Dame Iris Murdoch
1919-1999
Metaphysics, Philosophical Literature,
Moral Philosophy



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1919 Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin to a family of modest means and background. Her mother, Irene Richardson, was a North Dubliner, a member of the Church of Ireland (Anglican), who sang in her church choir. Her father, Wills John Hughes Murdoch, was orphaned in New Zealand and sent to Ireland to be cared for by his Ulster Dissenting sheep farming relatives.

1921 The family moved to London after the creation of the Irish Free State. Hughes Murdoch worked as a civil servant.

1925-1931 Murdoch attended Froebel Demonstration School, which was progressive and academically rigorous.

1932-1938 She boarded at Badminton School, where she studied Latin and Greek and was exposed to a progressive view of current events. The school offered scholarships for refugees.

1938-1942 Murdoch won an Open Exhibition for Merit at Somerville College, Oxford. She studied Mods (Classical Greek and Latin) and Greats (Ancient History and Philosophy). She took a first in Greats.  Her Greats tutor was Donald MacKinnon, a Christian moral philosopher. She took an Agamemnon Seminar with Eduard Fraenkel. Both had lasting influences on Murdoch's life and thought.

1938 She joined the Communist Party at Oxford. It is not clear when she resigned, though she probably left the party by 1946.

1942-1944 During World War II Murdoch was assigned to an administrative position in Treasury.

1944-1946 She worked with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration in refugee camps in Brussels and Austria.

1947-1948 Murdoch received a scholarship for post-graduate work at Newnham College, Cambridge. She read Simone Weil's The Need for Roots, which articulated her experience in the camps of the evil of displacement, a theme that runs through many of Murdoch's books.

Murdoch published Sartre:Romantic Rationalist, beginning a lifelong critique of existentialism for its emphasis on the heroic self, its inadequate sense of the Other, its dismissal of the authenticity of suffering and of the long hard task of deselfing.

She made several retreats at Malling Abbey, an Anglican cloistered community, during this year, possibly under the influence of Donald MacKinnon.

1948-1963 She was Fellow at St Anne's, Oxford, where she taught moral and political philosophy.

1954 She published Under the Net, the first of 26 novels.

Murdoch was diagnosed as partially deaf.

1956 Murdoch married John Bayley.

1963-1967 She was Lecturer at the Royal College of Art.

1970 Severe arthritis made it increasingly different for Murdoch to pen her manuscripts by hand.

1974 Murdoch received the Whitbread Prize for The Sacred and Profane Love Machine.

1978 She was awarded the Booker Prize for The Sea, The Sea.

1987 Murdoch was honored as a Dame of the British Empire.

1993 Murdoch began to suffer the early effects of Alzheimer's Disease.

1994 A University of Chicago Conference honored Murdoch's work.

February 1999 Iris Murdoch died. Her ashes were scattered in the garden at the Oxford Crematorium.

NOTE: Special thanks to Judith Guttman of Madison, Wisconsin for this Chronology and for her contributions to the Bibliography of works by and about Iris Murdoch listed below.

Bibliography

Philosophy

Fiction

Plays

Poetry

SPECIAL NOTE: Her Papers at the University of Iowa, USA.

Useful Secondary sources:

A list of articles with links to texts can be found at Iris Murdoch Society

Peter J Conradi, A Life (2001) and Iris M, A Writer at War: Letters and Diaries, 1939-1945 (1986, 2001)

A.S. Byatt, Degrees of Freedom (The Novels of I.M.) (1965, and updated with later essays)

John Bailey, Iris: A Memoir of Iris. John Bayley (1999) This was published in USA as Elegy for Iris .

Iris Murdoch is one of more than 100 women philosophers featured in:

A Pictorial History of Women Philosophers photo album.

Iris Murdoch is one of 50 philosophers featured in:

Busted!! A Pictorial History of Women Philosophers, Volume 4: 1900-2012

This page was last updated 12/12/14.

Society for the Study of Women Philosophers

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