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Iris Murdoch as I Knew Her Paperback – Import, 2004

4.0 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: ARROW (RAND); New Ed edition (2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099723107
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099723103
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #307,646 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. M. Peterson TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 21, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an exceptional book, although one whose audience, at least here in the States, probably is rather limited, consisting primarily of fans of Iris Murdoch's novels, students of literary biography, and a few cultural groupies who will relish gossipy tidbits about various notables of the British intellectual elite circa 1960-1990.

By no means is this a conventional literary biography. It is more informal, along the lines of what the title indicates -- Iris Murdoch as the author knew her, which was for the last thirty years of her life, from 1969 to 1999. There is, however, a lengthy chapter covering the standard biographical facts of Murdoch's life from before the author (A.N. Wilson) first became acquainted with her and her husband (John Bayley) while a student at Oxford.

All in all, the book is quite successful at bringing Iris Murdoch to life (including her sexual promiscuity and other peccadilloes and her sometimes rude and squalid behavior as she sank into the dementia of Alzheimer's) and in assessing her status and work as a novelist. As to the latter, Wilson is an unabashed admirer, calling some of her novels (or perhaps, to be more precise, some parts of most of her novels) the best writing to come out of England in his lifetime. Her great theme, he states, is "the chaos of the human heart in its quest for sacred and profane love." Her novels "are a coruscating analysis of the human capacity to turn love into power-games; the most uncompromising scrutiny of what takes place in the tyrant's cage which masquerades as a happy marriage."

That last sentence also comprehends Murdoch's own marriage, to John Bayley, a marriage that is perhaps even more starkly and memorably portrayed in this book than is Iris Murdoch the writer.
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Format: Paperback
Wilson rightly holds that Bayley's Iris and the movie made from it belittle Iris Murdoch by reducing her to a few schoolgirl trysts and a frumpy, doddering, confused old woman. To Iris, her novels and her philosophy were who she was. There is almost none of this in Bayley's book. Wilson felt that Bayley had opened "a Pandora's box of which he quite clearly lost control. The resentment, envy, poisonously strong misogyny and outright hatred of his wife which seemed to me to come from the books, ..., were things of which he probably had only a hazy consciousness." (p. 9) Wilson was not the only one among Iris's friends to have this reaction.

Wilson was acquainted with Iris and John for the last 30 years of her life, from 1969 to 1999. His biography includes a long chapter giving you the facts of Iris's life. The rest of the book gives you Iris the person. It makes lively and informal reading. Wilson also gives you glimpses of some of the important people Iris knew such as Elizabeth Bowen.

The book also corrects a number of things. Iris with tears in her eyes told Wilson she would like to have had children. Bayley hated children but claimed (with the same sweet smile as always) that they wanted them but that Iris was past child-bearing. Since Iris was only 36, this was a lie. "Like a spoilt child, JOB reacts petulantly to the presence of other, real children invading his space or claiming the attention of his Protectress." (p. 15).

John Bayley became more and more of a "sweet poison" person as the years went on and, while playing the faithful dog, got gradually more of the upper hand. He resented Iris's earlier sleeping with other men, even though he claimed to her that he accepted this and accepted her as she was.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A N Wilson has written the most amusing and probably the sauciest biography of Iris Murdoch. She always said that her characters were not drawn from people she knew, but invented. Wilson blows the gaff (or at least purports to) on the people behind some of her characters. Probably the Marmite of the Iris industry.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Wilson was a fairly close friend of Iris and her husband, and they chose him to write the biography for fear that someone they didn't know or like would get the job. He is scrupulously clear about how close he was to them, and about the things he didn't know or inquire into about their lives. If the reader wants a better sense of who this brilliant and fascinating author was, this book will help a lot. It is not a definitive, fully researched, birth-to-death biog and does not pretend to be. It is a good friend of theirs telling what he can. He does not go back into her past to interview people who knew her when she was small, for instance. He has some interesting comments on the three books about Iris written by her husband, John Bayley, and some useful critical comments on her books.
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