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Dame Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) was one of the greatest British novelists and philosophers of the twentieth century. She read philosophy at Oxford where she met and later married John Bayley, a literary critic and fellow novelist. So began a forty-year, intense and unconventional but happy marriage, detailed in the classic bestselling memoir Iris. Despite Iris’ extramarital affairs with men and women throughout their long marriage - which John always suspected - their bond was unbreakable, and his memoir beautifully captures their child-like moments of bliss: walking in forests, swimming together in streams, and sharing hot cups of coffee on crisp mornings.
These are touching but poignant stories with the knowledge that Iris and her grand intellect would eventually succumb to Alzheimer’s disease. John would care for her singlehandedly for five years, the last of which he writes about in Iris and the Friends that also describes her peaceful passing. Finally, he reflects on his bereavement and the void that is left when a soulmate departs in A Widower’s House. All three books are told by the person who knew Iris best, with gentle humour - at times unbearably moving - in his portrayal of a remarkable woman.
In 1998 John Bayley wrote a best-selling, critically acclaimed memoir of his wife, the great philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch, who had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease since 1996. At times unbearably moving, at times poignantly comical, this memoir provides a fitting memorial to Dame Iris. It is an enchanting portrait of a remarkable marriage and an inspiration for anyone whose life is affected by Alzheimer's.
Novelist and thinker Iris Murdoch died on 8 February 1999 after living for three years with Alzheimer's disease. Her husband, novelist and academic John Bayley, had previously written movingly of the impact of her illness in Iris: A Memoir. Iris and the Friends tells of the final year of Murdoch's life, when she was visited more by her own imaginary "friends" than by the exigencies of real life. It brings the story through Bayley's increasingly precarious hold on present reality, to his own breakdown, Murdoch's final happy weeks in a home for the terminally ill and finally her quiet death. Although ostensibly a sequel, it is more an exploration of Bayley's new friends: the memories that were sparked off precisely as Murdoch lost her own--of his childhood, army years, first loves and, of course, their marriage. But there are other "friends". At one point Bayley writes: "The old Eng. Lit. again. I taught it for nearly fifty years and feel detached from it now." Yet literature emerges here as the one remaining constant in his life. Scarcely two pages go by without a reference, almost involuntary, to Hardy, Coleridge, Austen, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, Thurber, James, Lawrence, Woolf or Murdoch. Sometimes Iris appears to respond to the shared literary in-jokes, but more often the pair become "two animals pushing together, nudging and grooming each other, grunting together as they bask in a mutual doze."
Since the death in 1998 of his wife, the novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch, John Bayley has given much thought to adjusting to his new, single status. As the carer of a victim of Alzheimer's, his was in many ways a double-bereavement as Iris, in the sense of the person who John Bayley met and married, very slowly departed this world some years before her physical death. A meditation on bereavement and loss written in John Bayley's inimitably sensitive and amusing style of reminiscence, Widower's House reads like despatches from another, gentler era.