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  • Published: 5 November 2015
  • ISBN: 9781448104925
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 688

Living on Paper

Letters from Iris Murdoch 1934-1995

Iris Murdoch’s life, in her own words, from her schoolgirl days to her last years


‘Destroy this and all letters. And keep your mouth shut’

This collection of Iris Murdoch’s most interesting and revealing letters gives us a living portrait of one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers and thinkers. The letters show a great mind at work – we see the young Murdoch grappling with philosophical questions, as well as feeling her anguish when a novel obstinately refuses to come together.

They uncover Murdoch’s famed personal life, the subject of much speculation, in all its intriguing complexity, and her penchant for living beyond the bounds of social acceptability. We also begin to see the 'real life material' that fed into her fiction, despite her claims that her fiction never drew on reality. Above all we see the accumulation of life – intimate, irreverent, fiercely engaged with the world – in this extraordinary collection of letters.

  • Published: 5 November 2015
  • ISBN: 9781448104925
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 688

About the author

Iris Murdoch

Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin in 1919. She read Classics at Somerville College, Oxford, and after working in the Treasury and abroad, was awarded a research studentship in Philosophy at Newnham College, Cambridge. In 1948 she returned to Oxford as fellow and tutor at St Anne’s College and later taught at the Royal College of Art. Until her death in 1999, she lived in Oxford with her husband, the academic and critic, John Bayley. She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1987 and in the 1997 PEN Awards received the Gold Pen for Distinguished Service to Literature.

Iris Murdoch made her writing debut in 1954 with Under the Net. Her twenty-six novels include the Booker prize-winning The Sea, The Sea (1978), the James Tait Black Memorial prize-winning The Black Prince (1973) and the Whitbread prize-winning The Sacred and Profane Love Machine (1974). Her philosophy includes Sartre: Romantic Rationalist (1953) and Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (1992); other philosophical writings, including 'The Sovereignty of Good' (1970), are collected in Existentialists and Mystics (1997).

Also by Iris Murdoch

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Praise for Living on Paper

Reading these letters is like living Murdoch's whole creatively, sexually and intellectually voracious life alongside her, and at breakneck speed. Thrilling

Sarah Bakewell, author of How to Live: A Life of Montaigne

Few writers comprehend the murky human messiness of desire like Iris Murdoch, or could plot like her, and these letters show us why. Her life -- the multiple lovers, the emotional strain, the terrible food, the nuns and prizes and philosophy -- was chaos. She'll always be my favourite writer; now I understand why

Charlotte Mendelson

This collection of letters provides a fascinating insight into the life of a complex and important novelist. It is a wonderful book

Alexander McCall Smith

We find a passionate engagement with the world of ideas, but most of all with friends, lovers, and pupils. These letters reveal Murdoch's extraordinary talent for affection, exuberant sense of fun, razor-sharp intelligence, and acute awareness of the transcendent

Karen Armstrong

A suprising glimpse into the life of the avant-garde author

Harper's Bazaar

An unprecedented exposure of the heart and mind of a major novelist and thinker (the author of 26 novels and three major works of philosophy) and a woman who lived a life of unusual intellectual and personal freedom

Anne Chisholm, Prospect

Deeply impressive


By turns, her letters show confidence, kindness and great consideration for her friends... For me, their real power is that they draw us back, irresistibly, to the books, her wonderful books... a vibrant portrait of this extraordinary woman


Fascinating... The letters are full of examples of her tolerance and her genuine interest in the inner lives of her friends. They can move engagingly from a rough, self-deprecating account of her failures and achievements to a series of penetrating asides about human nature and the power of art to illuminate it

Richard Strachan, Herald Scotland

The letters are fervent, philosophical, frenetic and witty... If there is an overarching message in this volume is is how far ahead of her time Murdoch was

Rivka Isaacson, Independent on Sunday

A compulsively readable volume... She was a star of the first magnitude in the intellectual constellation of post-war Europe... Iris Murdoch's letters are a testament to her determination not merely to lead the intellectual life but to enjoy it too

Daniel Johnson, Standpoint

Astonishing epistolary abundance from a woman who meant it when she told a friend that she could "live in letters"... Few books leave the reader with as dizzying sense of the need to question absolutely everything

Daily Telegraph

With their deep knowledge of Murdoch's life and work, the editors have produced an authoritative, readable and informative volume that contextualizes the writer's vibrant, intense, and sometimes slyly witty correspondence. ... An impressively edited, sharply revealing life in letters

starred review, Kirkus

A selection of Iris Murdoch’s most important letters… collectively they provide a fascinating insight into one of the last century’s greatest thinkers

Choice Magazine

Murdoch was not writing for posterity; she was writing for her friends, or rather as a way of maintaining her friendships, whether intellectual, passionate or both...the letters reinforce Murdoch's qualities as a person


Murdoch is an engaging, almost girlish correspondent, and the evidence here ranges from early letters written to a schoolfriend about pre-war London ... to her last confused words, written two years before she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's

Daily Telegraph

An intensely personal insight into Murdoch's romances and friendships, and the whirlwind of social life that she maintained over ther decades ... they frequently also underscore the genius of their author

Irish Independent

Exemplary... The reader grows up and grows old with Murdoch

Literary Review

The letters themselves have been selected with conviction and care...the overwhelming sense of this volume is one of richness

Times Literary Supplement


Justin Cartwright, Observer

Her mind, here as in everything she wrote, is formidable

New York Times

If Murdoch's letters shock, it is because her behaviour is perhaps exaggerated, but not unrecognisable. We can laugh at self-deceivers in her novels for the same reason: not because we are so constant, but because they flit from passion to passion merely more frequently than we do. If we look carefully at these contradictory, incompatible people - Murdoch's characters; Murdoch herself - we don't see strangers; we see ourselves

Miranda Popkey, New Republic


John Sutherland

Titillates on every page

Jon M. Sweeney, The Tablet