cover image Living on Paper: Letters from Iris Murdoch, 1934–1995

Living on Paper: Letters from Iris Murdoch, 1934–1995

Iris Murdoch, edited by Avril Horner and Anne Rowe. Princeton Univ., $39.95 (688p) ISBN 978-0-691-17056-5

Novelist and philosopher Murdoch was a dedicated correspondent, as this hefty collection attests. Spanning six decades, and encompassing dozens of recipients, this collection of her letters provide a lens through which to view many events in her life: membership in the Communist party while a student at Oxford in the 1930s; her embrace of existentialism in the post-WWII years; the publication of her first novel, Under the Net, in 1954; her marriage to fellow novelist John Bayley in 1956. The letters touch on many weighty intellectual topics, and they are equally remarkable for their candor—for instance, while a postgraduate at Oxford in 1948, she writes, “I find myself feeling much solider, slower, warmer, more imaginative and less spirituelle than most of the people around me.” Regarding her writing, 10 years later: “I just have a ghastly conviction of second-rateness and no notion of how to get up from where I am.” Murdoch died in 1999 from complications of Alzheimer’s, a disease that she knew was taking its toll on her writing, and the last line of the final letter included here—“Please forgive all this stumbling”—is a poignant postscript to the life of the mind recounted in these engrossing and frequently moving letters. (Feb.)