Iris Murdoch

On this date in 1919, Iris Murdoch, the daughter of an Irish woman who trained as a singer and an English civil servant, was born in Dublin. Iris as a child moved with her family to the suburbs of London. The prolific writer of 26 novels was educated at Somerville College, Oxford, and became a fellow of St. Anne's College, Oxford, in 1949. Her first book was nonfiction: Sartre, Romantic Rationalist (1953). Her first novel was Under the Net (1954). A Severed Head (1961) was made into a film in 1971. The Bell (1958) was about the Anglican religious community. Her book The Time of Angels (1956) depicted a highly flawed Anglican priest. The Sea, The Sea (1978) won the Booker Prize. For a self-described atheist, Murdoch had a somewhat confusing view of religion. The New Economist reported on Sept. 25, 1995, that one of her concerns "has been religion and its role in the modern world. She herself does not believe in God and, in the specific case of Christianity of the more orthodox sort, has a problem with the picture of God as a person up in Heaven, and Christ as his son, a magical, spiritual being. But she thinks that the maintenance of religion is essential; that it must be preserved. She notes that many are comforted by the belief that they will meet their loved ones after death but, in her opinion, such beliefs are, literally considered untrue." (Cited in Who's Who in Hell, edited by Warren Allen Smith.) Murdoch was made a Dame of the Order of the British Empire in 1987. Her death from Alzheimer's disease was documented in Elegy of Iris, and A Memoir of Iris Murdoch by her husband John Bayley. The movie "Iris," starring Kate Winslet and Judi Dench as the author, was made in 2001. D. 1999.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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