John Sutherland at The New York Times:
At 17, Iris Murdoch was asked what she intended to do with her life. She gave a one-word answer: “Write.” Sixty years on, what may have been Dame Iris Murdoch’s last coherent words as she was sucked into the darkness of Alzheimer’s disease were: “I wrote.”
She usually did it the hard way: longhand, preferably with a Montblanc fountain pen. Her writing encompassed 26 published novels as well as philosophical treatises, essays and, most time-consumingly, an ocean of letters. She dutifully replied to every one she received, unless they were “mad or spiteful.” Writing letters, Avril Horner and Anne Rowe note in their introduction to “Living on Paper,” their selection of Murdoch’s correspondence, routinely took up four hours of her afternoon.
They were not drudging hours. For Murdoch, there was a sheer joyousness in sitting down at her desk. “I can live in letters,” she told her oldest friend and sometime lover, Philippa Foot. She took pride in how good she was at it. “I have in fact only once corresponded with anyone (now departed from my life) who was as good at writing letters as I am,” she crowed to Foot — who was perhaps a little miffed at not being that “anyone.”