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Iris Murdoch Biography Hardcover – 4 Sep 2003
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Praise for "The Victorians" "The best single-volume work on the Victorian age yet written.' -- "Evening Standard" "A masterpiece of popular history." -- Frank McLynn, "Independent", Books of the Year "Wilson is incapable of writing a dull sentence. This is the history of a vanished world brought to vibrant life." -- Beryl Bainbridge, "Observer", Books of the Year
'A brantub of scandal and a comic masterpiece'John Carey, 'Books of the Year', Daily Telegraph -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine andere Ausgabe: Paperback.See all Product description
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questions of a private nature, knowing what a tangled mess he’d get into. The book therefore has a very improvised quality, unspooling random anecdotes of his many encounters with Murdoch, either privately or in the company of husband John Bayley.He starts off with Bayley’s biographical excerpts, 3 books, one of which ended up as the film “Iris”. He says he wants to correct the wrong impression these give of Iris’s life. He talks of his impressions of meeting Iris, reading her books, when she was at her peak, revealing her relationship to Christianity, God, Jesus, Plato, the Good and how these affected his own development as a writer, and as a believer who’s faith ebbed and flowed over time. Wilson was in awe of her major talent. Identifying themes in her best novels like The Black Prince, Henry & Cato, and The Word Child.He discusses her time as a philosophy lecturer which lasted for 15 years. Although Wilson thinks Murdoch’s ability to fluently write good novels is a central trope and to thinly disguise many of her friends and acquaintances in her fiction, he really gives room to appraise her ideas as regards religion, existentialism, love(human and transcendent), her relationship to Ireland, and her long marriage to Bayley. The marriage, which was thought perfect in the world in which they moved, was really a ramshackle container of half-truths, a platform from which Murdoch explored love with others(many), Bailey is depicted like a controlling, wily leprechaun. Bayley was a respected literary academic in Oxford University until the 1990s, writing many good academic works, and one or two novels. Wilson had an amiable relationship with Murdoch and had been taught by Bayley at Oxford. Both liked him.
In the book John Bayley has extreme right wing views and dislikes kids, never wanting to have any with Murdoch, though she confesses to Wilson she’d have liked children. Bayley stutters whenever he talks, and is rude about Iris when she becomes ill from Alzheimer’s disease. Their domestic arrangements are shoddy, with lots of mess everywhere, though they managed to entertain a lot of people at their houses.
John turns a blind eye to Iris’s infidelity, and she needs the stability and comfort of a steady partner who protects her . Wilson once intended to be a clergyman and the Bayleys were instrumental in helping him with this; though he lost his belief and gave up on this, becoming a teacher, novelist and biographer instead. In his meetings with Murdoch , he tapes their conversations for his ‘biography’ of her life. She divulges little, only externals and generalities. Wilson at times seems to be teased by the Bayleys, like the time he and John came upon Iris embracing on a couch at another university don’s flat, and their flustered reactions. Iris also hides the facts of her poor Irish relatives from Wilson, as if ashamed. Iris(and John) had a bad drinking habit and never cooked meals, just opening cans cold and having cold snacks. He depicts her writing persona as a lesbian sadist. Bayley admits to rarely reading her novels . Wilson suggests Bayley is envious of his wife’s talents and fluency at writing best sellers. Wilson’s reluctance to write the biography is due to Murdoch’s promiscuity.The Bayleys had a hand in Wilson’s 1st marriage. But when this was over he lost his enchantment in them, for religion and for Oxford. He shows this by revealing his dislike of Bayley, his destruction of Murdoch’s talent, and telling tittle-tattle about their life together, Iris being a Russian spy, her sloppy habits, and John’s cruelty.The book succeeds best when showing how her philosophical ideas inspired her fiction. It fails when showing Wilson’s spleen and petulance and himself too much. Perhaps it's never good to be too close to one's subjects.
A.N. Wilson's book purports to be a memoir of Iris Murdoch as she appeared to him during their long friendship (Murdoch, according to Wilson, actually wanted him to write her official biography but he held off, feeling that she would be too controlling, and in the end Conradi did it.) In fact, Wilson's book is as much about him and his life as about Murdoch. Chronologically and subject-wise it jumps all over the place, from an account of Wilson's days at Oxford when he became a friend of his tutor John Bayley, Iris's husband, to various memories of dinners with Iris Murdoch and John Bayley, a trip to a friend's wedding, some descriptions of Oxford college life and Wilson's marital crises, meditations on Iris as a philosopher, on her attitude to Ireland and on her inability to proof-read her own work, a short essay on why the novels don't quite hang together (unfortunately using one of the worst novels as his example!) and an ill-advised diatribe against John Bayley for writing his three 'Iris' memoirs, dealing with Murdoch's worsening Alzheimers and the aftermath of her death. This is the epitome of merry mean-spiritedness, with much malicious quoting of reviews about Bayley's books and suggestions that he only wrote them to 'get back' at Iris for being more clever than him. Yes, it's quite funny, but if you consider that Bayley was once a very close friend of Wilson it's quite uncomfortable reading.
There's much about the book that's absolutely hilarious. I still have a chuckle about the accounts of the Bayley's housekeeping: how they drank half a bottle of very expensive wine given to them by a friend and served the rest mixed with cheap Valpollicella at a dinner party, how John Bayley once cooked 'tapas': one half of a small pork pie plus two gone-off olives each, followed by one egg scrambled between four people, some cheese and biscuits, one Mr Kipling cake and lots of booze; how the couple couldn't get through a car journey without swigging weak gin and tonic from a thermos; and how Bayley took food from St Catharine's College with the chef's blessing and served it up one evening for dinner at his house, pretending to his guests that he'd cooked it. There are some very funny conversations recounted between A.N. Wilson and the Bayleys, a wonderful account of a row between Wilson and J.B. Priestly, and some witty portrayals of college life (does anyone actually ever finish dinner by saying 'consummatum est' as Wilson claims John Simopoulos of St Catharine's College did?) And though it has nothing to do with Murdoch at all, I've dined out for ages on the account of Wilson driving Philip Larkin all round Oxford to find whisky cheap enough for him to consider acceptable - Larkin needed a 'nightcap' after a boozy Oxford dinner. But despite all the humour, and some quite moving passages where Wilson shows that he was genuinely fond of Murdoch, and despite Wilson's sometimes refreshingly honest attitude to some of the writing in the novels (Murdoch got put on a pedestal for some years after the Richard Eyre film came out) this is, taken in all, a rather depressing read, due to the bitchy and somewhat self congratulatory tone of much of the writing. Yes, Iris Murdoch may have drank too much, ate a poor diet, enjoyed mythologizing her life, been a bad editor of her own fiction and not always washed enough; but do we really want to remember her for that when there were so many other interesting sides to her character? And however irritating Wilson finds Bayley, does he have to take him apart so extremely?
Good fun but I would say NOT to be taken too seriously - and NOT to be read all at once unless you want to end with a nasty taste in your mouth!
Much of the book is about A N Wilson himself, but that does not detract from it. It serves to give an insight into two lives rather than one. He is an avowed admirer and devotee of Iris Murdoch's works, but still retains sufficient distance to provide a critical evaluation both of the books and the author.
Perhaps what is most attractive is that he does not contain his passion, and it is the consequent revelations that make this book so enjoyable. A N Wilson has provided a very different style of biography, but a very special one. When I had finished with it, I felt that I had walked with Iris Murdoch for a while. To my mind that makes a great biography.
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