hand at retelling the powerful tale of Sir Gawain and his unkillable foe, the Green Knight. In the original story, the Green Knight challenges any of King Arthur's knights to chop off his head; Sir Gawain obliges, but the beheaded Green Knight does not die. In Murdoch's tale, the role of Sir Gawain is played by Lucas Graffe, an historian who plots the murder of his brother, Clement. Before he can bludgeon his brother, though, a stranger—possibly a mugger—steps in and takes the blow. Months later, the stranger, Peter Mir, returns, seeking justice from Lucas. "What an outline of the plot … fails to convey is the warmth and humour of this book, and the sheer narrative verve," wrote A.N. Wilson in the Spectator. "It is hard to put down."

"Reading [Murdoch's] work is like watching an expert needlewoman embroider, with fine silk thread and a dazzling array of stitches, a large, intricate, multicolored piece of fancywork," commented New York Times Book Review contributor Linda Simon. "But as the de-sign becomes more complicated and the patterns more repetitious, one senses that the embroiderer may realize more pleasure than the viewer." Tom Shippey, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, also found problems with The Green Knight—in particular, a lack of plausibility. "It is not a poor grip on reality which strikes one first on reading this novel," he remarked, "rather, its poor grip on practicality." New Statesman contributor Kathryn Hughes, however, thought the novel "a thoroughly good suspense" story.

Reviewing Murdoch's 1995 novel, Jackson's Dilemma, in the Spectator, Caroline Moore made the case that Murdoch's detractors are members of what the author once termed the "journalistic" (or realistic) school of modern fiction, which rejects elements of the romance tradition from which much of Murdoch's fiction is derived. Murdoch's "novels often adapt romantic genres—the love-comedy, the gothic tale," explained Moore. "And they are also romantic in subject and spirit." The premise of Jackson's Dilemma is the disaster, mystery, and comedy surrounding the sudden disappearance of Edward Lannion's bride-to-be on the eve of their wedding day. While Lorna Sage, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, praised the work as "hilarious and horrible—a mystic farce," Michiko Kakutani in the New York Times expressed disappointment with its "highly convoluted plot filled with improbable coincidences and disasters, and a glossy veneer of mythic allusions and philosophical asides."

Something Special, a short story written in the 1950s but not published in full until after Murdoch's death, is a romance between two impoverished young Dubliners and one of the few Murdoch stories that is set in her native Ireland. Yvonne Geary, who works as a sales clerk and lives with her mother and uncle, longs for excitement in her life, but is less than thrilled about Sam Goldman's enthusiastic courtship of her; she finds him rather ordinary, lacking the "something special" she is seeking, but by the end of the story she comes to realize what he has to offer. The story "can be subtle and heartfelt," related Stephen Amidon in the New York Times Book Review, but he thought the character of Yvonne underdeveloped and added that "it is hard to see what makes this brief tale special enough to merit a volume of its own." A Kirkus Reviews contributor described it as showing Murdoch's style "in embryonic form" but maintained that it "won't add anything to the deservedly high reputation" of the author. Booklist's Donna Seaman, however, praised the story as "standing firmly on its own in spite of its brevity" and "finely nu-anced" in its depiction of the characters' tribulations, with the author "at her subtle best." A Publishers Weekly reviewer, noting the story's mix of humor and tenderness, called Something Special "stunningly affecting."

Murdoch lived for many years in the English country-side and later in the city of Oxford with her husband, John Bayley, a respected literary critic, and she enjoyed gardening when she was not writing. She paid little attention to reviews of her work, even those that were favorable, believing most critiques to be lacking in perception. Her writing was deliberate and well thought out, with a plan of each novel in place before she began writing, which she did in longhand. "I don't see how anyone can think with a typewriter," she once remarked to Davie and Crutchley. Her later novels averaged more than 500 pages each, a length Murdoch insisted was necessary because it enabled them to encompass "more substance, more thoughts," as she once explained to a London Times interviewer. The London Times also reported that "her enemies are word processors … tight, crystalline, first-person novels, existentialism, and analytical philosophy."

Murdoch's work won praise from many scholars and critics over the course of her career. "She wears her formidable intelligence with a careless swagger," Jonathan Raban wrote in Encounter, "and her astonishingly fecund, playful imagination looks as fresh and effortless as ever…. Part of the joy of reading Iris Murdoch is the implicit assurance that there will be more to come, that the book in hand is an installment in a continuing work which grows more and more important as each new novel is added to it." Added Broyard: "We have to keep revising our expectations of what her books are about—usually we find that we must travel farther and over more difficult terrain than we're accustomed to."

In 1995 Murdoch announced that she was suffering from severe writer's block, an admission that was later altered in 1996 when Bayley informed the London Daily Telegraph that she in fact was a victim of Alzheimer's disease. Realizing that her writer's block was attributable to biological forces beyond her control, Murdoch commented, "I'm afraid I am waiting in vain [to write]. Perhaps I had better find some other kind of job." Bradbury remarked in his remembrance for Time: "It was a tragic misfortune that, in recent years, this most intellectual of novelists was silenced by Alzheimer's," observing that Murdoch had "one of the most brilliant and engaging of modern minds." He concluded, "The important thing is to return to the moral clarity of that mind" and to her best novels, "for, in a day when fiction has grown more commercial, sensational and morally empty, it is a joy to return to her work—with its sensuous pleasures, fantastic invention, high intelligence and moral dignity."



Antonaccio, Maria, and William Schweiker, editors, Iris Murdoch and the Search for Human Goodness, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1996.

Baldanza, Frank, Iris Murdoch, Twayne (New York, NY), 1974.

Bayley, John, Elegy for Iris, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.

Bayley, John, Iris and Her Friends: A Memoir of Memory and Desire, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1999.

Berthoff, Warner, Fictions and Events: Essays in Criticism and Literary History, Dutton (New York, NY), 1971.

Bradbury, Malcolm, Possibilities: Essays on the State of the Novel, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1973.

Bradbury, Malcolm, and David Palmer, The Contemporary English Novel, Edward Arnold (London, England), 1979, Holmes & Meier (New York, NY), 1980.

Burgess, Anthony, The Novel Now: A Guide to Contemporary Fiction, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 1967.

Byatt, A. S., Degrees of Freedom: The Novels of Iris Murdoch, Barnes & Noble (New York, NY), 1965.

Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, Volume 8, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.

Conradi, Peter J., Iris Murdoch: A Life, Norton (New York, NY), 2001.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 1, 1973, Volume 2, 1974, Volume 3, 1975, Volume 4, 1975, Volume 6, 1976, Volume 8, 1978, Volume 11, 1979, Volume 15, 1980, Volume 22, 1982, Volume 31, 1985, Volume 51, 1989.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 14: British Novelists since 1960, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1982.

Dipple, Elizabeth, Iris Murdoch: Work for the Spirit, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1982.

Dooley, Gillian, editor, From a Tiny Corner in the House of Fiction: Conversations with Iris Murdoch, University of South Carolina Press (Columbia, SC), 2003.

Fletcher, John, Iris Murdoch: A Descriptive Primary and Annotated Secondary Bibliography, Garland (New York, NY), 1985.

Gerstenberger, Donna, Iris Murdoch, Bucknell University Press (Lewisburg, PA), 1975.

Gindin, James, Postwar British Fiction, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1962.

Gordon, David J., Iris Murdoch's Fables of Unselfing, University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO), 1995.

Heusel, Barbara Stevens, Patterned Aimlessness: Iris Murdoch's Novels of the 1970s and 1980s, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 1995.

Kellman, Steven G., The Self-begetting Novel, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1980.

Kermode, Frank, Modern Essays, Fontana (London, England), 1971, pp. 261-266.

O'Connor, Patricia J., To Love the Good: The Moral Philosophy of Iris Murdoch, P. Lang (New York, NY), 1996.

O'Connor, William Van, The New University Wits, and the End of Modernism, Southern Illinois University Press (Carbondale, IL), 1963.

Rabinowitz, Rubin, Iris Murdoch, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1968.

Spear, Hilda D., Iris Murdoch, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1995.

Stade, George, editor, Six Contemporary British Novelists, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1976.

Thinkers of the Twentieth Century, St. James Press (Chicago, IL), 1987.

Todd, Richard, Iris Murdoch: The Shakespearean Interest, Barnes & Noble (New York, NY), 1979.

Todd, Richard, Iris Murdoch, Methuen (New York, NY), 1984.

Wolff, Peter, The Disciplined Heart: Iris Murdoch and Her Novels, University of Missouri Press (Columbia, MO), 1966.


American Scholar, summer, 1993, p. 466.

Atlantic, March, 1988, p. 100; March, 1990, p. 116; March, 1994, p. 130.

Booklist, January 1, 1998, Donna Seaman, review of Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature, p. 766; November 15, 2000, Donna Seaman, review of Something Special, p. 25.

Chicago Review, autumn, 1959.

Commonweal, November 5, 1953; May 18, 1990, p. 326; June 14, 1991, p. 399; April 23, 1993, p. 24; April 8, 1994, p. 21.

Economist, October 24, 1987, p. 107; October 14, 1989, p. 104; September 25, 1993, p. 99.

Encounter, July, 1974.

Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), October 28, 1989, Phyllis Gottlieb, review of The Message to the Planet.

Interview, November, 1992, p. 80.

Kirkus Reviews, October 1, 2000, review of Something Special, pp. 1380-1381.

Listener, April 27, 1978, pp. 533-535.

Modern Fiction Studies (Iris Murdoch issue), autumn, 1959.

Ms., July, 1976, Gail Kmetz, review of Sartre: Romantic Rationalist.

Nation, March 29, 1975; October 11, 1975; January 8, 1996, p. 32.

National Review, April 1, 1988, p. 52.

New Criterion, November, 1999, Jeffrey Meyers, "Iris Murdoch: A Memoir," p. 22.

New Leader, April 16, 1990, p. 19.

New Republic, November 18, 1978; June 6, 1988, p. 40; March 5, 1990, p. 40.

New Statesman, January 2, 1954; January 8, 1988, p. 33; September 17, 1993, pp. 39-40.

New Statesman & Society, October 6, 1989, p. 38.

New Yorker, May 18, 1987, p. 113.

New York Review of Books, March 31, 1988, p. 36; March 4, 1993, p. 3.

New York Times, January 6, 1981; February 22, 1990; January 9, 1996, Michiko Kakutani, "A Broken Engagement As Tragic Metaphor," p. 24.

New York Times Book Review, September 13, 1964; February 8, 1970; August 24, 1975; November 20, 1977; December 17, 1978; August 10, 1980; January 4, 1981; March 7, 1982; January 4, 1987, p. 107; January 31, 1988, pp. 1, 26; February 4, 1990, p. 3; January 3, 1993, p. 9; January 9, 1994, p. 7; January 7, 1996, Brad Leithauser, "The Good Servant," p. 6; November 12, 2000, Stephen Amidon, review of Something Special.

Observer (London, England), October 25, 1992.

Publishers Weekly, December 13, 1976; November 1, 1993, p. 64; October 23, 1995, p. 57; September 25, 2000, review of Something Special, p. 83; November 13, 2000, Bridget Kinsella, "Tribute to a Writer and to Love," p. 25.

Saturday Review, October 5, 1974, Bruce Allen, review of A Word Child.

Spectator, September 18, 1993, p. 42; October 7, 1995, Caroline Moore, review of Jackson's Dilemma.

Times (London, England), April 25, 1983; January 23, 1988.

Times Literary Supplement, October 23, 1992; September 10, 1993, p. 20; September 29, 1995.

Village Voice, July 17, 1990, p. 73.

Yale Review, April, 1992, p. 207.


Iris (film; based on husband John Bayley's biographies), 2001.



Maclean's, February 22, 1999, John Bemrose, "Ever Extraordinary: Writer Iris Murdoch Was Admired Worldwide," p. 71.

New Statesman, February 12, 1999, Jason Cowley, "A Divine Literary Intelligence," p. 15.

Time, February 22, 1999, Malcolm Bradbury, "All Kinds of Goodness: Iris Murdoch, 1919–1999," p. 63.