Iris Murdoch

Murdoch, Dame Iris

Dame Iris Murdoch (Dame Jean Iris Murdoch) (mûr´dŏk), 1919–99, British novelist and philosopher, b. Dublin, Ireland, grad. Oxford (1942). In 1948 she was named lecturer in philosophy at Oxford, and in 1963 she was made an honorary fellow of St. Anne's College, Oxford. Murdoch's novels, subtle, witty, convoluted, puzzling, and often wildly comic, have elicited widely differing critical interpretations. Murdoch views human beings as "accidental" creatures, purportedly free but actually constricted by the boundaries of self, society, and the natural world. Although the plots of her novels are complex, involving innumerable characters in seemingly endless configurations and punctuated by extraordinary incidents, they often focus on one individual's recognition that free will and self-knowledge are illusory.

Among Murdoch's 26 novels are The Flight from the Enchanter (1956), The Bell (1958), A Severed Head (1961), An Accidental Man (1972), The Sea, the Sea (1978; Booker Prize), Message to the Planet (1989), The Green Knight (1994), and Jackson's Dilemma (1995). Murdoch worked on dramatizations of two of her novels, A Severed Head (1963, with J. B. Priestley), and The Italian Girl (1967, with James Sanders), and she wrote several plays, including Art and Eros (1980). She also published Sartre, Romantic Rationalist (1953), The Sovereignty of Good (1971), The Fire and the Sun (1977), and Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (1992). In 1956 she married John Oliver Bayley, the novelist and critic who wrote movingly of her in Elegy for Iris (1998). She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1987.


See Living on Paper: Letters From Iris Murdoch, 1934–1995 (2016, ed. by A. Horner and A. Rowe); biography by P. J. Conradi (2001); studies by A. S. Byatt (1965), P. Wolfe (1966), R. Rabinovitz (1968), D. Gerstenberger (1975), R. Todd (1979, 1988), E. Dipple (1982), A. Hague (1984), P. J. Conradi (1986) and as ed. (2010), C. B. Bove (1986, 1993), D. Johnson (1987), R. C. Kane (1988), D. D. Mettler (1991), P. P. Punja (1993), D. J. Gordon (1995), B. S. Heusel (1995), and H. D. Spear (1995).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2018, The Columbia University Press.

Iris Murdoch: Selected full-text books and articles

A Philosophy to Live By: Engaging Iris Murdoch By Maria Antonaccio Oxford University Press, 2012
Picturing the Human: The Moral Thought of Iris Murdoch By Maria Antonaccio Oxford University Press, 2000
Sexuality, Gender, and Power in Iris Murdoch's Fiction By Tammy Grimshaw Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2005
Freedom and the Will By D. F. Pears MacMillan, 1964
Librarian's tip: Chap. 6 "Freedom and Knowledge"
Iris Murdoch and the Good Psychoanalyst By Turner, Jack Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 40, No. 3, Fall 1994
Contemporary British Novelists By Charles Shapiro Southern Illinois University Press, 1965
Librarian's tip: "Irish Murdoch: Everybody through the Looking Glass" begins on p. 62
The Comic Tradition in Irish Women Writers By Theresa O'Conner University Press of Florida, 1996
Librarian's tip: Chap. 6 "Iris Murdoch's Moral Comedy"
Wilderness Wanderings: Probing Twentieth-Century Theology and Philosophy By Stanley M. Hauerwas Westview Press, 1997
Librarian's tip: Chap. 10 "Murdochian Muddles: Can We Get through Them if God Does Not Exist?"
Morality, Religious and Secular: The Dilemma of the Traditional Conscience By Basil Mitchell Clarendon Press, 1980
Librarian's tip: Discussion of Iris Murdoch in "Two Secular Critics of Humanistic Ethics" p. 64
Virtue Ethics By Roger Crisp; Michael Slote Oxford University Press, 1997
Librarian's tip: Chap. 5 "The Sovereignty of Good over Other Concepts" by Iris Murdoch
A primary source is a work that is being studied, or that provides first-hand or direct evidence on a topic. Common types of primary sources include works of literature, historical documents, original philosophical writings, and religious texts.
Society and Literature, 1945-1970 By Alan Sinfield Holmes & Meier, 1983
Librarian's tip: "Literature, Politics, and Society"
Men by Women By Janet M. Todd Holmes & Meier, vol.2, 1981
Librarian's tip: "From Subtext to Dream Text: The Brutal Egoism of Iris Murdoch's Male Narrators" begins on p. 222
Philosophy, Literature, and the Human Good By Michael Weston Routledge, 2001
Librarian's tip: Chap. 5 "Iris Murdoch"
Modern British Women Writers: An A-to-Z Guide By Vicki K. Janik; Del Ivan Janik Greenwood Press, 2002
Librarian's tip: "Iris Murdoch 1919-1999" begins on p. 253
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