Iris Murdoch

Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin in 1919 and studied Classics at Somerville College, Oxford (1938-42). During the war, she worked for the Treasury in London and lived with Philippa Foot. Afterwards she went to Austria for UNRRA, working in a camp for Displaced Persons. In 1946 she was awarded a fellowship to study at Vassar College, New York but was denied a visa due to her former membership of the Communist Party. She held a studentship at Newnham College, Cambridge (1947) before becoming a fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford (1948-63). From 1963 she lectured at the RCA. She was married to John Bayley from 1956 until her death in 1999.

Murdoch is best known for The Sovereignty of Good (1970), a collection of three lectures which includes the famous 'M and D' example in which a mother-in-law comes to see her daughter-in-law justly. Her philosophy combines analytic method with ideas from Plato, Sartre and Freud. It has given rise to moral particularism and sparked interest in the ethical role of literature. She had great success as a novelist, winning the Booker Prize (1978) for The Sea, the Sea.

Iris Murdoch


Jean Iris Murdoch (1919-1999)

1919 15 July: Born in Phibsborough, Ireland, to Irene Alice and Wills John Hughes Murdoch.
1925 Entered the Froebel Demonstration School, Roehampton.
1932 Joined Badminton School, Bristol, where she boarded until 1938.
1938 Attended university at Somerville College, Oxford, where she studied Honour Moderations and Literae Humaniores (Mods and Greats). She graduated in 1942 with first-class honours.
  Joined the Communist Party of Great Britain, but left in 1942.
1943 January: Publication of "Midnight Hour," Adelphi, pp.60-1.[1]
  July: Publication of "Rebirth of Christianity," Adelphi, pp.134-5.[2]
1944 June: Went to work for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA).
  July: Publication of "Worship and Common Life," Adelphi, pp.134-5.[3]
1946 Left the UNRRA.
1947 Began studying philosophy as a postgraduate at Newnham College, Cambridge. She was awarded the Sarah Smithson Studentship in Philosophy.
1948 Became a fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford, where she taught philosophy until 1963.
1950 March: Publication of "The Novelist as Metaphysician," Listener, 43, pp.473-6; and, "The Existentialist Hero," Listener,43, pp.523-4.
  April: Publication of a review of The Ethics of Ambiguity, by Simone de Beauvoir, Mind, 59, pp.127-8; and a review of The Emotions: The Outline of a Theory, by Jean-Paul Sartre, Mind,59, pp.268-71.
1951 July: Publication of "Symposium: Thinking and Language" (with A. C. Lloyd and Gilbert Ryle), Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume,25 (1), pp.25-82.
1952 Publication of "The Existential Political Myth," Socratic Digest, 5.
  June: Publication of "Nostalgia for the Particular," Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 52, pp.243-60.
1953 Publication of Sartre: Romantic Rationalist, (Cambridge: Bowes and Bowes).
1954 May: Publication of Under The Net, (London: Chatto and Windus). Wins the runner-up prize at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.
1955 Publication of "Philosophy and Beliefs: A Discussion between four Oxford Philosophers" (with Isaiah Berlin, Stuart Hampshire and Anthony Quinton), Twentieth Century, 157, pp.495-521.
1956 Married John Bayley, a literary critic and novelist.
  Publication of "Symposium: Vision and Choice in Morality" (with R. W. Hepburn), Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volumes, 30, pp.14-58.
  March: Publication of The Flight from the Enchanter: A Story of Love and Power, (London: Chatto and Windus).
  November: Publication of "Knowing the Void" (a review of Simone Weil’s The Notebooks), Spectator, 197, pp.613-4.
  December: Publication of "Let Them Philosophise" (a review of S. T. Coleridge’s Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit), Spectator.
1957 Publication of the short story "Something Special" in Winter’s Tales 3, (London: MacMillan).
  Publication of "Metaphysics and Ethics" in The Nature of Metaphysics, D. F. Pears (ed), (London: MacMillan), pp.99-123.
  February: Publication of "Important Things" (a review of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Mandarins), The Sunday Times.
  May: Publication of The Sandcastle, (London: Chatto and Windus); and "Hegel in Modern Dress" (a review of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness), New Statesman, 53, pp.675-6
  July: Publication of "Existentialist Bite" (a review of E. Knight’s Literature Considered as Philosophy: The French Example), Spectator, pp.68-9.
  October: Publication of "Concepts or Blood" (a review of Colin Wilson’s Religion and the Rebel), Manchester Guardian.
1958 Publication of "A Woman’s Don Delight" in The Compleat Imbiber: An Entertainment, Cyril Ray (ed), (London: Putnam), pp.193-6.
  Publication of "T. S. Eliot as a Moralist" in T.S. Eliot: A Symposium for His Seventieth Birthday, Neville Braybrooke (ed), (London: Rupert Hart-Davis).
  Publication of "A House of Theory" in Conviction, Norman Mackenzie (ed), (London: MacGibbon and Kee), pp.158-62.
  November: Publication of The Bell, (London: Chatto and Windus).
  Winter: Publication of a review of Dr Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak, The New Reasoner: A Quarterly Journal of Socialist Humanism,7, pp.140-2.[4]
1959 May: Publication of "Simone, Antoine and Anne" (a review of Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter), The Sunday Times.
  Autumn: Publication of "The Sublime and the Good," Chicago Review,13 (3), pp.42-55.
  December: Publication of "The Sublime and the Beautiful Revisited," Yale Review, 49, pp.247-71.
  [Note: at some point in the 1960’s (possibly the late 1960’s), Murdoch and Philippa Foot supposedly had a brief affair. They communicated extensively throughout their lifetimes via letters, which are now owned by Kingston University’s Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies]
1960 Publication of "Negative Capability," Adam International Review, pp.172-3.
  Spring: Publication of "Words and Ideas" (a review of Ernest Gellner’s Words and Things), The Partisan Review.
1961 January: Publication of "Against Dryness: A Polemical Sketch," Encounter, 16 (1), pp.16-20.
  June: Publication of A Severed Head, (London: Chatto and Windus).
1962 June: Publication of An Unofficial Rose, (London: Chatto and Windus).
  September: Publication of "Mass, Might and Myth" (a review of Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power), Spectator, pp.337-9.
1963 Begins teaching one day a week in the General Studies department of the Royal College of Art.
  Publication of The Unicorn, (London: Chatto and Windus).
  The play of A Severed Head, adapted by J.B Priestley, opens in Bristol.
1964 Becomes the first woman to address the Philosophical Society at Trinity College Dublin.
  Publication of "The Moral Decision about Homosexuality," Man and Society, 7, pp.3-6.
  March: Publication of "The Idea of Perfection," The Yale Review,53 (3), pp.342-80.
  August: Publication of The Italian Girl, (London: Chatto and Windus).
1965 October: Publication of The Red and The Green, (London: Chatto and Windus).
1966 July: Publication of "The Darkness of Practical Reason" (review of Stuart Hampshire’s The Freedom of the Individual), Encounter, pp.46-9.
  September: Publication of The Time of the Angels, (London: Chatto and Windus).
1967 The play of The Italian Girl, adapted by James Saunders, opens in Bristol.
  September: Publication of "Political Morality," Listener, pp.353-4.
1968 January: Publication of The Nice and the Good, (London: Chatto and Windus).
1969 January: Publication of Bruno’s Dream, (London: Chatto and Windus).
1970 January: Publication of A Fairly Honourable Defeat, (London: Chatto and Windus).
  Publication of The Sovereignty of Good, (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul).
  Publication of "Existentialists and Mystics" in Essays and Poems Presented to Lord David Cecil, (London: Constable).
  A Severed Head is released as a film.
1971 October: Publication of An Accidental Man, (London: Chatto and Windus).
1972 The play, The Three Arrows, opens in Cambridge, starring Sir Ian McKellan.
  June: Publication of "Salvation by Words," New York Review of Books.
1973 February: Publication of The Black Prince, (London: Chatto and Windus). Winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.
  Publication of The Three Arrows & The Servants and the Snow, (London: Chatto and Windus).
1974 March: Publication of The Sacred and Profane Love Machine, (London: Chatto and Windus). Winner of the Whitbread Literary Award for Fiction.
1975 Publication of "Socialism and Selection" in Black Paper 1975: The Fight for Education, C. B. Cox and Rhodes Boyson (eds).
  April: Publication of A Word Child, (London: Chatto and Windus).
1976 Named Commander of Order of the British Empire.
  September: Publication of Henry and Cato, (London: Chatto and Windus).
1977 Made an Honorary Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford.
  July: Publication of The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists, (Oxford: Clarendon Press).
1978 Publication of A Year of Birds, (Compton Press).
  August: Publication of The Sea, The Sea, (London: Chatto and Windus). Winner of the Booker Prize.
1980 An opera, The Servants, written by the composer William Matthias, and based on Murdoch’s play entitled The Servants in the Snow, opens at the New Theatre, Cardiff.
  September: Publication of Nuns and Soldiers, (London: Chatto and Windus).
1982 The Bell is adapted for television.
  Made a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
1983 Awarded an honorary D. Litt by the University of Bath.
  April: Publication of The Philosopher’s Pupil, (London: Chatto and Windus).
1985 September: Publication of The Good Apprentice, (London: Chatto and Windus). (Nominated for a Booker Prize).
1986 Made an Honorary Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge.
  Publication of Acastos: Two Platonic Dialogues, (London: Chatto and Windus).
  Publication of "Ethics and the Imagination," The Irish Theological Quarterly, 52, pp.81-95.
1987 Named Dame Commander of Order of the British Empire.
  Her play, The One Alone, is broadcast on BBC Radio 3.
  September: Publication of The Book and the Brotherhood, (London: Chatto and Windus).
1989 The play of The Black Prince opens at the Aldwych Theatre, London.
  October: Publication of The Message to the Planet, (London: Chatto and Windus).
1990 Receives the National Arts Club Medal of Honour for Literature.
1992 October: Publication of Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals, (London: Chatto and Windus).
1993 Awarded an honorary D. Litt by the University of Cambridge.
  Publication of The Green Knight, (London: Chatto and Windus).
1994 Publication of Joanna, Joanna, (London: Colophon Press with Old Town Books).
  Awarded an honorary D. Litt by Kingston University.
1995 October: Publication of Jackson’s Dilemma, (London: Chatto and Windus).
1997 Publication of Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature, (London: Chatto and Windus).
  Publication of Poems by Iris Murdoch, Yozo Moroya and Paul Hullah (eds), (Okayama: University Education Press). This is a limited edition book, with only 500 copies published.
  Awarded the Golden PEN by English PEN for a "Lifetime’s Distinguished Service to Literature."
1998 Publication of "The Sovereignty of Good Over Other Concepts" in Aesthetics: The Big Questions, Carolyn Korsmeyer (ed), (Oxford: Blackwell).
1999 8 February: Died in Oxford.

Sarah Lewin (25/10/16)

[1] Official date of publication is January-March, 1943.

[2] Official date of publication is July-September, 1943.

[3] Official date of publication is July-September, 1944.

[4] Official date of publication is Winter, 1958-59.

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