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Good for nothing

Alasdair MacIntyre

3 June 1982
Iris MurdochWork for the Spirit 
by Elizabeth Dipple.
Methuen, 356 pp., £12.50, January 1982, 9780416312904
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... dry. The two should come together again – in the novel. Why in the novel? ‘You may know a truth but if it’s at all complicated you have to be an artist not to utter it as a lie,’ says one of IrisMurdoch’s characters in An Accidental Man who is explaining why he has abandoned philosophy. It is always dangerous to impute a character’s views to an author: but in IrisMurdoch’s case there ...

Short Cuts

Paul Myerscough: Iris Murdoch

7 February 2002
... The critics can be pushed only so far. Having fallen over themselves to praise John Bayley for Iris: A Memoir of IrisMurdoch, they were kind, rather, about Iris and The Friends. But now – and this even after Bayley’s appearance with Kate Winslet and Judi Dench on his arm at the première of Iris: The Movie – the cracks have begun to appear. Writers ...

Never further than Dinner or Tea

Alexander Nehamas: Iris Murdoch

4 March 1999
IrisA Memoir of Iris​ Murdoch 
by John Bayley.
Duckworth, 189 pp., £16.95, September 1998, 0 7156 2848 8
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... The first thing Alzheimer’s disease took away from IrisMurdoch was her luminous powers. At a conference in Israel in 1994, she was unable to answer her audience’s questions. In 1995, she completed, with great difficulty, her 27th novel, Jackson’s Dilemma, in ...

Double Life

Robert Taubman

19 May 1983
The Philosopher’s Pupil 
by Iris Murdoch.
Chatto, 576 pp., £7.95, April 1983, 0 7011 2682 5
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... happiness and wisdom’ are real values and not just a touching illusion. But it’s only a pretence, considering what the preceding 500 pages have done to knock any meaning out of such words. IrisMurdoch juggles with reality and illusion, playing with the possibilities of ‘as if’; and there’s some mockery of her puppet-characters in the assumption of this coda that they could ever merge into ...
17 October 1985
The Good Apprentice 
by Iris Murdoch.
Chatto, 522 pp., £9.95, September 1985, 0 7011 3000 8
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... A novel must be a house,’ wrote IrisMurdoch in 1960, ‘fit for free characters to live in.’ The Good Apprentice carries within it an apt image of itself as a house. Seegard stands in a coastal fen within sight of the sea. Architecturally it ...


Graham Hough

18 September 1980
Nuns and Soldiers 
by Iris Murdoch.
Chatto, 505 pp., £6.50, September 1980, 0 7011 2519 5
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by Stefan Heym.
Hodder, 315 pp., £7.95, August 1980, 0 340 25721 0
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An Inch of Fortune 
by Simon Raven.
Blond and Briggs, 176 pp., £5.95, June 1980, 0 85634 108 8
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Virgin Kisses 
by Gloria Nagy.
Penguin, 221 pp., £1.25, July 1980, 0 14 005506 1
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... Even to IrisMurdoch fans, of whom I am one of the most constant, Nuns and Soldiers will be a disappointment. It is a long solid book, purposely digressive, and there is a good deal of hard slogging before we get to the ...

I Will Tell You Everything

Rosemary Hill: Iris Murdoch

22 April 2010
Iris MurdochA Writer at War – Letters and Diaries 1939-45 
edited by Peter Conradi.
Short Books, 303 pp., £16.99, January 2010, 978 1 906021 22 1
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With Love and Rage: A Friendship with Iris​ Murdoch 
by David Morgan.
Kingston, 143 pp., £13.99, March 2010, 978 1 899999 42 2
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... IrisMurdoch was not dead before the battle for her memory began. Her husband John Bayley’s first volume of reminiscences, Iris: A Memoir, was published when she was in the later stages of dementia, an undignified, soul-stripping illness whose details Bayley did not spare. After her death in 1999 things sped up. Peter Conradi ...
4 November 1993
The Green Knight 
by Iris Murdoch.
Chatto, 472 pp., £15.99, September 1993, 0 7011 6030 6
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... The question of how we are to take IrisMurdoch’s characters (indeed, whether we can take them at all) is raised, even before we get to know them, by their names. In The Green Knight we have to contend with Lucas and Clement Graffe, Harvey ...

I am a severed head

Colin Burrow: Iris Murdoch’s Incompatibilities

10 August 2016
‘The Sea, the Sea’; ‘A Severed Head’ 
by Iris Murdoch.
Everyman, 680 pp., £14.99, March 2016, 978 1 84159 370 8
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... The word​ ‘parodiability’ is not in the OED, but it is a significant literary attribute. IrisMurdoch certainly had it. Malcolm Bradbury’s Murdochian parody ‘A Jaundiced View’ has Sir Alex Mountaubon watching his daughter Flavia beneath a ‘dark and contingent cedar tree … sitting on a white ...


Nicholas Spice

1 October 1987
The Child in Time 
by Ian McEwan.
Cape, 220 pp., £10.95, September 1987, 9780224024990
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The Book and the Brotherhood 
by Iris Murdoch.
Chatto, 601 pp., £11.95, September 1987, 0 7011 3251 5
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... British General Election would have been a good thing for The Book and the Brotherhood and a disaster for The Child in Time. As it is, with Mrs Thatcher set to complete at least 13 years in office, IrisMurdoch may now be thought to look a little out of touch with the times, addressing herself to a danger – the destructive beauty of the fanatic left-wing soul – that we have, for the time being ...

Faulting the Lemon

James Wood: Iris Murdoch

1 January 1998
Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature 
by Iris Murdoch.
Chatto, 546 pp., £20, July 1997, 0 7011 6629 0
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... but can create neither vivid caricatures nor daring experiments. Martin Amis seems to want to borrow that very faculty – soul – about which he is most naturally, and most amusingly, ironic. And IrisMurdoch has written repeatedly that the definition of the great novel is the free and realised life it gives to its characters, while making her own fictional characters as unfree as pampered ...
15 July 1982
The Newton Letter 
by John Banville.
Secker, 82 pp., £5.95, May 1982, 0 436 03265 1
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... he is dying of cancer; Charlotte’s mysteriousness has more to do with the tranquillisers she has been taking in order to cope with the horror of her husband’s decline than with any mysterious IrisMurdoch-like spiritual drama. The ‘illustration from a Victorian novelette’, the ‘old novels’, the ‘echo of some old brown painting’ – such exercises in cultural image-making founder ...

Unfair to gays

Simon Raven

19 June 1980
The Homosexual as Hero in Contemporary Fiction 
by Stephen Adams.
Vision, 208 pp., £10.95, March 1980, 0 85478 204 4
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... Although IrisMurdoch and other females are on the roll, this book is almost entirely about the ways in which male homosexual novelists and their heroes evade or challenge established values and customs. In novels by most ...
1 September 1988
Sartre: A Life 
by Annie Cohen-Solal, translated by Anna Cancogni.
Heinemann, 591 pp., £17.95, October 1987, 0 434 14020 1
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Writing against: A Biography of Sartre 
by Ronald Hayman.
Weidenfeld, 487 pp., £14.95, October 1986, 0 297 79002 1
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Sartre: Romantic Rationalist 
by Iris Murdoch.
Chatto, 158 pp., £11.95, September 1987, 0 7011 3095 4
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... the façade that he had so laboriously constructed to outwit biographers? Two recent biographies have taken on this challenge, each shedding light on different aspects of his life and work. And IrisMurdoch, in reissuing Sartre: Romantic Rationalist, provides a searching critical perspective on the latter. Of the two biographies, Annie Cohen-Solal’s brings readers into more intimate contact with ...

A Kind of Greek

Jeremy Harding: Frank Thompson

7 March 2013
A Very English Hero: The Making of Frank Thompson 
by Peter Conradi.
Bloomsbury, 419 pp., £18.99, August 2012, 978 1 4088 0243 4
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... the Thompson family received formal notice that their son was probably dead, the Red Army entered Bulgaria. Did Frank’s membership of the party, which he’d joined at Oxford at the instigation of IrisMurdoch in 1939, have to do with his execution? In E.P.’s account, this question looms large (Edward had joined the party in 1942 before being called up). He believes the answer is yes and argues ...

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