Iris Murdoch

Today is the anniversary of Iris Murdoch’s birth (1919). I have inflicted more than one of her novels on students down the years. For the second half of her career, one never had to wonder when her next book would come out; it would appear on the front page of the New York Times Book Review. It is not true, as one of my waggish friends claims, that she succeeded with Under the Net and then wrote it twenty-five more times. It is true that she wanted certain effects from fiction and knew how to get them. To get a sense of her range, I recommend four books: The Unicorn (1964), The Black Prince (1973), The Sea, The Sea (1978), and The Green Knight (1993). In that last one, she has her protagonist reading A Glastonbury Romance more or less every time we see her. The novel takes place over several months. The John Cowper Powys book in question is in excess of 1,000 pages. I know the feeling. Sly, that Iris.