Living on Paper: Letters from Iris Murdoch, 1934-1995
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Iris Murdoch was an acclaimed novelist and groundbreaking philosopher whose life reflected her unconventional beliefs and values. But what has been missing from biographical accounts has been Murdoch's own voice--her life in her own words. Living on Paper--the first major collection of Murdoch's most compelling and interesting personal letters--gives, for the first time, a rounded self-portrait of one of the twentieth century's greatest writers and thinkers. With more than 760 letters, fewer than forty of which have been published before, the book provides a unique chronicle of Murdoch's life from her days as a schoolgirl to her last years. The result is the most important book about Murdoch in more than a decade.
The letters show a great mind at work--struggling with philosophical problems, trying to bring a difficult novel together, exploring spirituality, and responding pointedly to world events. They also reveal her personal life, the subject of much speculation, in all its complexity, especially in letters to lovers or close friends, such as the writers Brigid Brophy, Elias Canetti, and Raymond Queneau, philosophers Michael Oakeshott and Philippa Foot, and mathematician Georg Kreisel. We witness Murdoch's emotional hunger, her tendency to live on the edge of what was socially acceptable, and her irreverence and sharp sense of humor. We also learn how her private life fed into the plots and characters of her novels, despite her claims that they were not drawn from reality.
Direct and intimate, these letters bring us closer than ever before to Iris Murdoch as a person, making for an extraordinary reading experience.
And at the very end Tom Mannfn22 and Fred Copermanfn23 and the dean of Canterburyfn24 spoke. The dean was a glorious surprise to me – I knew he was that way inclined, but never dreamt he dared to come out so openly. To see him standing there in his red robes, calling us all ‘comrades’ and talking in a voice like thunder about the ‘fullness of life in the Soviet Union’ was simply wonderful. And God! the house was enthusiastic! A great sense of comradeship with all sorts of people one gets from
about everything appears in the form of literary criticism. But of course: thought? What’s that? A man has just produced a noise like a pipe cracking and a strong smell of old-fashioned gas pervades the flat. I think perhaps I had better go out before I become unconscious. MUCH LOVE I To the New Fiction Society (Mr Kinler’s Book Club). Steeple Aston 11 June 1974 I really do not have favourites among my novels. They all vanish into the past with equal speed and become strangers. I choose,
freeze next winter in our respective capital cities. But I shall see you before then. I will write again soon when I am feeling a little less enraged. My rude beloved David with vine leaves in your hair, my love to you. I To David Hicks, following the Labour Party’s definitive victory in the general election. This gave Labour its first majority government and a mandate to implement reforms, including those outlined in the Beveridge Report. 5 Seaforth Place 27 July 1945 Oh wonderful people of
real’.x Such deep attention to the Other also occasions precisely that emotional generosity and lack of possessiveness that her letters display, making room for the possibility of complete freedom. The person one loves should not be entrapped in one’s own fantasy world, as so often happens with Murdoch’s fictional characters. (The emotionally and sexually rapacious Charles Arrowby in The Sea, The Sea comes to mind here.) Murdoch’s ‘love’ in this sense is enabling and not restricting, and sexual
silly ass. Make a note of this: I love you. Dear, write soon – ever ever ever Your I To Wallace Robson. 4 Eastbourne Road 17 December  Dearest Wallace, no letter from you this morning! (Confound you!) But maybe it’s just the Christmas posts. (I hope you got mine first thing.) (Anyway, you bloody well write to me now.) […] It seems an intolerably long time since I last saw you. You must let me have a photo. (Otherwise I shall forget what you look like. I want my memories of your