Description: Throughout her life, Iris Murdoch wrote thousands of letters. Mostly to friends and lovers.
Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin in 1919 to Hughes and Rene Murdoch. While still a baby the family moved to west London. In 1938, Murdoch won a place at Somerville College, Oxford, where she read classics. After gaining her first-class degree, wartime work in the Treasury ensued before, in 1944, she joined the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and was posted to Belgium and Austria, where she worked helping those displaced by the war.
Murdoch left UNRRA in 1946 and, after a year’s postgraduate studies at Newnham College, Cambridge, was appointed as a philosophy tutor at At Anne’s College, Oxford. In 1954, while still at St Anne’s, Murdoch debut novel Under The Net was published.
In a writing career that spanned over 40 years, Murdoch published 26 novels, five books on philosophy, six plays and two books of poetry. Her novel The Sea, The Sea won the 1978 Booker Prize and, in 1987, she was made a Dame. She remains one of the most celebrated British novelists of the 20th century.
1: This episode focuses on her years as an Oxford undergraduate when she was full of hope and political idealism.
2: In this episode, which embraces the years 1942-1944 when Murdoch was working at the Treasury, the letters to her Oxford friend, Frank Thompson, are particularly poignant.
3: Iris Murdoch had not seen David Hicks since 1938 when they were both at Oxford, but she continued to write until, in November 1945, they finally met up again. This time in London and with dramatic consequences.
4: For 30 years, the French writer Raymond Queneau and Iris Murdoch exchanged letters. The Frenchman was her muse and, in Murdoch’s chaotic private life, perhaps the one constant.
5: Iris Murdoch and Brigid Brophy had an intimate friendship for many years, but Murdoch’s letters reveal how volatile the relationship could be.
‘Frank Thompson is better known in Britain as brother of the historian EP Thompson, but in Bulgaria he is a national hero. Attached during the second world war to Special Operations Executive (SOE), he was parachuted into the Balkans to work with Bulgarian partisans; after two weeks of eating salted leaves and live wood-snails, he was captured, tortured and murdered by the Nazis.’Source
Raymond Queneau a French novelist, poet, and co-founder of Oulipo (Ouvroir de littérature potentielle), notable for his wit and cynical humour.
The music used on this programme is Near Light by Ólafur Arnalds