About Iris

Portrait of Iris Murdoch writing a postcard

"I’m profoundly Irish and I’ve been conscious of this all my life"


Iris Murdoch was born on Blessington Street, Dublin, in 1919, an inner city street just a stone’s throw from the fictional home of Joyce’s Leopold Bloom. Her parents moved to London when Iris was still a baby, but the family often holidayed by sea in Dún Laoghaire, just outside the capital. Murdoch tended to mythologise the land of her birth – for her, Ireland was ‘a land of spells’. She prided herself on imbibing a bit of an Irish brogue  – ‘I may have misleading Oxford overtones – but the vowels are Irish’. She was defensive with those who charged that she was not ‘really’ Irish, referring to herself as ‘Irish’ to the end of her life, in 1999.[1]

The Irish literary canon has not completely neglected Murdoch as an Irish writer - she was, after all, the first ever Irish writer to receive the Booker Prize. Still, though she wrote 26 novels and a book of poetry, her name does not spring easily to mind when recounting women Irish writers.

Even less well-known is her status as one of the most profound moral philosophers of the 20th Century. Together with Elizabeth Anscombe, Mary Midgley and Philippa Foot, Murdoch is one of a ‘Quartet’ of remarkable women philosophers who were undergraduates at Oxford together from 1938, when most of their male contemporaries were away at war. Together, through hundreds of books and papers, they came to articulate a new moral philosophy that was responsive to the horrors, the depravity and disorder, of WW2.


[1] See Anne Rowe, forthcoming, ‘Writing the Landscape: The Island of Spells and the Sacred City’