An intimate view of the prolific British novelist and philosopher.
For hours each day, Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) (Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature, 1998, etc.) sat at her roll-top desk writing letters—by hand, often with a Montblanc fountain pen—to friends, lovers, editors, students, and even strangers who asked about her work. From 5,000 letters, Horner (Emerita, English Literature/Kingston Univ.) and Rowe (English/Kingston Univ.), co-editors of Iris Murdoch: Texts and Contexts (2012), have judiciously selected more than 760 that represent Murdoch’s passions and interests, her reflections on her career, and her views on politics, philosophy, religion, and culture. With their deep knowledge of Murdoch’s life and work, the editors have produced an authoritative, readable, and informative volume that contextualizes the writer’s vibrant, intense, and sometimes slyly witty correspondence. Murdoch’s love affairs form one important theme. “I find myself astonishingly interested in the opposite sex, and capable of being in love with about six men all at once,” she wrote to a friend at the age of 20. Four years later she confessed to another that she had, at last, lost her virginity. She was sleeping with two men at the time, neither of whom she loved. Murdoch’s consuming passion was her ambition to write “a long long and exceedingly obscure novel objectifying the queer conflicts I find within myself and observe in the characters of others.” Her love life—with men and women—was complicated, as she struggled to juggle her lovers’ demands with what the astute editors call her “deep and confusing sexual tensions.” Murdoch’s literary reputation was complicated, as well: “her idiosyncratic brand of mystical realism” and moral philosophy garnered early praise but later fell out of fashion when “doubts about her philosophy fed doubts about her novels.” She often felt overcome, she writes, by “a ghastly conviction of second-ratedness.”
An impressively edited, sharply revealing life in letters.