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Tuesday, 9 February, 1999, 00:03 GMT
Iris Murdoch: A remarkable literary talent
Iris Murdoch gives a reading
Iris Murdoch tried to convey 'the unique strangeness of human beings'
Iris Murdoch had a literary career of remarkably consistent success. Her novels won numerous awards, including the Booker and Whitbread Prizes, and three of them were adapted for the West End stage.

She was born in Dublin of Anglo-Irish parents, and was an only child.

But she spent just a year in Ireland, apart from her early holidays, and was brought up in London.

She went to the Froebel Institute and to Badminton School before reading classics Somerville College, Oxford.

Iris Murdoch
Every book she wrote was planned in meticulous detail beforehand
After a spell at the Treasury during the war she spent four years working in UN refugee camps, before returning to Oxford to teach philosophy at St Anne's College.

She published her first book, an introduction to the philosophy of Sartre, in 1953, and 12 months later, at the age of 35, her first novel, Under the Net.

It was an immediate success, and was still in print 25 years later.

She followed it during the next few years with The Flight from The Enchanter, The Sandcastle and The Bell.

All Iris Murdoch's novels had solidly-constructed and complex plots and firmly-defined, if often odd, characters.

She once said of her work that she tried to convey the unique strangeness of human beings.

She departed from the Victorian tradition in her use of realism combined with fantasy, with elements of mythology, sometimes of a bewildering sort, and a strong philosophic atmosphere.

The Sacred and Profane Love Machine won the Whitbread Prize in 1974, and four years later she was awarded the Booker Prize for her 19th novel, The Sea, The Sea. She had been short-listed for the Prize several times.

Iris Murdoch also enjoyed success in the theatre. A Severed Head and The Italian Girl were adapted for the West End in the 1960's, and The Black Prince in 1989.

She was still writing in her late 70s. Her 26th novel, Jackson's Dilemma, was published in 1995.

She was a slow writer, and planned every book in considerable detail before making a start. Then she might produce two complete drafts and revise them considerably.

At the same time, her output was remarkably steady, nearly a book a year. A friend asked her once: "How long do you take off between books?", to which she is said to have replied: "About half an hour".

In 1956 Iris Murdoch married John Bayley, a tutor in English at New College, Oxford, and later Warton Professor of English Literature. She was made a CBE in 1976 and a DBE in 1987.

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