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Living on Paper:
Letters from Iris Murdoch, 1934–1995
Iris Murdoch
Edited by Avril Horner & Anne Rowe

Hardcover | 2016 | $39.95 | £32.95 | ISBN: 9780691170565
688 pp. | 6 x 9 | 16 halftones.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400880300 |
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A Q&A with the coeditors

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.

Iris Murdoch (1919–99) was a British writer and philosopher. Her twenty-six novels include the Booker Prize–winning The Sea, the Sea and Under the Net, which the Modern Library named one of the 100 best English-language novels of the twentieth century. From the mid-1950s until her death, Murdoch lived in Oxford with her husband, John Bayley, whose memoir Elegy for Iris was the basis for the film Iris. Avril Horner and Anne Rowe are the coeditors of Iris Murdoch: Texts and Contexts and Iris Murdoch and Morality. Horner is professor emeritus of English literature at Kingston University in London, and has published widely on women's writing and gothic fiction. Rowe is associate professor of English literature and director of the Iris Murdoch Archive Project at Kingston University. She is the lead editor of the Iris Murdoch Review, the author of The Visual Arts and Iris Murdoch, and the coauthor of Iris Murdoch: A Literary Life.

Reviews:

"Murdoch belonged to a generation and class for whom the handwritten letter was as necessary as breathing. . . . Although Murdoch destroyed many of her letters and journals and may well have instructed her correspondents to do the same, a mountain survives. The selection Horner and Rowe have made offers insight into many corners of her life and work."--John Sutherland, New York Times Book Review

"Spanning six decades, and encompassing dozens of recipients, this collection of [Murdoch's] letters provides a lens through which to view many events in her life. . . . The letters touch on many weighty intellectual topics, and they are equally remarkable for their candor. . . . [E]ngrossing and frequently moving."--Publishers Weekly

"Perhaps the best thing about Living on Paper is the portrait of Murdoch that emerges."--Becca Rothfeld, The Nation

"An intimate view of the prolific British novelist and philosopher. . . . With their deep knowledge of Murdoch's life and work, the editors have produced an authoritative, readable, and informative volume that contextualizes the writer's vibrant, intense, and sometimes slyly witty correspondence. . . . An impressively edited, sharply revealing life in letters."--Kirkus, starred review

"[A]n 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."--Ann Chisholm, Prospect

"[A] compulsively readable volume."--Daniel Johnson, Standpoint

More reviews

Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations ix
Introduction xi
Part One: Schoolgirl and Student, August 1934 to December 1941 1
Part Two: Work and War, July 1942 to October 1947 21
Part Three: Academic and Author, October 1947 to September 1954 93
Part Four: Decisions, February 1955 to December 1962 163
Part Five: The RCA Years, January 1963 to November 1967 233
Part Six: Woman of Letters, January 1968 to December 1978 351
Part Seven: Dame Iris, January 1979 to December 1989 465
Part Eight: Last Letters, February 1990 to September 1995 557
Directory of Names and Terms 600
Murdoch’s Novels and Their Dedicatees 628
Sources of Letters 629
Abbreviations 632
Notes 633
Acknowledgements 641
Index 645

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