Iris Murdoch (1919
) was a novelist
and university lecturer
. She was a perfectionist
, not allowing her texts to be edited, and the topics of her writings dealt with philisophical
issues of existentialism
thought, daily ethics
, and Shakespeare
. She was born July 15, 1919
to the Irish opera singer
, Irene Alice Richardson
and the English cavalry officer
then civil servant
, Wills John Hughes Murdoch
. As a child, she moved to London
with her family.
She went to Somerville College in Oxford, and there studied philosophy, history, and the classics. During the Second World War, she got involved in the Communist Party, but eventually resigned, disillusioned. She was assistant principal at the Treasury from 1938 until 1942, then worked in Austria and Belgium at the UNNRA from 1944 to 1946. She took a year off of work in London, then did a post-graduate studentship in philosophy at Newnham College, Cambridge. From 1948 to 1963, she was a tutor at St. Anne's College, where she had been elected a fellow. From 1963 to 1967, in addition to her tutoring, she lectured at London's Royal College of Art.
She became interested in existentialism when, in the 1940s, she met Jean-Paul Sartre. She loved the learned poet, Franz Steiner, a Jewish Czech, who died of a heart attack, purportedly in her arms. She had had an affair with his best friend, Elias Canetti and, in 1956, married fiction writer and soon-to-be Oxford English professor, John Bayley. She took several lovers during their 43 years of marriage, which Bayley took in stride. They had no children. When they could, they would go swimming.
In her 40 years of writing, she produced 27 novels. The last was written when she was living with Alzheimer's.
Murdoch died, at age 79, in Oxford, February 8, 1999.
Her husband then wrote the "Elegy for Iris".
In 1976, Murdoch was made Commander, and in 1987, Dame of the British Empire. In 1982, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences elected her as a Foreign Honourary Member. In 1973, she won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize; in 1974, the Whitbread Prize; in 1978, the Booker McConnell Prize. In 1987, the Royal Society of Literature made her a Companion of Literature, and in 1990, she was awarded the Medal of Honour for Literature by the National Arts Clubs of New York.
In 2001, the film Iris was made to show two particular times of Murdoch's life with her husband. It stars Kate Winslet and Judi Dench as Murdoch, and Hugh Bonneville and Jim Broadbent as John Bayley.