Living on Paper

Living on Paper : Letters from Iris Murdoch 1934-1995

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`Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real'

This selection of Iris Murdoch's most interesting and important letters gives us a living portrait of one of the twentieth century's greatest writers and thinkers. Here for the first time is Murdoch in her own words, from her schoolgirl days to her last years.

The letters show a great mind at work - we watch the young Murdoch struggling with philosophical issues, often unsure of herself; witness her anguish when a novel won't come together; observe her involved in world events and exploring sensuality. They are full of sharp humour and irreverence. They also reveal her personal life, the subject of much speculation, in all its intriguing complexity: her emotional hunger and her tendency to live on the edge of what was socially acceptable. Gradually, we see how this fed into her novels' plots and characters, despite her claims that her fiction was not drawn from reality.

Quite apart from giving these valuable insights, her letters bring us closer than ever before to Iris Murdoch as a person. They make for an extraordinary and intimate reading experience: she is wonderful company.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 688 pages
  • 162 x 240 x 43mm | 991g
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 0701187050
  • 9780701187057
  • 71,341

Review Text

"Murdoch was not writing for posterity; she was writing for her friends, or rather as a way of maintaining her friendships, whether intellectual, passionate or both...the letters reinforce Murdoch's qualities as a person"
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Review quote

"Astonishing" -- John Sutherland "Deeply impressive" * Guardian * "Reading these letters is like living Murdoch's whole creatively, sexually and intellectually voracious life alongside her, and at breakneck speed. Thrilling" -- Sarah Bakewell, author of How to Live: A Life of Montaigne "The letters themselves have been selected with conviction and care...the overwhelming sense of this volume is one of richness" * Times Literary Supplement * "Her mind, here as in everything she wrote, is formidable" * New York Times * "Astonishing epistolary abundance from a woman who meant it when she told a friend that she could "live in letters"... Few books leave the reader with as dizzying sense of the need to question absolutely everything" * Daily Telegraph * "We find a passionate engagement with the world of ideas, but most of all with friends, lovers, and pupils. These letters reveal Murdoch's extraordinary talent for affection, exuberant sense of fun, razor-sharp intelligence, and acute awareness of the transcendent" -- Karen Armstrong "Exemplary... The reader grows up and grows old with Murdoch" * Literary Review * "This collection of letters provides a fascinating insight into the life of a complex and important novelist. It is a wonderful book" -- Alexander McCall Smith "Murdoch was not writing for posterity; she was writing for her friends, or rather as a way of maintaining her friendships, whether intellectual, passionate or both...the letters reinforce Murdoch's qualities as a person" * Independent * "By turns, her letters show confidence, kindness and great consideration for her friends... For me, their real power is that they draw us back, irresistibly, to the books, her wonderful books... a vibrant portrait of this extraordinary woman" * Psychologies * "An 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" -- Anne Chisholm * Prospect * "Few writers comprehend the murky human messiness of desire like Iris Murdoch, or could plot like her, and these letters show us why. Her life -- the multiple lovers, the emotional strain, the terrible food, the nuns and prizes and philosophy -- was chaos. She'll always be my favourite writer; now I understand why" -- Charlotte Mendelson "Fascinating... The letters are full of examples of her tolerance and her genuine interest in the inner lives of her friends. They can move engagingly from a rough, self-deprecating account of her failures and achievements to a series of penetrating asides about human nature and the power of art to illuminate it" -- Richard Strachan * Herald Scotland * "The letters are fervent, philosophical, frenetic and witty... If there is an overarching message in this volume is is how far ahead of her time Murdoch was" -- Rivka Isaacson * Independent on Sunday *
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About Iris Murdoch

Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin in 1919. She read Classics at Somerville College, Oxford, and after working in the Treasury and abroad, was awarded a research studentship in philosophy at Newnham College, Cambridge. In 1948 she returned to Oxford as fellow and tutor at St Anne's College and later taught at the Royal College of Art. Until her death in 1999, she lived in Oxford with her husband, the academic and critic, John Bayley. She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1987 and in the 1997 PEN Awards received the Gold Pen for Distinguished Service to Literature.

Iris Murdoch made her writing debut in 1954 with Under the Net. Her twenty-six novels include the Booker prize-winning The Sea, The Sea (1978), the James Tait Black Memorial prize-winning The Black Prince (1973) and the Whitbread prize-winning The Sacred and Profane Love Machine (1974). Her philosophy includes Sartre: Romantic Rationalist (1953) and Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (1992); other philosophical writings, including The Sovereignty of Good (1970), are collected in Existentialists and Mystics (1997).

Avril Horner is Emeritus Professor of English at Kingston University, London. She writes on women authors and Gothic fiction; her publications include co-authored books on Daphne du Maurier and Edith Wharton. With Anne Rowe she co-edited Iris Murdoch and Morality (2010) and Iris Murdoch: Texts and Contexts (2012).

Anne Rowe is Associate Professor of English Literature and Director of the Iris Murdoch Archive Project at Kingston University. She is Lead Editor of the Iris Murdoch Review and her publications include The Visual Arts and Iris Murdoch (2002) and, with Priscilla Martin, Iris Murdoch: A Literary Life (2011).
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Rating details

51 ratings
3.98 out of 5 stars
5 31% (16)
4 39% (20)
3 27% (14)
2 0% (0)
1 2% (1)
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