Intimate life of controversial novelist Iris Murdoch unearthed at University

Intimate life of controversial novelist Iris Murdoch unearthed at University

Mon, 10/10/2016 - 09:20

Iris Murdoch research centre launched at the University of Chichester

The enigmatic life of novelist-philosopher Dame Iris Murdoch and the controversies that still envelop her work is the focus of a new research centre at the University of Chichester.

The foundation is the first of its kind to address the Irish-born fictionist whose provocative books confront the moralities of life through the exploration of good and evil, sexual relationships, and the power of the unconscious mind.

The research centre is a collaborative project between Chichester and Kingston universities which houses the world’s largest collection of Murdoch’s manuscripts and personal items. It is intended to bolster the intellectual strength of scholarship published about the author and highlight the impact of her award-winning work across British heritage.

Prized publisher

A deeply-original and exploratory writer Murdoch’s 26 novels, published between 1954 and 1995, revel in the ideals of love and desire, says Dr Miles Leeson of the University of Chichester who will lead the research centre. “Obsession is a constant thread,” he adds, “but characters are as infatuated with art as they are with sex.”

Dr Miles Leeson, lead director of new Iris Murdoch research centre

Those novels most celebrated included the 1978 Man Booker Prize-winner The Sea, The Sea, on the torturous neuroses of vanity and jealously, and The Black Prince which received the prestigious Whitbread award in 1973. “It is often forgotten that she was also an adventurous philosopher even if she denied her novels explored her philosophical observations,” says Dr Leeson, who is a senior lecturer in English and Creative Writing and one of the world’s foremost experts on Dame Murdoch.

“The fictionist is now widely recognised as one of the most distinguished and intelligent writers of the post-war period,” he adds. “Her philosophical works The Sovereignty of Good and Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals broke new ground in reintroducing ethics as topic for discussion within the British philosophical tradition.”

Chichester-Kingston collaboration

Iris Murdoch writing at her Oxford home in 1958

The launch of the research centre marks the start of a collaborative project between Chichester and Kingston University which itself holds extensive material from Dame Murdoch’s personal archives overseen by renowned scholar Dr Anne Rowe. The archive will continue to be developed by Dr Leeson with the help of Dr Rowe to provide not only a world-leading resource for scholars of Iris Murdoch's work but also for researchers on twentieth-century literature and philosophy.

Dr Anne Rowe, who is an Emeritus Research Fellow at Kingston University, said: “This collaborative project between the universities of Kingston and Chichester presents an exciting opportunity that will lead to the expansion of Murdoch scholarship worldwide. The alliance between the renowned Murdoch Archives at Kingston University, and the newly formed Iris Murdoch Research Centre at Chichester, is well poised to attract research funding that will suggest new ways of thinking about Iris Murdoch and strengthen an already vibrant global interest in her philosophy and fiction.”

Notebooks from Murdoch's embryonic career

The collection at Kingston presently holds the heavily-annotated library of Dame Murdoch's private home in Oxford and houses the archive of acclaimed scholar and official biographer Peter J Conradi. It also includes the many interviews and letters sent to significant figures peppered across Dame Murdoch’s life such as the Nobel Prize-winning writer Elias Canetti.

Dr Anne Rowe - Emeritus Research Fellow at Kingston UniversityNotebooks and other items within the archive - taken from the writer’s London home - include a published volume about seminal thinker Heidegger, a notebook on French philosopher Sartre, and more than 150 letters to American poet Roly Cochrane. Yet the most significant acquisition is, according to Dr Leeson, a run of 164 letters to the French writer Raymond Queneua scribed between 1946 and 1975.

“This is a crucial letter run which ranges over Murdoch's embryonic writing career, her emotional well-being, her thoughts on God, and on numerous philosophers,” he says. “It provides fresh primary source material for researchers wishing to track Murdoch's intellectual development and identifies previously undetected influences in her novels.”

Find out more

To find out more about the Iris Murdoch research centre including the research of Dr Miles Leeson of the University of Chichester visit Alternatively for more about the Iris Murdoch archive at Kingston University go to