Tributes Flow in for Dame Iris; Doyenne of English Letters Dies, Aged 79

The Birmingham Post (England), February 9, 1999 | Go to article overview

Tributes Flow in for Dame Iris; Doyenne of English Letters Dies, Aged 79


Dame Iris Murdoch, the grande dame of English letters, died yesterday, aged 79.

The novelist and philosopher had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for some years.

Her devoted husband John Bayley, who cared for her in her declining years, was by her side at Vale House, Oxford, when she died at 4pm yesterday.

Dublin-born Dame Iris Murdoch's works were intricate studies of the human condition which never bowed to literary fads.

The Sea, The Sea won the 1978 Booker Prize and The Sacred And Profane Love Machine won a Whitbread Prize in 1974.

She had been a fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford, since 1948, and taught philosophy.

Her published works started with philosophy in Sartre, Romantic Rationalist in 1954 and ended with it in Existentialists And Mystics in 1997.

As well as more than 30 novels, she wrote plays and poetry.

St Anne's College principal Ruth Deech said last night: "She was one of the greatest people ever to be associated with St Anne's, someone quite outstanding as a philosopher and as a writer of novels.

"I think her work immeasurably improved the canon of great English works of literature and philosophy.

John Bayley's account of his wife's illness and their life together, Iris; A Memoir of Iris Murdoch, was published last year.

Mr Harry Cayton, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Disease Society, said: "The simplest thing I can say is that it's quite remarkable somebody who lived the life of the mind has died of Alzheimer's, a disease that really is the greatest challenge to the mind.

"She was an intellectual giant, both as a philosopher and as a novelist.

"I would also have to pay tribute to her husband, John Bayley, who I think has been a superb carer and has been wonderfully honest in revealing the way in which he supported Iris.

AS Byatt, who won the Booker Prize in 1990 for her novel Possession, said: "I feel that something in my life, that was the most important thing in my literary life, has ended. …

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