The amorous intensity of Iris Murdoch’s letters


John Mullan New Statesman:

Letter writing was an important part of Iris Murdoch’s life. Avril Horner and Anne Rowe, admiring and conscientious editors of this large selection of her letters, tell us that “she would spend up to four hours a day on her correspondence”. She took pride in her abilities as a letter writer. “I have in fact only once corresponded with anyone . . . who was as good at writing letters as I am,” she told the philosopher Philippa Foot, who was her correspondent for half a century. Readers who dip into this large volume might be puzzled by the self-estimation. The brilliant thinker, witty conversationalist and powerfully idiosyncratic novelist are hardly here at all.

Murdoch moans about having to write philosophy lectures or prepare academic papers but there is hardly any philosophical rumination. She warmly praises the books she is sent by friends, but otherwise there is very little about what she reads or thinks. The only work of fiction she discusses in any detail is Watership Down (“the bunnies that I love”). The earnest PhD student researching Murdoch will have a tough job extracting anything about her literary intentions or intellectual development. She travels the world but, apart from when she finds herself surprisingly intoxicated by first Australia and then California, she invariably sounds as though she is somewhere near Oxford. She meets interesting and important people but they hardly get into the letters.

More here.