Almost 100 books providing new insights into novelist Iris Murdoch’s life have been added to the University’s Special Library Collections. The literature, which once took pride of place in the late author’s flat in Kensington, London, includes 12 texts heavily marked with notes. They are expected to give researchers glimpses of Murdoch’s thought processes while she was creating some of her most critically-acclaimed works.
Senior lecturer Dr Anne Rowe said the latest acquisition was an enormous boost for the University’s Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies, which is already home to more than 1,000 books from the author’s Oxford library, an array of other manuscripts and letters and the archives of her official biographer, Peter Conradi. “Iris Murdoch made a major contribution to 20th Century literature and it has always been our goal to offer scholars from around the globe access to the most comprehensive range of information available as they explore her work,” Dr Rowe said. “We are now even better equipped to provide them with material to explore both Murdoch’s intellectual ability and lesser known aspects of her personality. This will, in turn, lead to a greater understanding of the 26 novels she produced before her death in 1999.”
The collection, purchased from booksellers Bertram Rota with the support of the Iris Murdoch Society, reveals more about the author’s interest in education and politics. It includes leather-bound versions of her 1978 Booker Prize-winning tale of love and loss, The Sea, The Sea, and The Good Apprentice, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1985. A cherished Bible bearing the inscription ‘To Iris, From Grannie, Christmas 1929’ is also among the contents. Another significant feature is a copy of Colin Wilson’s The Outsider, published in 1956, filled with hand-written clues to Murdoch’s influences at the time of writing The Bell, released in 1958.
Murdoch’s biographer Professor Peter Conradi, who is an emeritus professor at Kingston, said it was vital the collection stayed in the United Kingdom. “While the Oxford library gives a picture of Murdoch’s intellectual world, the acquisition of her London library gives us more of a picture of her social and family world,” he said. “The two complement each other and will be extremely useful for researchers exploring Murdoch’s motivations. It is a fantastic achievement to have been able to keep these works together at Kingston University.”
The collection is already inspiring researchers such as Frances White, who credits the archive with her decision to undertake a PhD looking at the concept of remorse in the author's philosophy and fiction. “Reading books from Murdoch’s personal collection, looking at her notes in the margins and discovering pressed leaves she used as bookmarks has made a huge impression on me,” she said. “The University’s collection is unparalleled and a rich resource for Murdoch scholars.”