Murdoch, Dame Iris (Dame Jean Iris Murdoch)mûrˈdŏk, 1919–99, British novelist and philosopher, b. Dublin, Ireland. In 1948 she was named lecturer in philosophy at Oxford, and in 1963 she was made an honorary fellow of St. Anne's College, Oxford. Murdoch's novels, subtle, witty, convoluted, puzzling, and often wildly comic, have elicited widely differing critical interpretations. Murdoch views human beings as "accidental" creatures, purportedly free but actually constricted by the boundaries of self, society, and the natural world. Although the plots of her novels are complex, involving innumerable characters in seemingly endless configurations and punctuated by extraordinary incidents, they often focus on one individual's recognition that free will and self-knowledge are illusory.
Among Murdoch's 26 novels are The Flight from the Enchanter (1956), The Bell (1958), A Severed Head (1961), An Accidental Man (1972), The Sea, the Sea (1978; Booker Prize), Message to the Planet (1989), The Green Knight (1994), and Jackson's Dilemma (1995). Murdoch worked on dramatizations of two of her novels, A Severed Head (1963, with J. B. Priestley), and The Italian Girl (1967, with James Sanders), and she wrote several plays, including Art and Eros (1980). She also published Sartre, Romantic Rationalist (1953), The Sovereignty of Good (1971), The Fire and the Sun (1977), and Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (1992). In 1956 she married John Oliver Bayley, the novelist and critic who wrote movingly of her in Elegy for Iris (1998). She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1987.
See biography by P. J. Conradi (2001); studies by A. S. Byatt (1965), P. Wolfe (1966), R. Rabinovitz (1968), D. Gerstenberger (1975), R. Todd (1979, 1988), E. Dipple (1982), A. Hague (1984), P. J. Conradi (1986) and as ed. (2010), C. B. Bove (1986, 1993), D. Johnson (1987), R. C. Kane (1988), D. D. Mettler (1991), P. P. Punja (1993), D. J. Gordon (1995), B. S. Heusel (1995), and H. D. Spear (1995).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.