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Iris Murdoch (1919–1999)

Author of The Sea, the Sea

87+ Works 26,131 Members 560 Reviews 138 Favorited

About the Author

Iris Murdoch was one of the twentieth century's most prominent novelists, winner of the Booker Prize for The Sea. She died in 1999. (Publisher Provided) Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin, Ireland on July 15, 1919. She was educated at Badminton School in Bristol and Oxford University, where she read show more classics, ancient history, and philosophy. After several government jobs, she returned to academic life, studying philosophy at Newnham College, Cambridge. In 1948, she became a fellow and tutor at St. Anne's College, Oxford. She also taught at the Royal College of Art in London. A professional philosopher, she began writing novels as a hobby, but quickly established herself as a genuine literary talent. She wrote over 25 novels during her lifetime including Under the Net, A Severed Head, The Unicorn, and Of the Nice and the Good. She won several awards including the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for The Black Prince in 1973 and the Booker Prize for The Sea, The Sea in 1978. She died on February 8, 1999 at the age of 79. (Bowker Author Biography) show less
Image credit: © Steve Pyke 1990 (use of image requires permission from Steve Pyke)

Works by Iris Murdoch

The Sea, the Sea (1978) 3,573 copies
Under the Net (1954) 2,131 copies
The Bell (1958) 2,033 copies
A Severed Head (1961) 1,529 copies
The Black Prince (1973) 1,495 copies
The Unicorn (1963) 940 copies
The Nice and the Good (1968) 900 copies
A Fairly Honourable Defeat (1970) 823 copies
The Green Knight (1993) 807 copies
The Book and the Brotherhood (1987) 728 copies
The Good Apprentice (1985) 711 copies
The Sandcastle (1957) 691 copies
The Philosopher's Pupil (1983) 645 copies
The Italian Girl (1964) 634 copies
A Word Child (1975) 632 copies
The Red and the Green (1965) 536 copies
The Sovereignty of Good (1970) 533 copies
Nuns and Soldiers (1980) 530 copies
Bruno's Dream (1969) 523 copies
The Message to the Planet (1989) 486 copies
An Unofficial Rose (1962) 484 copies
Henry and Cato (1976) 474 copies
Jackson's Dilemma (1995) 466 copies
An Accidental Man (1971) 465 copies
The Time of the Angels (1966) 379 copies
Sartre: Romantic Rationalist (1953) 237 copies
Something Special: A Story (1957) 160 copies
A year of birds : poems (1978) 8 copies
O Sino 4 copies
Unicórnio 1 copy
Una cabeza cercenada (2023) 1 copy
Henry e Cato 1 copy
Hver tar sin 1 copy
Çan 1 copy

Associated Works

The Penguin Book of Irish Fiction (1999) — Contributor — 151 copies
Virtue Ethics (1997) — Contributor — 129 copies
Granta 111: Going Back (2010) — Contributor — 113 copies
Iris Murdoch, Philosopher (2011) — Contributor — 12 copies
Plato on Art and Beauty (Philosophers in Depth) (2012) — Contributor — 4 copies
Plays of the Sixties, Volume 2 (1967) — Contributor — 3 copies
O'r pedwar gwynt, Gaeaf 2019 (2019) — Contributor — 1 copy


Common Knowledge

Legal name
Murdoch, Dame Jean Iris
Other names
Murdoch, Jean Iris
Date of death
Burial location
Ashes scattered in the garden of Oxford Crematorium
Dublin, Ireland
Place of death
Oxfordshire, England, UK
Cause of death
Alzheimer's disease
Places of residence
Dublin, Ireland
London, England, UK
Oxford, Oxfordshire, England, UK
Oxford University (BA|1942|Somerville College)
University of Cambridge (Newnham College)
Badminton School, Bristol, Gloucestershire, England, UK
Bayley, John (husband)
American Academy of Arts and Letters (Foreign Honorary, Literature | 1975)
American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Foreign Honorary Member | 1982)
St Anne's College, Oxford University
Awards and honors
Royal Society of Literature Companion of Literature
Order of the British Empire (Dame Commander ∙ 1987)
Golden PEN Award (1997)
James Tait Black Memorial Prize
Man Booker Prize
Ed Victor
Short biography
Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin, Ireland, the only child of an Anglo-Irish family. When she was a baby, the family moved to London, where her father worked as a civil servant. She attended the Badminton School as a boarder from 1932 to 1938. In 1938, she enrolled at Oxford University, where she read Classics. She graduated with a First Class Honors degree in 1942 and got a job with the Treasury. In 1944, she joined the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), working in Brussels, Innsbruck, and Graz for two years. She then returned to her studies and became a postgraduate at Cambridge University. In 1948, she became a fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford, where she taught philosophy until 1963. In 1956, she married John Bayley, a literary critic, novelist, and English professor at Oxford. She published her debut novel, Under the Net, in 1954 and went on to produce 25 more novels and additional acclaimed works of philosophy, poetry and drama. She was elected a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1982, and named a Dame Commander of Order of the British Empire in 1987. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in 1997 and died two years later.



Group Read, June 2022: The Sea, the Sea in 1001 Books to read before you die (July 2022)
Group Read, July 2018: Under The Net in 1001 Books to read before you die (July 2018)
The Bell in Iris Murdoch readers (February 2018)
Musing on Murdoch in General in Iris Murdoch readers (October 2017)
The Nice and the Good in Iris Murdoch readers (February 2017)
The Italian Girl in Iris Murdoch readers (November 2015)
The Sea, the Sea in Iris Murdoch readers (September 2015)
The Sandcastle in Iris Murdoch readers (January 2015)
The Green Knight in Iris Murdoch readers (May 2014)
The Unicorn in Iris Murdoch readers (February 2014)
***Group Read, October 2013: The Bell by Iris Murdoch in 1001 Books to read before you die (October 2013)
The Book and the Brotherhood in Iris Murdoch readers (October 2013)
A Severed Head in Iris Murdoch readers (May 2013)
The Black Prince in Iris Murdoch readers (May 2013)
The Philosopher's Pupil in Iris Murdoch readers (April 2013)
The Good Apprentice in Iris Murdoch readers (March 2013)
Something Special in Iris Murdoch readers (March 2013)
Henry and Cato in Iris Murdoch readers (February 2013)
A Word Child in Iris Murdoch readers (February 2013)
Bruno's Dream in Iris Murdoch readers (February 2013)
An Unofficial Rose in Iris Murdoch readers (February 2013)
Henry Cato in Iris Murdoch readers (January 2013)
Murdoch & Mayhem in 75 Books Challenge for 2012 (December 2012)


Iris Murdoch takes you into the religious world of Imber Abbey, a cloistered community of nuns. This devout group is about to receive a long awaited bell to replace one lost to magic and mystery. The Bell's plot focuses on a cast of damaged people living outside Imber Abbey: Paul Greenfield, there to translate fourteenth century manuscripts; his wife Dora, there because she feels obligated to stay in a loveless marriage; Michael, the leader of the lay community; Tobey, a curious man about to attend Oxford; Catherine, a beautiful woman about to entire Imber Abbey; her twin brother, Nick, there to be close to her one last time; and the old Abbess, the wise and all-seeing head of Imber Abbey.
Lurking in the background of The Bell is the legend of the original bell named Gabriel. The story goes, as Paul relayed to Dora, a fourteenth century nun was supposedly having an illicit affair but could not and would not confess to it. Because he could not punish the singular guilty woman, the Bishop cursed the entire abbey, causing the tower bell, the aforementioned Gabriel, to catapult itself (himself?) into a nearby lake. The guilty nun was so distraught by this phenomenon she was rumored to have drowned herself in the selfsame lake. When Gabriel unexpectedly resurfaces, with the help of Dora and Tobey, each character wonders what it could mean to Imber Abbey and to themselves.
Confessional: The character of Dora confused me almost as much as she confused herself. I wasn't even sure I liked her. Extremely immature, she would make up her mind to not do something but then go ahead and the thing anyway (not buy multicolored skirts, sandals and jazz records, not go back to Paul, the abusive husband; not give up her seat on the train. I could go on). There is a dazed and confused ignorance to her personality that I found either charming or annoying, depending on the minute. Dora is described as an "erring" wife, but how errant can she with an abusive ogre of a husband? He is condescending and cruel, telling her she is not his woman of choice.
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SeriousGrace | 47 other reviews | Jan 30, 2024 |
The world is a strange and beautiful and frightening and tragic and painful and unknown and banal and crowded place. There are old friends and enemies, unfamiliar new places, angry scenes and everyday meals. There is the weather. And also seals and sea monsters (maybe), and deaths, kidnapping and attempted murders (maybe). And love and desire too, of course, but often mixed with misunderstanding, jealousy, obsession and dependency in complicated combinations.

All of that is to say that 'The Sea, The Sea' represents all of the above in a story bordering on the quixotic and surreal in places, but is shot through with enough of the quotidian to keep it from slipping entirely into magical realism.

The writing seems effortless, the pages practically turn themselves, even in the first quarter or so of the book when nothing much seems to happen - as you would expect in a tiny coastal village - where the protagonist and narrator, a newly retired theatre director, tries to escape from his previous life. A revolving door cast of characters from that life then intrude, and the tone eventually becomes more frenetic, chaotic and eventually darker - even 'mad' - as our unreliable narrator falls into a whirlpool of his own fantasies and the unclear motives of others. Tragedy, reconciliations and betrayals bring the curtain down eventually, and the end peters out ambiguously.

Just like life. Brilliant.
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breathslow | 93 other reviews | Jan 27, 2024 |
One of the Murdoch novels that I have enjoyed the most. One reason is the manageable number of characters. Another is the theme which Murdoch pursued through many novels, the nature of goodness. What especially happens when goodness is expected to exist in a world in which God has been left behind?
Disaster ensues when Carel, the priest who has lost his faith and has been shunted to a parish without a church, disintegrates mentally, morally and fatally, bringing down all those around him. They are left with remnant lives from which some form of reconstruction may be possible.
Fascinating writer of books that make a reader eager for another of her novels.
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ivanfranko | 9 other reviews | Jan 21, 2024 |
As usual a cast of dreadful people fall in and out of love with each other and ludicrous situations ensue. Its really enjoyable to read, but has a completely mad ending.
AlisonSakai | 12 other reviews | Dec 16, 2023 |


1950s (1)
1970s (1)


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