You are here

Iris Murdoch

Fellow St. Ann's College, Oxford, Writer, Philosopher
1919 to 1999

Iris Murdoch was born in 1919 in Dublin Ireland. She attended Badminton School Bristol and read classics at Somerville College Oxford. During World War II she was an assistant principal at the Treasury and later worked with U.N.R.R.A. in London Belgium and Austria. After a short reprieve Murdoch took up a postgraduate studentship in philosophy studying under Ludwig Wittgenstein. In 1948 she was elected a fellow of St Anne’s College Oxford where she worked as a tutor for fifteen years. Between 1963 and 1967 she also lectured at the Royal College of Art.

Murdoch then devoted herself to writing. She wrote her first novel Under the Net in 1954, having previously published essays on philosophy, including the first study in English of Jean-Paul Sartre. It was at Oxford in 1956 that she met and married John Bayley, a professor of English literature and also a novelist. Although writing in a realistic manner, Murdoch would occasionally introduce ambiguity into her work through symbolism, mixing elements from different genres and subtly manipulating the narrative structure. Murdoch was awarded the Booker Prize in 1978 for The Sea, the Sea. In 1987 she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. She produced over twenty-five more novels and other works of philosophy and drama until 1995, when she began to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, an affliction which she at first attributed to writer’s block. Murdoch was herself the focus of Richard Eyre’s biopic Iris (2001), based on Bayley’s memoir of his wife following her death in 1999.