Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

As a philosopher interested primarily in ethics and aesthetics, Iris Murdoch has contributed significantly to debates over the direction of modern philosophy. For many years a Fellow at St. Anne’s College in Oxford, where she taught philosophy, Murdoch has offered a distinct vision of how the contours of contemporary philosophical thought ought to take shape. She has presented her critical philosophical reflection in a few technical papers and in more extended formats, as her wellreceived philosophical books Sartre: Romantic Rationalist (1953) and The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists (1977) attest. Despite her stature as one of Great Britain’s leading moral philosophers, however, it is for her fiction, to which she devotes most of her writing time, that Iris Murdoch is best known.

Iris Murdoch is recognized as one of the world’s leading literary artists. She has penned four plays, including A Severed Head (1964), with J.B. Priestley, and several volumes of poetry, but it is as a prolific writer of fiction that she has received widespread attention and popular, as well as critical, acclaim. Murdoch has produced a novel every eighteen months after 1954, when her first novel, Under the Net, appeared. With subsequent novels, including such works as The Bell (1958), The Red and the Green (1965), Bruno’s Dream (1969), A Fairly Honourable Defeat (1970), The Philosopher’s Pupil (1983), and The Book and the Brotherhood (1987), her reputation as a serious, first-rate novelist was established. Critics have hailed her fiction for its intricate plotting, subtle symbolism, and philosophical complexity, and her nineteenth novel, The Sea, The Sea, published in 1978, earned for Murdoch the Booker Prize of that year. In recognition of her literary accomplishments, Great Britain’s “First Lady of Fiction,” as Murdoch has sometimes been called, was awarded a D.B.E. (Dame Commander of the Most...

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(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Backus, Guy. Iris Murdoch: The Novelist as Philosopher, the Philosopher as Novelist—“The Unicorn” as a Philosophical Novel, 1986.

Conradi, Peter J. Iris Murdoch: The Saint and the Artist, 1986.

Cummings, P.W. Review in Library Journal. XCVI (April 15, 1971), p. 1372.

Downey, Berchmans. Review in Best Sellers. XXXI (April 1, 1971), p. 8.

Hauerwas, Stanley. “The Significance of Vision,” in Vision and Virtue: Essays in Christian Ethical Reflection, 1974.

McClendon, James W. “Three Strands of Christian Ethics,” in The Journal of Religious Ethics. VI (Spring, 1978), pp. 54-80.

Todd, Richard. “The Shakespearean Ideal,” in Iris Murdoch: The Shakespearean Interest, 1979.