Peter J. Conradi Iris Murdoch: A Life

ISBN 13: 9780393048759

Iris Murdoch: A Life

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9780393048759: Iris Murdoch: A Life
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Drawing on hundreds of interviews, letters, and diaries, an authorized biography of the critically acclaimed philosopher and novelist traces her personal life and literary and philosophical career, from her student days at Oxford, through her marriage to John Bayley, to Murdoch's remarkable influence on literary England, from 1940 to the present day.

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Review:

Peter Conradi is literary executor of the estate of Iris Murdoch (1919-99) and was her close friend in the 1980s and '90s, so sensible readers will not expect this to be a warts-and-all biography of the distinguished novelist and philosopher. What they get instead is a warm, appreciative portrait focused on Murdoch's formative years: happy Anglo-Irish childhood; intellectual fulfillment at Oxford University, where she joined the Communist Party and formed many enduring friendships; a stint in the civil service and work with refugees during World War II; and the postwar decade, when she began to write the intellectually challenging yet wickedly entertaining novels that made her reputation. John Bayley movingly described his wife's struggle with Alzheimer's disease in Elegy for Iris, and Conradi wisely does not reiterate that material. He concentrates on recapturing the intense young woman who awed fellow students with her brains and enticed men with her blonde hair and generous figure, yet kept everyone at a slight distance, finding epistolary relationships more manageable than the tangled sexual intrigues her fiction explores so acutely. She had many affairs, including a painful one with expatriate (and married) European intellectual Elias Canetti, but marriage to Bayley in 1956 gave her the stability she needed; over the next 40 years she produced 25 steadily more assured and provocative novels, from Under the Net through A Severed Head and The Black Prince to The Green Knight. Conradi uses interviews and Murdoch's journals to good effect in a lengthy but readable text that illuminates the personal experiences that so intimately informed her fiction. --Wendy Smith

About the Author:

Peter Conradi is the author of the biographies Angus Wilson and Fyodor Dostoevsky. He is the literary executor of the Murdoch estate.

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