'Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real'. This selection of Iris Murdoch's most interesting and important letters gives us a living portrait of one of the twentieth century's greatest writers and thinkers. Here for the first time is Murdoch in her own words, from her schoolgirl days to her last years. The letters show a great mind at work - we watch the young Murdoch struggling with philosophical issues, often unsure of herself; witness her anguish when a novel won't come together; observe her involved in world events and exploring sensuality. They are full of sharp humour and irreverence. They also reveal her personal life, the subject of much speculation, in all its intriguing complexity: her emotional hunger and her tendency to live on the edge of what was socially acceptable. Gradually, we see how this fed into her novels' plots and characters, despite her claims that her fiction was not drawn from reality. Quite apart from giving these valuable insights, her letters bring us closer than ever before to Iris Murdoch as a person. They make for an extraordinary and intimate reading experience: she is wonderful company.
Iris Murdoch's life, in her own words, from her schoolgirl days to her last years
Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin in 1919. She read Classics at Somerville College, Oxford, and after working in the Treasury and abroad, was awarded a research studentship in philosophy at Newnham College, Cambridge. In 1948 she returned to Oxford as fellow and tutor at St Anne's College and later taught at the Royal College of Art. Until her death in 1999, she lived in Oxford with her husband, the academic and critic, John Bayley. She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1987 and in the 1997 PEN Awards received the Gold Pen for Distinguished Service to Literature. Iris Murdoch made her writing debut in 1954 with Under the Net. Her twenty-six novels include the Booker prize-winning The Sea, The Sea (1978), the James Tait Black Memorial prize-winning The Black Prince (1973) and the Whitbread prize-winning The Sacred and Profane Love Machine (1974). Her philosophy includes Sartre: Romantic Rationalist (1953) and Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (1992); other philosophical writings, including The Sovereignty of Good (1970), are collected in Existentialists and Mystics (1997). Avril Horner is Emeritus Professor of English at Kingston University, London. She writes on women authors and Gothic fiction; her publications include co-authored books on Daphne du Maurier and Edith Wharton. With Anne Rowe she co-edited Iris Murdoch and Morality (2010) and Iris Murdoch: Texts and Contexts (2012). Anne Rowe is Associate Professor of English Literature and Director of the Iris Murdoch Archive Project at Kingston University. She is Lead Editor of the Iris Murdoch Review and her publications include The Visual Arts and Iris Murdoch (2002) and, with Priscilla Martin, Iris Murdoch: A Literary Life (2011).