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Iris Murdoch

Philosopher / Writer

Born: 15 July 1919
Died: 8 February 1999
Birthplace: Dublin, Ireland
Best known as: Alzheimer's stricken author of The Sea, The Sea

Irish-English writer Iris Murdoch's long career as a novelist, playwright, critic and philosophy professor came to an end in the 1990s because of Alzheimer's disease. Murdoch was made a fellow in 1948 of St. Anne's College, Oxford, where she taught philosophy until 1963. Her writing career began in earnest after she made a splash with her 1953 study of the philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre. The next year she published Under the Net, the first of more than two dozen novels. From the 1950s through the 1980s she earned a reputation as a prolific writer and deep thinker, cranking out essays on the art of fiction ("Against Dryness") and moral issues (collected in 1967's The Sovereignty of Good and Other Concepts), and achieving success with novels such as A Severed Head (1961), The Sea, The Sea (1978) and The Good Apprentice (1985). Her novels are famously chock full of unlikely incidents and complicated storylines, and reveal a belief in the power of art and mythology as a tool to understand something greater than the self. Celebrated especially in England, Murdoch was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1987. In the mid-1990s she began showing symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, a development detailed in Elegy for Iris (1998), a book by her husband, writer John Bayley (the book inspired the 2001 film Iris). Her other novels include The Bell (1958), The Black Prince (1973), The Sacred and Profane Love Machine (1974) and The Green Knight (1994).

Extra credit:

The movie Iris (2001) starred both Kate Winslet and Judi Dench as the author.

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