Bayley, John 1925–

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Bayley, John 1925–

(John Oliver Bayley)

PERSONAL: Born March 27, 1925, in Lahore, India; son of Frederick (an army officer) and Olivia (Heenan) Bayley; married Iris Murdoch (a novelist), 1956 (died, February 8, 1999); married Audi Villers. Education: Attended Eton College, 1938–43; New College, Oxford, B.A., 1950.

ADDRESSES: Home—Cedar Lodge, Steeple Aston, Oxford, England. Agent—c/o Author Mail, W.W. Norton & Company, 500 5th Ave., New York, NY 10110-0017.

CAREER: St. Anthony's College and Magdalen College, Oxford, England, faculty member, 1951–55; New College, Oxford, lecturer, 1955–74; St. Catherine's College, Oxford, Warton Professor of English, 1974–c. 1997. Military service: British Army, served in Grenadier Guards and Special Intelligence, 1943–47.

AWARDS, HONORS: Heinemann Literary Award, Royal Society of Literature, 1971, for Tolstoy and the Novel.



In Another Country, Constable (London, England), 1955, reprinted, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1986.

Alice, Duckworth (London, England), 1994.

The Queer Captain, Duckworth (London, England), 1995.

George's Lair, Duckworth (London, England), 1996.

The Red Hat, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1998.


The Romantic Survival: A Study in Poetic Evolution, Constable (London, England), 1957, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1961.

The Characters of Love: A Study in the Literature of Personality, Constable (London, England), 1960, Basic Books (New York, NY), 1961.

Keats and Reality, [London, England] 1963.

Tolstoy and the Novel, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1966, Viking (New York, NY), 1967, reprinted, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1988.

Pushkin: A Comparative Commentary, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1971.

The Uses of Division: Unity and Disharmony in Literature, Viking (New York, NY), 1976.

An Essay on Hardy, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1978.

Shakespeare and Tragedy, Routledge & Kegan Paul (Boston, MA), 1981.

Selected Essays, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1984.

The Order of Battle at Trafalgar, and Other Essays, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (New York, NY), 1987.

The Short Story: Henry James to Elizabeth Bowen, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1988.

The Power of Delight: A Lifetime in Literature: Essays, 1962–2002, selected by Leo Carey, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2005.


Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch, Duckworth (London, England), 1998, published as Elegy for Iris, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Iris and Her Friends: A Memoir of Memory and Desire, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2000.

Widower's House: A Study in Bereavement; or, How Margot and Mella Forced Me to Flee My Home, W.W. Norton (New York, NY), 2001.


El Dorado: The Newdigate Prize Poem (poetry), Blackwell (Oxford, England), 1951.

(Selector and author of critical introduction, biographical summary, and bibliography) The Portable Tolstoy (short stories), Viking (New York, NY), 1978.

(Selector and author of introduction) Rudyard Kipling, Mrs. Bathurst and Other Stories, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1991.

Houseman's Poems, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1992.

Hand Luggage, Continuum (London, England), 2001.

Good Companions: A Personal Anthology, Abacus (London, England), 2002.

Author of introduction to books, including Jude the Obscure, by Thomas Hardy, Heritage Press (Baltimore, MD), 1969; Far from the Madding Crowd, by Thomas Hardy, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1974; Pushkin on Literature, by Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin, selected, translated, and edited by Tatiana Wolff, revised edition, Stanford University Press (Stanford, CA), 1986; The Album of Anthony Powell's Dance to the Music of Time, edited by Violet Powell, preface by Anthony Powell, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (New York, NY), 1987; The Terribles News: Russian Stories from the Years Following the Revolution, collected and translated by Grigori Gerenstein, Black Spring Press (London, England), 1990; Russian Short Stories, translated by R.S. Townsend, C.E. Tuttle (Rutland, VT), 1992; and Tales of Belkin and Other Prose Writings, by Aleksander Pushkin, translated by Ronald Wilks, Penguin Books (New York, NY), 1998.

Contributor to books, including Proceedings of the British Academy 48, Oxford University Press, 1963; Critical Essays on George Eliot, edited by Barbara Hardy, Routledge, 1970; New Literary History, 1974; and Life by Other Means: Essays on D.J. Enright, edited by Jacqueline Simms, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1990. Contributor to periodicals, including the New York Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement, and the London Review of Books.

ADAPTATIONS: The film Iris is based on Bayley's Iris: A Memoir and Elegy for Iris, Miramax, 2001. An unabridged version of Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch was adapted for audio cassette, read by Tony Haygarth, Clipper Audio, 2003.

SIDELIGHTS: John Bayley is primarily known for his literary criticisms on the writers Leo Tolstoy, Aleksander Pushkin, Thomas Hardy, and George Eliot. He has been praised for providing new insights into writings that have already been extensively studied. During the illness and subsequent death of his wife, the well-known novelist Iris Murdoch, Bayley also wrote three acclaimed memoirs about Murdoch, their relationship, her death, and his life as a widower. In addition, Bayley has written several novels, a collection of poetry, and many critical essays.

Among his works of literary criticism is The Uses of Division: Unity and Disharmony in Literature. Here, Bayley suggests that division and disunity give vitality to writing and thus should not be considered a flaw. Under this assumption, he studies Dickens, Kipling, Shakespeare, and other authors. In a Times Literary Supplement review, W.C. Booth implied that Bayley's theories were insufficient to support his judgments, causing the book to be unclear. However, Booth also admitted that Bayley's interpretations of the authors and their works were "often sensitive, persuasive, and original."

The Order of Battle at Trafalgar, and Other Essays is a collection of Bayley's literary essays. The emphasis is on Russian writers and poets—from Dostoevsky to Solzhenitsyn, Akhmatova to Brodsky—but there are also essays on such writers as Keats, Thomas Hardy, and Milan Kundera, along with several pieces lambasting the excesses of academic literary theory. Caryl Emerson, writing in the New York Times Book Review, suggested that Bayley may overrate some authors, such as the Russian poet Voznesensky, but the critic also acknowledged that the collection "serves the reader well" and that Bayley "deftly undoes some of the worst puffery on the flaps of recent novels." In conclusion, Emerson noted: "Nowhere does Mr. Bayley dig very deep. But these essays, in the best tradition of British 'critical plainspeak,' put us in the company of a spacious, sturdy mind."

Bayley's The Short Story: Henry James to Elizabeth Bowen is not a survey work as the title implies. Rather, in the roughly one hundred years the book covers, Bayley examines a single aspect of the short story as it pertains to nine of the form's most famous writers. The particular aspect of the short story that interests him is one he has defined himself. Bayley proposes that beyond a short story's literary merits there exists a subjective quality that is of greater significance in determining the story's success: specifically, not what the work is "saying," but what sense of experiencing real life it creates in the reader. Dubbing this quality "special effects," Bayley calls it "a mystery which is beyond art" and maintains that it is something that only comes into being indirectly when the author adheres to his or her craft and vision. Reviewing The Short Story for the New York Times Book Review, Louis Menand found Bayley's approach to be "highly appealing … not least because it is committed to honoring something that was of supreme importance to the writers." However, Menand also felt that "The Short Story is suggestive rather than inclusive," and that Bayley makes many contentions without fully developing or substantiating them.

With The Power of Delight: A Lifetime in Literature: Essays, 1962–2002 Bayley offers another collect ion of critical literary essays and reviews of other authors' works. Many of the essays originally appeared in the New York Review of Books, the Times Literary Supplement, and the London Review of Books, and primarily concern novels in English, though pieces of poetry and the literature of Russia and Central Europe are also included. Reviewing The Power of Delight in the New Statesman, Margaret Drabble noted that the author "is in search of a sense of value in literature, as well as delight." Drabble also explained that "Bayley evades the contentions of theory by rejoicing in individual writers and by stressing the importance of details and events." In conclusion, a reviewer for Publishers Weekly called the essays "erudite and enthusiastic considerations of literature."

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Bayley wrote a different kind of nonfiction: several memoirs about his wife. In the mid-1950s Bayley met, fell in love with, and married a young philosophy professor named Iris Murdoch, who later became the renowned novelist of such works as Under the Net and A Severed Head. In the first memoir, Elegy for Iris, Bayley relates the story of their lives together, including the period since 1994, when Murdoch's symptoms of Alzheimer's disease increased and Bayley served as her sole caregiver until her death in 1999. Lancet contributor Paul Crichton called Bayley's memoir "an at times painfully moving tribute to his wife," concluding his review with the highest praise: "This book, which does not spare the horror of this disease, is great and true art." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly further observed: "This beauti-ful book could hardly help being deeply consoling to anyone thus afflicted; it is also a compelling study of the overthrow of a remarkable spirit."

In addition to these nonfiction works, Bayley has also written several novels, including The Red Hat. His American fiction debut, it relates the adventures of three London friends during a trip to view a Vermeer exhibit at The Hague. The story is told from one character's perspective during the visit, and from another character's conflicting perspective after their return to London. There are confusions regarding sexual identity, the disappearance and reappearance of one of the characters, and a subplot that involves a supposed agent of Israeli intelligence. "This is a sophisticated riddle of a book …," commented Donna Seaman in Booklist, "sly, delectable, and utterly satisfying." "Nothing is resolved," noted a reviewer in Publishers Weekly, "but the light, elegant flow of the prose … is mesmerizing."

Bayley once told CA: "The background of my [first] novel was my experience in the army in Germany at the end of the war. It is not a bad novel. Then I wrote the others, but they did not seem to me good enough. By that time I had married a really good novelist and I cooperated a certain amount on her earlier novels, particularly The Bell, published in 1958. I am now called in as an adviser on technical matters: cars, food, geography, and history. As a critic, I don't use any special approach. I brood over an author a long time and say whatever seems to me worth saying."



Bayley, John, Elegy for Iris, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1999.

Bayley, John, Iris and Her Friends: A Memoir of Memory and Desire, Norton (New York, NY), 2000.

Bayley, John, Widower's House: A Study in Bereavement; or, How Margot and Mella Forced Me to Flee My Home, Norton (New York, NY), 2001.


Booklist, April 15, 1998, Donna Seaman, review of The Red Hat, p. 1376.

Lancet, January 9, 1999, Paul Crichton, review of Elegy for Iris, p. 157.

New Statesman, May 16, 2005, Margaret Drabble, "The Backward Look," review of The Power of Delight: A Lifetime in Literature: Essays, 1962–2002, p. 46.

New York Times Book Review, July 12, 1987, Caryl Emerson, review of The Order of Battle at Trafalger, and Other Essays, p. 21; November 6, 1988, Louis Menand, review of The Short Story: Henry James to Elizabeth Bowen, p. 25.

Publishers Weekly, October 19, 1998, review of Elegy for Iris, p. 61; December 14, 1998, review of The Red Hat, p. 52; February 21, 2005, review of The Power of Delight, p. 170.

Times Literary Supplement, July 30, 1971, review of Pushkin: A Critical Commentary, p. 879; July 23, 1976, W.C. Booth, review of The Uses of Division: Unity and Disharmony in Literature, p. 914.


Guardian Online, (November 19, 2005), Tim Adams, "Marriage Made in Heaven," biography of John Bayley.