October 22, 2017
Attending to Iris MurdochOn this day in 1919, the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin. Many of Murdoch's twenty-six novels present the horrors of modern egomania, so given the chance she may not have enjoyed all the attention that her life has received since her death in 1999: her husband, John Bayley's, Elegy for Iris and Iris and her Friends; Peter Conradi's authorized biography, Iris Murdoch; and the Oscar-nominated movie, Iris.
The movie was based on the Elegy memoirs, and Conradi was a friend of Murdoch and her husband; one common ground in all three works is water. In his review of the film, Martin Amis notes the prevalence of water imagery, and that one of Murdoch's more famous philosophical essays was "Against Dryness," as one of her most famous books, the 1978 Booker Prize winner, is The Sea, The Sea. Amis's review also forewarns of other water, as we witness how the abundant mind -- Murdoch was a professor of philosophy at Oxford, as well as a novelist -- is inexorably reduced by Alzheimer's Disease: "Hold yourself in readiness, too, for the floods of your tears."
In her journal, Murdoch says that her earliest memory, from the age of 3 or 4, is of swimming with her father. Conradi cites this, saying that "Swimming was the secret family religion." Bayley's Elegy begins with a skinny-dip memory from 45 years earlier, a hot summer's day at the beginning of their courting life:
I still have the half-slip, I rediscovered it the other day, bunched up at the back of a drawer, stiff with powdery traces of dry mud. It is faded to a yellowish colour, with a wrinkled ribbon, once blue, decorating the hem. . . .
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