Iris Murdoch: A Life, by Peter J. Conradi

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Iris Murdoch: A Life, by Peter J. Conradi

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1labwriter
Edited: Feb 26, 2013, 1:13pm

Iris Murdoch: A Life, by Peter J. Conradi (pub. 2001) showed up in my mailbox this morning, so I think this will be my IM for March (and maybe April--it's a hefty book!).

The book is 600 pages with a lot of notes and a select bibliography. He also includes pictures of the people and places in her life.

Conradi also wrote The Saint and the Artist: A Study of the Fiction of Iris Murdoch. He is also literary executor of her estate as well as a close friend from the 1980s and 1990s. Therefore, I'm not expecting this to be a warts-and-all biog. "Sympathetic" is probably the life I would expect someone in his place to write--which is fine. Everyone in the public eye who rates a biography deserves at least one affectionate tribute. I only hope that it won't be a hagiographic slog. Stay tuned.

2LyzzyBee
Feb 26, 2013, 2:18pm

It's not hagiographic at all, and it's very good. He's a lovely chap - he was at the IM Conference before last that I went to.

3labwriter
Edited: Feb 27, 2013, 12:50am

I should have said "hagiographic slog"--in my opinion.

Hi Liz! Well, I've met almost all of Willa Cather's biographers, and every one was a lovely person, in their own way (EVEN YOU, Sharon O'Brien!); however, they didn't all write equally lovely biographies. I'm keeping an open mind and looking forward to reading the book. I just like to know where a biographer is coming from: an authorized biography is usually very different from one that isn't authorized by the writer or family or writer's estate. But that's just my own peculiar thing--not everyone looks at that sort of thing or cares, particularly. "Different strokes," and all that.

4labwriter
Edited: Apr 5, 2013, 1:07pm


5rainpebble
Feb 27, 2013, 8:29pm

My copy of this one arrived in the post today as well lab & Lyzzy. I wanted a bio on I.M. and the thought within our little group was to go with this one. So I did. I will be reading this during March but I've already read my 2nd Murdoch of the year so:

"Feelin' alright, (uh oh)
Not feelin' too good myself, (uh oh)
Oh no, Feelin' alright, (uh oh)
Not feelin' that good myself, (uh oh)"

--Joe Cocker, Dave Mason--

Rather like reading an Iris Murdoch book, 'eh?

6LizzieD
Edited: Mar 2, 2013, 8:22pm

O.K. I'm weak. I ordered this one a bit ago too --- 28ยข + shipping/handling. Even if I don't read all of it, how could I resist?

7rainpebble
Mar 2, 2013, 11:17pm

Peggy........28 cents? NO SH*T? That is awesome!

8LizzieD
Mar 4, 2013, 4:35pm

Belva, it was the only "good" copy at anywhere close to that price. You can get a bunch of "acceptable" ones at AMP, but you have yours already, don't you?

9rainpebble
Mar 4, 2013, 7:29pm

I do have mine already Peggy and didn't pay but about 4 or 5 bucks for it including S. & H. But .28! Who even sees a book for .28? You rock!~!

BTW lab; really cool what you did with your photo of the book. I like it. It made me giggle.

Looking forward to reading this one when I finish my current book.

10labwriter
Mar 5, 2013, 8:17am

>9 rainpebble:. Oh good, I was hoping someone might get a laugh out of it.

11sibylline
Mar 9, 2013, 11:05am

Well, I just found this thread and I am so envious of all of youse with your 28 centers and all. I'm on a strict book intake regimen, but I think I will reserve this for April!

It's just like regular life, innit? There are people who think I'm marvelous and witty and talented and people who think I am the scum in the bottom of the compost bin. I do understand though, that biographers of all kinds tend to go through a period of 'disillusionment' with their subjects as they realize they are 'all too human' - well gee!

12rainpebble
Mar 9, 2013, 12:20pm

Lucy, I love your take on R/L and isn't it just so true? I just happen to be in the "marvelous and witty and talented" group when it comes to thinking of sibyx. I do wish that I could write about my reads much the way you do. So here's to you 'gel'!

13sibylline
Mar 9, 2013, 1:27pm

Oh Belva, your Joe Cocker quote was pretty fabulous and I didn't say that soon enough..... got so caught up in my brilliant metaphors.

14rainpebble
Mar 10, 2013, 4:03am

It quite suits I.M. readers, doesn't it? And your metaphors ARE brilliant.

15sibylline
Mar 10, 2013, 9:11am

I wish I could bottle your compliments for one of my bad days.

16rainpebble
Mar 10, 2013, 8:09pm

Just let us know when you are having a bad day Lucy. We can make it a bit better for you I am sure.

17labwriter
Edited: Mar 17, 2013, 12:34pm

I finally started the biography by Peter J. Conradi--Iris Murdoch: A Life, pub. 2001, 597 pages.

Here are some notes I made as I read the INTRODUCTION.

Happily, the book has all the elements I look for in a professional biography: notes, a select bibliography, and an index. When I start a biography, those are the first things I look for; if I don't find them, then that immediately puts a big red question mark (for me) over the entire work.

Conradi says this biog is the quest for "the living flesh-and-blood creature hidden beneath the personae in which many invested: the blue-stocking, the icon, the mentor and John the Baptist to other writers. . . ."

One task of the biographer is "to return the reader to her best work."

"Periodically rediscovering her own journals, Iris kept surprising herself: 'What an Ass I was!'"

I knew I had run into Iris Murdoch somewhere else: "Dorothy Thompson--sister-in-law to Frank Thompson, who loved Iris during the war." I'm betting Murdoch is mentioned in the Dorothy Thompson biog that used to be on my shelf and is now in a box--American Cassandra: The Life of Dorothy Thompson, by Peter Kurth (1991, 500 pages). {see ETA #2 note below}

An aside: I loved this biog of Dorothy Thompson, and hugely recommend it (particulary to the women who are choosing to whine about how women in the workplace today aren't getting a fair shake, referring to the recent commentary about the book by facebook ceo Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. I simply can't believe the level of conversation I've been hearing over this book--in 2013! You would think it was 1953). But I digress. . . .

Conradi says he wanted to write the first biog of Iris but not the last. "Closeness to one's subject is simultaneously a strength and a liability."

Having made a study of biography part of my master's thesis, I'm well aware of examples that show how some writers are lucky in their biographers--and some are not. Willa Cather, for example, was very fortunate to have James Woodress as her first and main biographer-- Willa Cather: A Literary Life (1987); Ellen Glasgow, a contemporary of Cather's, was probably one of the unluckiest. Her first biography was written by E. Stanley Godbold, Jr.--Ellen Glasgow and the Woman Within (1972). Her first biographer should have been Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of The Yearling. Rawlings would have written a sympathetic biography of Glasgow, in that she understood what it was to be an "older" female fiction writer. Also, Rawlings herself was such a character!--and she would have understood Glasgow's many eccentricities. Sadly, however, Rawlings died suddenly of a stroke at the age of 57. She had notebooks full of material for the biography, and those were given by her husband to some Florida university. And that's where Godbold found them--and that's what he used to write the biography, a decidedly unsympathetic and sarcastic piece of work. He was a young man with a fresh-minted PhD who was looking for a project, and he simply had no sympathetic understanding for his older female subject. IMO, that biography did a lot of harm to Glasgow's reputation, and it became one of the main reasons why her writing was never taken up and studied within the academy. (There were other reasons, but that damned Godbold biography was a big one.) All this is by way of saying that it's to be hoped that this 2001 first biography did Murdoch some good, and that, as Conradi says, it won't be the last.

A good biography is one of the first things to be done for a writer's reputation; another is a published collection of the writer's letters. Conradi says that "many" of her letters are in public collections in libraries "scattered worldwide." That was also the case for Willa Cather's letters--although even worse, she left an instruction in her will prohibiting the publication of or quotation from any of her correspondence. That prohibition has been strictly guarded by the family since Cather's death in 1947 (I do believe, that, with the passing of her nephew, the prohibition either has been or will be eased, so the Cather community is looking forward eventually to a published collection of her letters). However, the prohibition has been something of a huge negative in Cather studies, since what some biographers have done is to quote from the letters but leave off the quotation marks, as if that somehow makes quoting from them "legal." That has put other biographers and Cather scholars who have obeyed the restriction at a real disadvantage. The whole issue has been a mess and also something of a scandal in Cather studies. Hopefully those studying Murdoch will see that a good edition of her correspondence is published--ASAP. Ditto for her journals, if that hasn't been done already. There has been a bibliography of her work published, and that's a good sign--an important tool for Murdoch scholars.

I would also recommend to the Murdoch scholarly community that they take a page out of Cather studies and start creating something like what has been done for Cather, an outstanding example of its kind and excellent prototype for other scholarly literary communities: The Willa Cather Archive.

No matter who they are, a writer doesn't just magically continue to be read. The books must be available to new readers, and so they must continue to be published in new editions (consider that all of William Faulkner's books were out of print when he died); one generation of neglect can send a writer and their works into oblivion. A lot has to go right for an author after their death for all of this scholarly machinery to be put into place.

ETA: If you want another example of how a biography can destroy a writer's reputation, pick up a copy of Michael Schorer's biog of Sinclair Lewis--Sinclair Lewis: An American Life (1961, 894 pages) and/or read this review of the Schorer biog: "it would seem impossible that a mere biographer could effectively eliminate a popular and famous novelist; yet that is exactly what Mark Schorer managed to do."

ETA #2. This is the wrong Dorothy Thompson. See #36 below.

18LizzieD
Edited: Mar 11, 2013, 5:34pm

Yay, Becky!
My copy came today, and I may have to go ahead and start it. If only I could find a way not to want to read everything at the same time! I have glanced through all the pictures (my first move when I open a biography) and am surprised at what a pretty young girl IM was. I have a cousin with those same huge cheekbones, straight hair, rather short, square face. Occasionally, Millie is gorgeous; otherwise, plain at best. I hadn't thought until just this minute how much she looks like IM.
Anyway, thanks for your into to biography in general. I hadn't connected Frank Thompson to Dorothy, whom you may remember, I read about in a dreadful double bio with Rebecca West. I favorited your comments above so that I can get the better biography later when I need something new to read....or when I just want it. Never mind. A copy is available at PBS now, and I've snagged it.

19labwriter
Mar 11, 2013, 11:57pm

>18 LizzieD:. Peggy, oh, ugh, I'd forgotten about the Rebecca West biog. I think you read a different one, but I checked my books here at LT since the real books are in boxes, and I see that I abandoned that one. I didn't like her--not one bit.

I haven't gotten past the intro of the Murdoch biog. I have doors to paint for the upstairs rooms, and if I don't get them done I'm gonna lose it! I'm looking forward to this one--it looks pretty good.

20rainpebble
Mar 12, 2013, 12:07am

I have finished the intro to the I.M. bio and am just a couple of pages into the actual book. It's good so far. I am and have been looking forward to getting this one and getting into it. I am also reading something brain numbing (the need hits occasionally) so I will be bouncing back and forth.
I enjoyed your intro. Thank you for taking the time to take notes and do that post. I think I am too lazy for such. :-(

21sibylline
Mar 12, 2013, 7:08am

Wow, that was quite interesting B...... especially about the bio who ruins someone's reputation for decades (if not forever). You want a biographer to care about the subject, but not to protect them, but also not to completely destroy them either. Balance required.

22labwriter
Edited: Mar 12, 2013, 10:29am

I'll post things here by chapter--notes of things I find interesting as I read through this thing. Belva, I hope you'll add what interests you as well--or any comments--or anything!

>18 LizzieD:. I love your lament, Peggy: If only I could find a way not to want to read everything at the same time!

Chapter 1: 'You ask how Irish she is?' 1616-1925 (You have to love those inclusive dates!)

"Iris was, especially before her marriage, prone to humourless outrage about social and political issues--the wickedness of apartheid being one theme. . . . She also inherited from her father an intense radical individualism."

"Iris, direct heir to exactly such a tradition of stubborn, radical Ulster dissent, developed a 'faith' that emphasised the urgency and loneliness of the individual pilgrimage."

"Iris's formidable Aunt Ella"--she was a missionary with the Egypt General Mission. "She learnt and spoke good Arabic and 'used to teach the young Egyptians to love God'."

I like sentences like these: "The extended Murdoch family comes out as a very intelligent, middle-class organism, stuffed with independent minds, a model example of Protestant and British Ireland."

I have to admit to skimming the intense genealogy on her mother's side: "William left Drum Manor to his second son Alexander, who in 1682 married Margaret Goodlatte of Drumgally." Etc., continuing on for quite a bit. Heh.

Rene (rhymes with "teeny") had Iris seven months after marrying Iris's father, and lived with her in-laws. "Rene was beautifully made-up, cheerful and bright; she loved the coffee-shop, Cardews, in Kildare Street, where she went as a 'flapper'. Her new sister-in-law, 'wonderful' Aunt Ella, was bossy and critical and on occasion ungenerous, smiling but lacking charity. Rene handled the disapproval very well, with tact, patience, and good grace."

Iris was a much-loved only child.

"Irish Protestantism, Foster argues, even in its non-Ulster mode, is a social and cultural identity as much as a religious one. Some of its elements--a preoccupation with good manners together with a love of drama and occasional flamboyant emotionalism, a superstitious bent towards occultism and magic, an inability to grow up, an obsession with the hauntings of history and a disturbed love-hate relation with Ireland itself--can be found in Iris as in Bowen and Yeats."

Iris reports swimming towards her father in the salt-water baths as her first memory. "Swimming was the secret family religion."

"There seems never to have been a time when Iris was not capable of identifying with and being moved by the predicament of animals--dogs especially."

~end Chapt. 1~

23LizzieD
Mar 12, 2013, 2:58pm

I HAVE TO READ THIS NOW, having just glanced at "Swimming was the secret family religion."
Shades of Ennistown in *P'sP*!

24LyzzyBee
Mar 12, 2013, 3:20pm

Yes, when I learned that she loved swimming, a lot slotted into place. Also consider how many Morgan cars there are in the oeuvre ...

25sibylline
Mar 13, 2013, 7:09am

Oh I give up, time to order the book!

26labwriter
Mar 13, 2013, 9:20am

>23 LizzieD:, 25. LOL

27rainpebble
Edited: Mar 13, 2013, 2:45pm

This is rather a slow read for me as are a lot of bios because I don't want to miss anything. I am only up to page 28, topic 'You ask how Irish she is' and it seems the determining factor here is to disprove her claim that she is Irish or at least Anglo-Irish.
Iris was a cousin of Ethel Florence Lindesay, daughter of Walter Lindesay Richardson M.D. model for Richard Mahony in her trilogy The Fortunes of Richard Mahony and she wrote under the 'handle' of Henry Handel Richardson.
The book later claims that "Iris saw herself, like her friend from 1956 Elizabeth Bowen, as caught between two worlds and at home in neither." (the Irish and the "Anglo-Irish, which Iris called 'a special breed')

28labwriter
Mar 14, 2013, 7:54am

I'm with you, Belva. This is a slow read for me too.

29sibylline
Edited: Mar 14, 2013, 8:46am

I think I have The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney - I think Virago published it, but I don't think I have read it..... and maybe I gave up on it.... have to go look through my books. Virago has a wealth of wonderful novels by anglo-irish women.

Anglo-Irish is indeed a special breed - but important to grasp that it encompasses a diverse group of people, many of whom have been in Ireland centuries longer than any of us have been in the USA - it's about being the power group vs the powerless and religion and identification. There are some terrific books about the subject and I've read a few. The great Irish harper, Turlough O'Carolan, 1650-1720ish (exackly the same dates as JS Bach give or take a year) traveled about Ireland playing and composing mainly for the landed gentry and he angered some 'true' irish 'old' families by playing for the anglo usurpers, placed there by the Brits like Cromwell after they 'conquered' the 'savage' Irish. There were some earlier 'norman' families too who identified themselves strongly with the English monarchy/aristocracy and yet were Catholics. It's a truly fascinating subject that I've delved into here and there. In the troubles there were many 'anglo-irish' who were left alone as they were perceived as having been properly assimilated.

30sibylline
Mar 14, 2013, 8:47am

Yep, I has the Richardson.

31sibylline
Mar 14, 2013, 11:33am

OK it's ordered. I went for a nice hardcover for 6.25. I'm such a sucker for nice print.

32labwriter
Edited: Mar 15, 2013, 11:28am

From Chapter 3

Big surprise, Iris was surrounded by some fascinating women. One of them was her "formidable" Aunt Ella, a missionary with the Egypt General Mission, a woman who learned and spoke "good Arabic." It sounds as though Aunt Ella was something of a "personality," and she described Iris's mother this way: "Aunt Ella thought of Rene as having 'sluttish ways', a wife who could not even cook for her husband or keep a tidy house." I hope we hear more from her.

Then there was Miss Beatrice May Baker, known as BMB, the head of the Badminton School where Iris was a student. Conradi says that BMB was the first of a long series in Iris's life of "authoritative and influential surrogate parent figures"

Miss Baker had arrived at Badminton in 1911 at the age of 35 with her "great friend" Lucy Rendall who taught physical training. "She herself wore the free-flowing clothes associated with advocates of female suffrage, and, to the horror of some 'early Victorian' mamas, soon abolished the 'Sunday hats' and 'stays' alike." She was a "pioneering and dedicated educationalist of great moral courage . . . who had to fight her corner in a man's world, and of course risked becoming crabbed in the process." She was a tough disciplinarian, a feminist, a Socialist and a fellow-travelling Quaker.

33labwriter
Mar 15, 2013, 11:21am

I'm still reading through Chapter 3. Clearly the head at Badminton School, Miss Baker (BMB) had a HUGE influence on Iris. BMB lived well into her 90s, and Iris kept in contact with her all of her life. Conradi says that while Iris was at the school, she and BMB had a "deep rapport. . . . Iris took from BMB a strong intuitive sense of--and a missionary zeal about--the distinctions between right and wrong." Over many decades, Conradi says, the two of them would sit and discuss "the Good."

The fact that she was a powerful and domineering woman, described by some as a "high-minded bully," should be caution enough about not idealizing the woman. Iris says that she was "too impatient and frightening" to be a really good teacher.

In some ways, the discussion of BMB in Conradi reminds me of another educator, M. Carey Thomas, born in Baltimore to a Quaker family and president of Bryn Mawr. Their dates are similar: Thomas (1857-1935); Baker (1876-1973). If you have any interest in the women's university movement, or if you just enjoy biographies about interesting women, then I hugely recommend a fascinating biog of Thomas: The Power and the Passion of M. Carey Thomas, by Helen Horowitz. Horowitz clearly respects her subject, but she doesn't back away from the complexity of this extremely powerful and sometimes very nasty woman.

Conradi wraps up the chapter very awkwardly, as if he just wanted to be done with it.

34labwriter
Edited: Mar 16, 2013, 9:26am

This is strange. I thought I had lost post #34--and it seems to have shown up again. I recreated the thing here, so I'll just leave it.

Continuing Chapt. 3

Iris was clearly hugely influenced by Miss Baker. She kept in contact with her all of her life. Conradi says: "Iris took from BMB a strong intuitive sense of--and a missionary zeal about--the distinctions between right and wrong. They would sit and discuss the Good, a discussion that was to continue over many decades." BMB seems also to have been something of a bully, particularly with girls less gifted than Iris. Conradi: "BMB's possible unbelief did not stop her from laying down the law about how others should live. She was not an easy woman, and Iris notes that she was too impatient and frightening to be a really good teacher."

In some ways Miss Baker reminds me of another educator, M. Carey Thomas, president of Bryn Mawr. Thomas was born in Baltimore to Quaker parents. Their dates are similar: Thomas (1857-1935); Baker (1876-1973). If you're interested in the women's university movement, or if you just enjoy good biographies, then I hugely recommend Helen Horowitz's book, The Power and the Passion of M. Carey Thomas. This is a remarkable biography in that Horowitz treats her subject with respect and sympathetic understanding, while at the same time not backing down from a full portrait of this powerful and sometimes thoroughly nasty woman. Mine is the only review, if you follow the link.

Conradi ends the chapter very awkwardly, as if he just wanted to be done with it--or didn't exactly know how to wrap it up.

35labwriter
Edited: Mar 17, 2013, 8:36am

Chapter 4: A Very Grand Finale, 1938-1939

I'm starting to become very annoyed with Conradi.

Iris says she found her boarding-school days unnecessarily dreary. He doesn't expound on that comment.

The next sentence finds Iris at Oxford. Conradi has very little to say about what went into the decision for her to go there, except to say that keeping Iris at Oxford was "just ruining" her father Hughes. In what way--financially? He doesn't say.

Then he introduces Frank Thompson as if everyone in the world knows who he is. That may come from putting pieces of writing together to make chapters. It's really annoying, and I hope he doesn't do much more of it.

"To find out who someone is, Napoleon remarked, one must ask, 'How did the world look, around the time that they were twenty?' The twelve months before the outbreak of the Second World War were a time of intense hope and fear, anxiety and dread. The young were intensely stirred up."

"The dominant international issue was the Spanish Civil War, which ended only in April 1939. No other cause ever stirred comparable passions in Oxford."

Iris later claimed that the very first thing she did when she arrived at Oxford was to join the Communist Party (CP).

For those following along, I'm stopping for today at about page 90/597.

36labwriter
Edited: Mar 17, 2013, 8:37am

>17 labwriter:. My apologies for linking the American journalist Dorothy Thompson to the Frank Thompson and Dorothy Thompson mentioned in this book. I don't know what Dorothy Thompson Conradi is referring to, but it is obviously NOT DT the American journalist. That Dorothy's maiden name was Thompson, and she was born in Lancaster, New York. The Frank Thompson in Conradi's book is from a British family. This FT also has a sister named Dorothy, but the two Dorothy's are obviously two different people. That's what comes from having all of my biographies packed away in boxes and not being able to refer to them. Sigh.

37labwriter
Edited: Mar 18, 2013, 10:50am

I'm reading Chapter 6: "This Love Business," 1942-1943 and finding Iris and the war years quite fascinating. One of the frustrations I always have with biographies is the issue of a biographer referring to and characterizing correspondence that is unavailable anywhere to the general reader. As I mentioned above, that area of research/study/reading has been a huge issue in Cather studies. I'm enjoying these post-Oxford years during the war when Iris was working for the Treasury and living in London. Conradi references an important group of letters--between Iris and Frank Thompson. Happily, letters and diaries written by Iris have been published in an edition edited by Conradi: Iris Murdoch, A Writer at War: Letters and Diaries, 1939-1945. I just snagged an cheap inexpensive copy at Amazon.

On the one hand, Conradi says that Iris's letters to Frank have a tone of "Iris-as-perpetual-Head-Girl, a role she did not easily outgrow." On the other hand, he characterizes the letters as "gifted, energetic." I hope these letters to Frank are included in the book.

38LyzzyBee
Mar 18, 2013, 10:56am

Ooh if you get a copy with the footnotes gone wrong, let me know, because a friend of mine checked them in hers and I have a note of them. There are a couple that are cut off near the end. Other than that, it's a lovely book!

Oh weird, there are two touchstones for that. I thought I'd reviewed it and found I had http://www.librarything.com/work/9611230/book/64847285 Hm.

39labwriter
Edited: Mar 18, 2013, 11:15am

Thanks, Liz. That's an excellent review--I gave it a thumb.

So I just found another biog by Conradi: A Very English Hero: The Making of Frank Thompson. I grabbed a sample of it for my Kindle. It's not exactly cheap, so I'll probably wait to buy the thing. I imagine that I would find it to be interesting, based on what I've read about FT in the Iris biog.

Conradi is making for himself a little business with all of his Iris Murdoch research--and good for him. This is how it's done.

40labwriter
Mar 20, 2013, 7:53am

I didn't say anything here about Chapter 5, 1939-1942, the Oxford years.

Conradi tells us that Iris had two "immensely influential male tutors" (I guess we in the U.S. would call them professors). One of them was Eduard Fraenkel, exiled from Central Europe: "The Central European refugees that Iris admired, pitied and collected had lost their culture, their language, their homes, sometimes their families, their money, their professions, their way of life. These were wounded patriarchs, deprived even, in many cases of the ability to fight. The British attitude towards them was not uniformly generous. 'What are they doing, taking jobs away from our boys who are away at the front?' was a common reaction. Small surprise if some could be difficult."

Then Conradi says: "Fraenkel haunts Iris's novels."

Iris got on well with people at Oxford, but there were exceptions: "There were limits to Iris's popularity, constituencies immune to her charm. Enid Stoye, reading history, felt Iris despised her group of friends for their political conservatism and Christianity, and that Iris within herself stood apart from all groups. She and Iris disliked each other. Stoye felt Iris had a covering of ice."

It was also then that Iris made a lifetime best friend, Philippa Bosanquet, the "good sister" Iris never had, says Conradi.

41labwriter
Mar 20, 2013, 8:06am

I started Chapter 6 at #37 (1942-1943)

"The war, like the decade following it, was a period of sexual and emotional experimentation--something long claimed as a natural right by men, with whom Iris in some ways easily identified."

Conradi doesn't expound on this too much, but I think it's an interesting quotation.

42labwriter
Edited: Mar 20, 2013, 9:38am

Chapter 7: "A la Guerre, comme a la Guerre" (1943-1944)

Loosely translated: "Well, I guess we'll have to make due with what we've got, eh?"

She told Frank in her letters that she missed him, but "like all sensible people, I am searching out substitutes." Iris: "he is a fool who does not go ahead on the basis of what he has."

From her journal, 1977: "How the war changed my life I only now begin to see and feel." And later: "There is a kind of intensity, even rage, about that time when I had no notion what the future held."

Philippa Bosanquet--fall 1943, she moved to London. She worked as an economics research assistant "on the prospects for post-war European economic reconstruction with American capital." --Which is a rather hilarious contrast to something Iris wrote in a review published the same year in the Adelphi: "Christianity needs to condemn 'a disintegrating capitalist society which can offer only an endless prospect of exploitation and war'" (173).

Philippa and Tommy were lovers at the time when Iris and Michael were too (although Michael was something of a stand-in for Frank). While she was still with Michael, and although she clearly loved Frank from afar, Iris took up with Tommy. Philippa hated Iris's "careless cruelty" towards Michael, and one day fell in love with him "at first sight." You can't make this stuff up. In some ways it helps to make situations found in a story like The Black Prince a bit more understandable, and helps to answer the burning question: "Why would anyone write about this stuff?" Conradi says that while Iris doesn't mention the war in her fiction, the war informs all of her writing. My mother was born shortly after Iris, and I've read her diaries from that period. It must have been a strange and difficult and wonderful time to be young.

Chapt. 7 is another very long chapter, considering it covers a year or so of Iris's life, so I'll break off here (180).

43sibylline
Mar 20, 2013, 10:57am

Great work, Becky. My copy of the bio came today and I spent some time just now gloating over the photographs. My she was a comely lass!

44labwriter
Edited: Mar 20, 2013, 11:59am

>43 sibylline:. Yes, the photogs are good. She presents herself to the world quite interestingly, don't you think? Her mother was quite the "looker," and after a certain point in her life, Iris obviously declined to play in that arena--although she could have if she'd wanted to.

>42 labwriter:. I've been thinking this morning about her remark on how the war changed her life--and how it took her years to really come to grips with that ("How the war changed my life I only now begin to see and feel," written in a journal in 1977--she would have been in her late 50's). It's an issue I've been dealing with myself as I've entered my 60's--realizing how something early in my life had far greater repercussions than I'd ever realized. Why did it take so long to understand something so basic? I guess it's comforting to see that an Iris Murdoch--great mind and great thinker that she was--had something of the same sort of issue.

I've also thought many times how critical WWII was to my mother's development. She was a young 20-something and worked at a Naval base where the women were in very short supply. I think the whole experience was absolutely central to the person she became later in life. It's a fantasy of mine to wonder how different a person she would have been without those experiences that could have happened only in something like a wartime atmosphere (she was definitely the Queen Bee! of the base--I've seen the scrapbook--ha).

ETA. This is why I like biography--a study of a person and the influences on their life which can then be applied to your own life. That aha! moment when you find yourself relating in a personal way.

45labwriter
Mar 22, 2013, 8:10am

Chapter 8: A Madcap Tale, 1944-1946

"The period of 1938-56, containing especially the 'lucid abnormality' of the war years and their aftermath, resembles James Joyce's years in Dublin. The adventures of their youth, meditated upon and inwardly digested for the next forty years, provided both with the experience that their fiction shares with us" (201).

46rainpebble
Edited: Mar 23, 2013, 1:59pm

lab, I must say that I am loving how you are going chapter to chapter with us included through this book. I know that I for one, appreciate it. Thank you.

47LizzieD
Mar 23, 2013, 6:28pm

Becky, I seem to be deprived of reading time this past week, so although I've started *Iris*, I haven't gotten through the first chapter yet. I do have her born, but that's about it.

48labwriter
Edited: Mar 24, 2013, 6:12pm

Thanks for the kind words, Belva. And Peggy, I think I was laughing my way through that first chapter, going back practically to Cro-Magnon Man.

I found this yesterday in Chapt. 8, something she wrote about the characters in her novels early on: They "are like children--either they're dull & lifeless or else they give you no peace," . . . . "Trouble is, I get to love my characters too much--with the bad ones, I see so clearly just why they're like that, & that it isn't really their fault--& they become positively loveable & ruin all my plans." Then she wrote this in a 1946 letter to a close friend: "My characters seem to me a lot of silly spoilt nervy pseudo intellectuals without any real joy or real Angst in them."

I find both of those quotations interesting, since my main complaint about her novels so far is the unlikeability of her characters--the strangeness of them. Obviously she was quite aware.

Another thing I picked up from the chapter was a quotation from a letter where she was writing to a male friend, after being dumped by a man she had planned to marry, that she is now cured of her "infatuation." She obviously thought she loved this man before he sent her a "Dear Jane" letter telling her the marriage was off--but then refers to her infatuation rather than her love for him. --Which is interesting because that's another of my complaints about her novels: that for a writer who supposedly writes about love, as all of her admiring critics tell us, most of the characters and their situations in the books I've read so far seem to be in the throes of infatuation, rather than love. And so far I haven't seen any effort on IM's part to differentiate the two states. I may not be explaining myself too clearly. But has anyone else been bothered by this?

49sibylline
Mar 24, 2013, 9:47am

I think some of her characters do see the difference, doesn't make them more likeable though (Thomas in the one I just finished, for example). Also people seem to let an infatuation get in the way of a love they do hold for someone. And then there is possessiveness - that is a huge piece. She seems to show that those who truly love aren't as possessive or at least, they stop to ask themselves, am I trying to own this person, or do I love them, really? Not defending her really, because I do think she opts for leaving some of the deeper stuff implicit, british public school reticence, perhaps?

50rainpebble
Edited: Mar 26, 2013, 4:48pm

>48 labwriter::
I had to laugh reading that last paragraph regarding the "Dear Jane" letter. Not that it was funny, but I have been reading Pym and the paragraph so made me think of something she would have written about.
and
>49 sibylline::
She seems to know a great deal of the differing aspects of romantic love. And I don't know enough about her to know how much or how little experience she had with such.

Interesting notes, both ladies. Thank you. Lotz to think about.

51labwriter
Edited: Mar 24, 2013, 6:11pm

>49 sibylline:. As I read The Black Prince, I was struck by how all of the characters could be inmates in a lunatic asylum.

And here's a post I made when I was reading the book: Maybe I'm just too dense to get what she's doing here, but this relationship between Bradley Pearson and Julian seems to me to be nothing but silly infatuation--certainly not love. What am I missing?

Lucy, I'm sure some of her characters know the difference between love and infatuation; I just haven't met one yet. Here's hoping.

She leaves the deeper stuff implicit? Oh.

52sibylline
Mar 25, 2013, 6:57am

The abbess knows the difference, for example. (I think The Bell is the only book we have both read.)
Maybe reticence is a stupid word choice and maybe I'm making a bad generalization - I would say, for example, that Midge, Thomas's wife loves Thomas very much - even while she's infatuated with Harry - but there's no fireworks in it, so it would be easy to say, oh she just takes him for granted. Certainly in her infatuation she has lost sight of the other, which is not exciting. (Another firm Murdochian point I think - that real love is quite undramatic, might be watching your husband and son playing badminton, for example, from the window). People get bored and forgetful.....

53labwriter
Edited: Mar 25, 2013, 9:02am

>52 sibylline:. People get bored and forgetful.....

Good point, Sib.

54labwriter
Edited: Mar 25, 2013, 12:26pm

Something I didn't really expect. Conradi quotes from a 1982 letter from Iris to Susan Hill, a novelist I've been reading lately: 'These are images of human suffering, kinds of people that one has met. Such persons are windows through which one looks into terrible worlds' (241).

There's a note with this quotation, but it doesn't say anything more about the letter. It's not that I expect a biographer to add such things (we would get 2,000-page biographies if they did), but it's the kind of missing detail that drives me to go hunting for more information. However, since Susan Hill is still alive, it's not likely those letters from Iris are out of her hands yet. I wonder if Hill has written anything about IM? (See, that's why it can often take me a ridiculously long time to read a biog.)

ETA. Yes, this must have come from Susan Hill's 1982 interview with IM. I found the reference, but not the interview.

55LyzzyBee
Mar 25, 2013, 3:51pm

Susan Hill treats IM in a chapter of Howard's End is on the Landing, I think. However - HA - I'm not sure where that particular book is in the house right now ...

56sibylline
Mar 25, 2013, 5:28pm

Not on the landing?

57LyzzyBee
Mar 26, 2013, 2:41am

Actually, you know what: it might be. As Books On Books and Books On Language are there ... Hill decries having an organised book collection, but this might have saved her book from disappearing in my house!

58labwriter
Edited: Mar 26, 2013, 9:41am

I'm at Chapter 10: "Cambridge, 1947-1948. Every chapter since about chapter four has covered a year or two of Iris's life. Chapter ten is another one. I'm at 261/597 (almost halfway through the book) and Iris is only 28 years old. Do we really care that much about each and every man she looked at more than sideways all through her twenties? While the material isn't completely void of interest, I think the last 150 pages or so should have been slashed. Who were the important people in Iris's life? Surely not every man she met in her twenties was equally important as the next. We need some discrimination from the biographer.

For example, we meet someone Iris knew at Cambridge during this time named Georg Kreisel, "the eminent mathematical-logician-to-be," a research student at Trinity. Evidently Iris never let go of someone once she knew them. Conradi says she would transcribe his letters into her journals: "For half a century she nonetheless records variously Kreisel's brilliance, with and sheer 'dotty' solipsistic strangeness, his amoralism, cruelty, ambiguous vanity and obscenity." That's it. What am I supposed to get from that? Was he important to her? I guess so, if she transcribed his letters for fifty years. But I have no idea what I'm to make of that description of him, because Conradi makes no attempt to expand on it. He fills the biography with these kinds of details that end up having no meaning for the reader.

59sibylline
Mar 26, 2013, 10:31am

Hmmm - I could see IM keeping close tabs on a person like that given her interest in character - what people do under pressure, the bad things they do and the consequences, whether they show remorse, etc. He may be a model for one of her 'egomaniacs'? The question then would be, should Conradi speculate a little for us about why IM kept such close watch on some people who seemed otherwise to have nothing to do with her life..... So perhaps Kreisel is a 'specimen'?

60labwriter
Mar 26, 2013, 12:04pm

If she has half a century of Kreisel's letters transcribed into her journals, and Conradi has access to both the letters and the journals, and he's going to tell us that Kreisel was amoral, cruel, ambiguously vain, and obscene, then IMO it would be appropriate for Conradi to expound on all of that just a little bit. That's all I'm saying.

61sibylline
Mar 26, 2013, 2:24pm

Yes - no argument from me -

62labwriter
Edited: Mar 28, 2013, 11:01am

Finished with Chapt. 10: Cambridge, 1947-1948

Another long chapter covering about a year in Iris's life.

I like this: The philosophic concept of "contingency"--"meaning all that we cannot easily tame or make sense of, all that resists the desire for our story to take a particular shape, rather than stay open, undecided, unresolved. The ability to learn openness to contingency is a virtue her fiction and philosophy alike are famous for commending."

63labwriter
Edited: Mar 29, 2013, 9:13am

Chapter 11: St Anne's, 1948-1952

"Iris's plots--and opening chapters--sometimes present a Shakespearian 'court' so interconnected as to dizzy the reader, and demand concentration. In the interests of clarity, this biography follows a few strands only. The presentation of such interrelationships in fiction accurately reflects the extraordinary degree to which, mid-century, educated middle-and upper-class British persons knew one another; and also the complexities of family life after divorce became commoner in the 1960s and 1970s."

I'll bet Conradi has mentioned at least 100 names in this chapter.

64labwriter
Edited: Mar 30, 2013, 9:27am

Chapter 12: Franz Baermann Steiner, 1951-1952

Well, here's a chapter about this person, and Conradi doesn't give us a clue at the beginning who this is or why he's important. The way he's started this chapter, he could have written, "You all know the story of Iris and Steiner. Let me tell you a little bit about him." Consequently, I find myself having no patience with the numerous pages that Conradi writes about this guy before he links him to Iris.

"He became an eccentric Zionist who spoke Arabic and wanted a rapprochement between these two, as he saw it, colonized peoples, Jews and Arabs. The child of non-practicing Jews, he began to emphasize Jewishness." (I've given up on the British "s" in those words--my spell-checker changes them to z's.)

Big surprise, naturally, he was someone (else) she fell in love with. The tally must be around 250 or so by now. She was 33 years old the year that she knew him.

Conradi keeps mentioning this guy's heart disease and how much he wanted to quit smoking. He was older than Iris (but I would have to figure out how much older, since Conradi doesn't just say). --He was born in 1909, so he was 10 years older than she was. Thanks, Wikipedia.

I'm guessing this guy dies of a heart attack, and otherwise Iris might have married him--but that's conjecture.

He didn't want a mistress, he wanted to marry her. However, he felt she was afraid of marriage. Essentially she found herself nursing an old man with a bad heart condition.

He died at the age of 43--November 1952. Iris wrote in her journal that she didn't expect his death.

She was "demented with grief" after he died. She noted in her journal "how boring bereaved people are. They have only one subject."

~end Chapt. 12~

65labwriter
Edited: Mar 31, 2013, 8:42am

Chapter 13: Conversations with a Prince, 1952-1956

A chapter about Elias Canetti, someone with whom she had a three-year affair. "Soon obsessively in love, she noted that Canetti is 'the only reality these days'."

"He didn't think the universe a good place, and said the Day of Judgement would happen when the human race arose with one voice to condemn God--the Jewish God (Iris followed him in considering the Christian 'lie' about the conquest of death by Jesus deeply vulgar)."

That's literally the first line I was met with this morning when I opened this biog. Happy Easter.

66labwriter
Apr 1, 2013, 7:59am

Chapter 14: An Ideal Co-Child, 1953-1956

In which Iris marries John and Conradi mentions Iris's first novel, Under the Net. Conradi tells us that the male first person "liberated" Iris and that it was "no accident" that each of her first-person male narrators is the same age as Iris at the time of the novel's composition.

67labwriter
Edited: Apr 1, 2013, 9:46am

Chapter 15: Cedar Lodge, 1956-1961

"As well as feeling nauseated by praise of The Bell, Iris was generally fed up with her work, and 'sunk in a sort of mush of insincerity and imprecise thinking & facile success . . . . If I could only see how to get, in my writing, out of the second class and into the first.'"

Conradi mentions the next one, The Severed Head: some people missed the fact that the book was "unbearably funny."

Rebecca West: she would later say that Iris's book ends with the 'familiar feeling' after reading Murdoch that there is some 'central, large, and simple meaning which one has, somehow, just missed'.

It's a question I've found myself asking at times when reading Murdoch: Am I missing something? And I've invariably answered my own question--"No doubt."

68labwriter
Apr 3, 2013, 10:01am

Chapter 16: Island of Spells, 1961-1965

1963, Marshall Best, her American editor at Viking warned her: "I think you come near to justifying the charge sometimes made against you . . . that you are playing with your reader, deliberately holding back your meanings until he wonders if they are really there."

69labwriter
Edited: Apr 4, 2013, 12:53pm

Chapter 17: What a Decade! 1965-1969

This biography will be useful to students of IM's work, especially students writing essays about her; it will also be of use to subsequent biographers of IM or the people she was involved with. However, it's not the sort of "popular" biography that could be expected to attract a broad audience. The book has a good index, so it would be better used as a reference or a guide than as a biography to be read straight through for a clear or interesting discussion of IM's life.

This chapter is hugely long, hard to read, and probably of interest only to those who already know a lot about Iris's life and/or who are looking for a critical discussion of each novel. The discussions of her works are very hit-and-miss: some more detailed, more cogent than others. Conradi skips around a lot in this second half of the book.

He also throws in names of people that probably students of Murdoch already know; however, for those who aren't familiar with her life, he gives little help with who some of these people are and why they are important enough to appear in the biography.

David Morgan; Frederic Samson; Brigid Brophy--to name just a few of the people of Chapter 17, treated in paragraph-length or sometimes page-length format; but I honestly have no idea, after reading about them, how they fit into her life or what importance to give to each of them, except that BB seems to have been an important female friend. Conradi evidently expects the reader to remember all the people in Iris's life. If they're mentioned somewhere once, even if it's 100 or more pages past, he doesn't give a clue a second time about who they are.

I have about 100 pages to go, so I'll stick with this to the end, but I imagine that I'm in the minority of readers who would go that far with Conradi. I think the only reason I have any patience with this thing is because I've read literally hundreds of literary biographies--so I can say I've seen worse, but not often.

I would add, though, that this sort of thing is common in a first biography, particularly a literary biog. Conradi doesn't know how to write biography, but he has first access to her papers, so he's the one who writes the book. Better books about IM will probably be done one day.

"While welcoming the liberalization of the law against homosexuality, and (presumably) the abolition of hanging and the easing of divorce laws, Iris feared the erosion of authority the 1960s represented." That's it--no analysis or further discussion of that statement.

Merciful God, I'm finished with 17!

70sibylline
Apr 4, 2013, 12:16pm

I have been faithfully reading your posts, B. It's hard to know what to say, not having read it. And though I've read a fair number of biographies I don't know what you do. I do think, as you say, there is a place for this kind of voluminous all-inclusive biography, and that as you say, it will be more useful to scholars than interested laypeople like ourselves. I am thinking I will wait to read it now until I have read all of her books I'm going to read for the the time being..... enough so that I won't miss the references and will know as much as I can about her writing before I begin.

71labwriter
Edited: Apr 4, 2013, 12:51pm

>70 sibylline:. Well, maybe just a "waving hello, I'm here" is all I'm really looking for. Thanks for posting.

Here's what I consider to be an excellent example of a first (literary) biography, written by James Woodress, one of the first major Cather scholars to write about her: Willa Cather: A Literary Life. Mine is the only review. Only 20 LT members have this one in their libraries, a book published in 1987; so you can see that Woodress's book isn't a "popular" biog either (that is, one that is likely to be read by a general audience); however, it's given life to many subsequent biographies of Cather that are read more widely--and I imagine Conradi's book will as well.

I'm sorry if I've hurt anyone's feelings here or put people off with my posts about this book. That's not my intent. And I'm not meaning to set myself up as an "expert." However, I've read a good deal of these things, so I do have some basis of comparison. Read my posts--or not. For me it's mainly an exercise, I suppose. It's the way I have of getting through a book like this one.

72LyzzyBee
Apr 4, 2013, 1:00pm

This is so interesting - I found it quite easy reading but then have been immersed in IM's life and works for years. There are some extremely valid points here, I have to say.

73LizzieD
Apr 4, 2013, 2:22pm

I appreciate you too, Becky, because I am still intent on eventually plowing through it on my own. I've been picking it up as a bedtime book, and that's obviously not the way to read it - I'm on only page 42, and I feel as though I've been reading it for several months. She's still only in her first school at this point.
I am interested in your quoting Marshall Best on her withholding her meanings because I really, really wonder sometimes whether there's anything behind the - what? not flash - overwhelming verbalization (?). Anyway, that piques my curiosity. As to her fearing the erosion of authority in the 60s - that's an interesting question. Sorry that PJC didn't feel led to answer it. You have your followers whether we're your first concern in posting comments or not!

74labwriter
Apr 5, 2013, 8:53am

>72 LyzzyBee:. Liz, yes, I know what you mean. Back when I was studying Willa Cather, I felt like I knew the details of her life and family better than my own sometimes. I think it would take something of that familiarity for Conradi's book to be a pleasurable read. Of course there are gems here and there if a reader has the patience to find them.

>73 LizzieD:. Peggy, what happens to me when I read a sentence like that is that I want to find the original letter because I wonder about the context and what Conradi left out. Some of the Best / Murdoch correspondence is in the Murdoch collection at the U of Iowa.

Chapter 18: Shakespeare and Friends, 1970-1978

Here's a gem stuck into this chapter: "As for Iris's dress-sense, after marriage she gave up feminine impersonation." Conradi just sort of stuck that into the chapter. Just out of the blue. I guess in this chapter he's trying to get at the older Iris, and he's given up on his earlier chronological scheme--despite the dates heading the chapters.

He also writes about her angst and unhappiness in various social situations (no surprise)--and yet she would put herself out there, which is interesting. Quoting from her 1966 journal: "Too anxious, not virtuous enough. The 'nobody understands me' feeling. Nobody understands me, nobody. This is idiotic, but I feel it dreadfully. Well, usually it doesn't matter. Pain & restless haunted yearning."

I like this from Conradi: "Much loved by her friends, to whom she was unfailingly and fiercely loyal, and to whose tales she listened with seemingly endless patience, she remained a strangely isolated consciousness, who genius for relationship--like a therapist--did not always involve mutual exchange: 'I find it rather hard to communicate with other members of the human race at the best of times.'"

Conradi points out that none of her novels are narrated in the first person by a woman. "Those given to male first-person narrators are often her best." Conradi says that few women write with such conviction from the pov of male homosexuals, "and no other woman writer so well impersonates men."

"She wrote seven more novels after The Sea, The Sea. None sold as well, or arguably was as good."

75sibylline
Apr 5, 2013, 9:28am

Now I have to go and look at the chronology of her books. I couldn't stand anybody in The Sea, The Sea - makes it hard for me to judge how 'good' it was. I kept a certain distance from it the whole time. There were some preposterous goings on!

76labwriter
Apr 5, 2013, 9:32am

Chapter 19: Discontinuities, 1971-1978

"Iris found the idea of autobiography 'morally sickening'."

"She burdened no one with her creative (and seasonal autumn) depressions."

John calmed her down and cheered her up. "On the rare occasions when illness depresses his effervescent high spirits or renders him irritable, she feels 'bottomless gloom'." From her journal, 1968: 'Puss feeling ill & wretched. Says he hates life . . . I feel so miserable & can't work, can't even write in this diary.'

77labwriter
Apr 5, 2013, 9:36am

>75 sibylline:. Hi Sib. The book won the Booker Prize for 1978. Conradi says that someone she knew named Canetti (and there's almost a whole chapter about him in the book--what an evil-seeming person, in my judgment) "haunts" the novel, so it doesn't surprise me that you didn't like the people in it.

I'm not reading any of his criticism of the novels too closely--most speeding through that part. I'm more interested in Iris the person.

78labwriter
Edited: Apr 5, 2013, 12:37pm

Chapter 20: Icons and Patriarchs, 1978-1994

You get the feeling that Conradi is ready to wrap this up--very typical of so many biographies. The decline is difficult for many biographers to deal with, I think. His chapters keep getting shorter.

This chapter has more of the kind of thing I'm looking for when I read a biography. What makes this person tick, what singles them out, what makes them human, what are their contradictions, how do they react to life's inevitable changes.

One friend, an ex-student of John's, noted "the reserve which marked her natural dignity. She had no need to impress or prove anything, was an astonishing example of how to wear fame and assume the dignity of an elder, never for one second the grande dame.

"If the philosopher Martha Nussbaum was right to argue that her attitude to her own characters was one of 'disdain', that may be truer of some of her later novels--for example The Philosopher's Pupil (1983). After 1980 she sometimes became, like the ageing Tolstoy whose spiritual obsessions hurt his later work, too 'good' to be novelistically true. Her best work came out of struggle, discontinuity and self-division."

I love Conradi's tales of Iris rescuing small creatures--the Queen wasp, who they found and put outside, Iris hoping she would be alright; or the ants, rescued by her "from humans teetering down the steps. 'I say, old thing, do be careful'." John & Iris also took care of a "sick" bat--that one worried me a bit. Fortunately the thing died without biting them.

After having almost nothing to say about Iris's parents since Iris was about 12 years old, the year she left for school, Conradi writes very movingly in this chapter about Iris's mother Rene's old age and Iris's response to caring for and worrying about her mother. 1978--"The burden of worry and incurable sadness about Rene is with me all the time."

In their new home in Oxford (they sold Cedar Lodge because it had become too much for them), Conradi describes their home this way: "domestic arrangements remained idiosyncratic." I almost fell off my chair laughing at that one. Anyone who knows the movie Iris has had a good look at what the house was like.

Kate Kellaway did an interview with the Bayleys painting an "unforgettable picture of benign chaos." Then she wrote something later about that interview (Iris through the looking glass)--evidently she didn't realize during the first interview that Iris was suffering with Alzheimer's.

At the end of the chapter, Conradi goes back again to Iris's friend Canetti. I think this guy is probably central to Iris's life--she knew him to the end of his life in 1994. He seems like a such horrible man. On page 583 there's a scathing paragraph of Canetti blaming Iris for all his troubles with the world ("her vulgar success"--it goes on like that; what a nasty little man--jealous of her, Conradi says).

Conradi: "Where he can be felt behind a novel of hers, the sense of danger is unavoidable, disturbing."

79labwriter
Apr 5, 2013, 1:01pm

One more chapter--the end. I always feel badly for biographers when they get to the decline. Probably the only bad part of James Woodress's biography of Willa Cather was the end, where he found her to be so depressed by her old age. I have often wondered, considering Cather's writing and her letters from that time, if Woodress wasn't himself depressed by old age and ill health by that time and he was transferring it onto Cather--but I digress.

Chapter 21 'Past speaking of' 1994-1999

"If her affliction has the effect of unmasking one, then gentleness and kindness were her kernel. . . . Beauty of mind gone, that of spirit remained."

Iris: "Once I've finished a novel IT, not I is telling its story, and one hopes that it will--like some space-probe--go on beaming its message, its light, for some time." What a great quotation!

~end~

80sibylline
Apr 5, 2013, 5:28pm

Wonderful entries, these last few, I've read them spellbound after a long day of writing.... kudos for finishing and writing it up so well and generously.

Love that last quote.

81sibylline
Edited: Apr 5, 2013, 5:34pm

It's Elias Cannetti - here's an eye opener of a quote about the guy from an NYT article about the Conradi book from 2001 - I'll come back with a link to the whole article in a mo':

In 1952 Murdoch met Canetti, a prolific sadist with a mistress and a one-armed wife, Veza. Canetti's personality was such that someone suggested he himself had bitten off his wife's arm. After Murdoch and Canetti made love, Veza would cook dinner for them. ''He is a bull, a lion, an angel,'' Murdoch wrote of Canetti. ''He subjugates me completely.''

Canetti became the model for the enchanter figures in Murdoch's novels, among them Mischa Fox in ''The Flight From the Enchanter.'' She also gave some of Canetti's qualities to Arrowby in ''The Sea, the Sea''; like Canetti, he could not bear to spend a whole night with a woman.


Bit off an arm! Whoa!

here's the link to the whole article: here

I feel that I've read something of Cannetti's but I can't think what. I'll have to go poke around.

82labwriter
Apr 5, 2013, 5:41pm

Yes--he certainly came across as a very creepy guy, but it also made me wonder about Iris's taste in men!

Thanks for the article!

83sibylline
Apr 9, 2013, 2:02pm

I agree - it seems it was either fellow free spirit or dominance..... nothing in between.