The Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies
- Significance of Iris Murdoch in the 20th Century
- Iris Murdoch and Kingston University
- The Conradi Archive
- The Iris Murdoch Archive Appeal
- Iris Murdoch's Oxford Library
- Examples of Research Significance of the Annotations
- Development of the Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies
- Donations to the Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies
1. Significance of Iris Murdoch in the 20th Century
Iris Murdoch is recognised internationally as one of the most significant British writers of the twentieth century. The last decade has witnessed a renaissance in Murdoch scholarship worldwide, largely due to the 'Ethical Turn' in literary theory - a return to the centrality of the relationship between ethics and literature which has become an established aspect of contemporary philosophical and literary debate. Murdoch voiced deep concern about the voguish theoretical trends that dominated the latter part of the twentieth century, fearing that the over-theorization of literary texts would obscure their moral status. She is now being cited as one of the Ethical Turn's leading thinkers and practitioners because of her insistence that the serious study of literature brings moral benefit to society as a whole.
This scholarly interest in Murdoch has generated four international events in the past year. The fourth biannual international conference on Murdoch was held at Kingston University in September 2008, and attracted over 100 delegates from Britain, the USA, France, Spain, Turkey, Norway, Sweden, Portugal, Georgia and Taiwan. The 16th Metu British Novelists Conference took Murdoch as it subject and was held in Ankara, Turkey in December 2008; the University of Barcelona hosted an exhibition on Murdoch between November 2008 and February 2009, and the University of Porto in Portugal hosted a conference on 'Iris Murdoch – Philosopher, Novelist' in February 2009. Dr Anne Rowe, the Director of the Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies was an invited speaker at Portugal and Barcelona and gives many public lectures on Murdoch's work, the most recent for the Literary London Society at the Institute of English Studies in Bloomsbury and at a Symposium on Simone Weil at the Institut Francais at Kensington.
A wealth of recent publications on Murdoch's philosophy and fiction includes the proceedings of the third international conference on Murdoch at Kingston University; Iris Murdoch and Morality, edited by Anne Rowe and Avril Horner was published by Palgrave in spring 2010. Iris Murdoch: A Literary Life by Priscilla Martin and Anne Rowe will follow later this year. 2010 has also seen the publication of Iris Murdoch: A Writer at War, a collection of Murdoch's letters and diaries edited by Peter Conradi, and Miles Leeson's Iris Murdoch: Philosophical Novelist. The quality and diversity of other recent publications in the UK and the USA pays testament to the intellectual strength and cosmopolitan nature of current Murdoch scholarship.
2. Iris Murdoch and Kingston University
Kingston University has an established research interest in Iris Murdoch. Peter Conradi, Iris Murdoch's official biographer is emeritus Professor here, the university is home to the Iris Murdoch Society, and Dr Anne Rowe, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies is the Lead Editor of the Iris Murdoch Review, published by Kingston University Press.
The following people lead Kingston University's Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies:
Iris Murdoch was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University in 1994 and study of her novels is an integral element of the University's English undergraduate programme. As a result of these connections, the university library holds an extensive collection of primary and secondary material relating to Iris Murdoch.
3. The Conradi Archive
In 2004 Kingston University acquired two important archives which provided substantial new resource material to add to its existing Murdoch collections. The first is the working archive of Peter Conradi, Iris Murdoch's authorised Biographer. This archive includes correspondence, typescripts, working notes, interview transcripts and cassettes, background research, press cuttings and reviews gathered during the course of meticulous research for Iris Murdoch: a life (2001) and for other essays and publications relating to the writer. The archive includes letters written by Murdoch and her unpublished book on Heidegger with holograph corrections.
4. The Iris Murdoch Archive Appeal
In the same year the University acquired Iris Murdoch's working library kept in her Oxford home, which was being sold by Rachel Lee Rare Books on behalf of Iris Murdoch's husband, John Bayley, for £150,000. The proceeds of the sale were to be donated to St Anne's College, Oxford, to establish scholarships in Murdoch's name.
A public appeal by Kingston University, with the support of the Iris Murdoch Society, secured donations of more than £40,000 from America, Japan, Europe and the UK. Financial aid also came from a £30,000 donation form an anonymous donor and a contribution of £20,000 by the Museum Libraries and Archives/V&A Purchase Grant Fund. Kingston University itself provided the additional funds in order to make a realistic bid for the archive, and it was successfully acquired by the University in March 2004 for £120,000.
These two working archives, and other material on or by Iris Murdoch are held in the University Archive and support the work of the Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies. The Centre was formally opened by John Bayley at the Second International Conference on Iris Murdoch held at Kingston University in September 2004. Since then, additions to the Murdoch Archives have included Murdoch's working library from her London home and a number of individual items and letter runs (a number comprising some hundreds of letters) from contemporaries and friends. The Archives catalogue is available online at kuadlib.kingston.ac.uk
5. Iris Murdoch's Oxford Library
The working library of Iris Murdoch is a major resource of published and unpublished material relating to her life and work. The collection comprises 1081 volumes including six manuscript items in Iris Murdoch's hand. One of these items, a notebook of 376 pages, contains extensive comment on a lecture given by Jean Paul Sartre in 1945.
100 books in the library are heavily annotated with textual markings and annotations which extend to closely written notes on multiple end papers. 141 books are moderately annotated, with textual annotations, markings, and in some cases notes on a few endpapers, and 195 books are lightly annotated, containing underlining, textual marking and in some cases isolated marginal notes.
The remaining 640 books have significance due to provenance and are marked with inscriptions to Iris Murdoch and/or the author's signature. The archive sheds light on the creative genesis of Murdoch's 26 novels and demonstrates her intellectual engagement with the work of many major twentieth-century writers and philosophers.
The contents of the library range through published works on philosophy, psychology, poetry, literature, art and travel. The annotations in many of the books are of significant scholarly interest potentially providing years of analysis and work for researchers. The Oxford library spans approximately sixty years through to Iris Murdoch's death in 1999.
The Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies therefore offers fresh primary source material for researchers wishing to develop new readings of Iris Murdoch's novels and seeking to track her intellectual development in relation to specific aspects of her philosophy. The collection has huge potential to reveal Murdoch's interest in and engagement with the ideas of authors such as Heidegger, Freud, Jung, Simone Weil, Wittgenstein, Plato, Sartre, Derrida and many other philosophers and writers, and will facilitate detailed investigation into Murdoch's interest in these thinkers and their influence upon her work. The eclectic nature of the library means that it should also be of interest to researchers in theology and psychology.
6. Examples of Research Significance of the Annotations
- In the manuscript notebook containing Murdoch's notes on a lecture given by Jean Paul Sartre in Brussels in 1945, there are long sections where Murdoch engages with Sartre's ideas about dreams and analyses his views: 'hence Descartes is wrong. Dream would lose its characteristic quality if taken as real.' She discusses in some detail the feeling of fatality that results from dreams, and how dreams are in tension with freedom. There are extensive notes about the blurring of reality and the imaginary that takes place in a dreaming state, and which provide opportunities for researchers to explore further Murdoch's numerous uses of dream and nightmare in novels such as The Bell, The Sacred and Profane Love Machine, The Sea, The Sea, Henry and Cato and The Green Knight. Murdoch's habit of recording the dreams, nightmares or visions of her fictional characters was sustained throughout her 26 novels.
- In Murdoch's copy of Plato's Timeus and Critias, which is only very lightly annotated, her minimal marginal notes are richly informative. For example, one of the notes on the endpaper simply notes '93. Colours'. On turning to this page, Plato's ideas on how experience of colour as a fourth type of sensation are detailed and then expounded over several pages. Also on page 93 a hard marginal line can be seen against a footnote referring to how the Greeks looked at the colour spectrum in ways very different to our own. The footnote cites Aristotle's Meteorologica III pages 4, 37b, 7ff. These minimal markings point toward substantial fresh source material for further research into the origins of Murdoch's aesthetics, her theories of colour, and may shed new light on the ways in which she infuses colour into the fabric of her novels, both to reveal the quality of consciousness of characters, and to evoke specific emotions and sensations in readers.
- Murdoch kept seven of Simone Weil's books in her Oxford library, all of which are now held in the Archives at Kingston University. They contain extensive annotations, underlinings and detailed notes from repeated readings which provide a sense of the extent and the endurance of Murdoch's fascination with Weil. These books are an invaluable resource for anyone researching the nature of Murdoch's engagement with Weil's ideas in both her philosophy and fiction.
7. Development of the Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies
Sponsorship is needed to assist the University in acquiring new material and developing access to the collections. An application to digitize the annotations in the Oxford library was made to the AHRC under the Resource Enhancement Scheme in 2006, but although the project was highly rated and obtained positive feedback, it failed to secure funding. However, further applications will be made.
8. Donations to the Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies
Kingston University welcomes the donation of any material relating to Iris Murdoch. Since the opening of the Centre in 2004 a number of significant letter runs have been donated or purchased by the university. Those who would like to donate letters, other memorabilia, or record their memories of Iris Murdoch, should contact:Katie Giles
Kingston University Archives and Special Collections
Kingston upon Thames
Email: email@example.comDr Anne Rowe
The Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies
Kingston upon Thames
Tel: +44 (0)20 8417 7012