Iris Murdoch's many affairs fuelled her intellectual adventuresby Ann Chisholm / October 15, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
Iris Murdoch knew the risks of writing letters. In The Black Prince, her great novel about the destructive power of love, one character observes: “What dangerous machines letters are. Perhaps it is as well that they are going out of fashion. A letter can be endlessly reread and reinterpreted, it stirs imagination and fantasy, it persists, it is red-hot evidence.” She destroyed almost all those she received; but most of her correspondents kept hers, even the young man to whom she wrote in 1969: “Destroy this and all letters. And keep your mouth shut.”
Given that she always preferred to keep her amours and friendships in separate boxes, it seems safe to assume that the exposure of her overlapping relationships would not please her. With the publication of this substantial volume—a selection of 780, all but 40 unpublished—both Murdoch’s admirers, of whom I am one, and her critics, will find plenty to feast on. This is an unprecedented exposure of the heart and mind of a major novelist and thinker (the author of 26 novels and three major works of philosophy) and a woman who lived a life of unusual intellectual and personal freedom.
There has been a good deal written about Murdoch since her death from Alzheimer’s in 1999. Her reputation, at its height during the 1970s (she won the Booker Prize for The Sea, the Sea in 1978), had begun to slip by then. Both her novels, with their intellectual games, symbolism and tangled plots, and her philosophy, always concerned more with values and metaphysics than with logic and linguistics, seemed dated. As she began, as she put it, “sailing into the dark,” it seemed as if Murdoch’s day was done.