Home News Prominent novelist Iris Murdoch commemorated with a blue plaque

Prominent novelist Iris Murdoch commemorated with a blue plaque

The Director of the Iris Murdoch Research Centre has welcomed the unveiling of a new blue plaque to celebrate her work. Dr Miles Leeson, Reader in English Literature at the University of Chichester, attended the ceremony today (Wednesday 19 June) in London.

The Dublin-born novelist and philosopher, Iris Murdoch, has been commemorated with a blue plaque at number 29 Cornwall Gardens in London, part of a grand Italianate stucco-fronted mid-Victorian terrace where she occupied a top floor flat. Murdoch loved London and, for more than 25 years, she would spend three days a week in this Kensington flat. London was the setting or part-setting for twenty-four of her novels. Murdoch herself referred to London as ‘another main character in my fiction’.

Dr Leeson said: “This Blue Plaque, being unveiled today in London, the fourth that Iris has received in the past five years in the UK and Ireland, stands as a testament to both her literary genius and her deep attachment to the city she loved best. English Heritage’s recognition of this firmly cements her legacy as the preeminent novelist of her generation, one of the most vital postwar philosophers, and a major canonical figure of the second half of the Twentieth Century. I’m proud to lead the Iris Murdoch Research Centre at Chichester, helping to develop her legacy into the Twenty-First Century; twenty-five years since her death her works stand as landmarks in British cultural history.”

Literary historian, author and Blue Plaques Panel member, Claire Harman, said: “During the time that Murdoch lived here she wrote some of her great ‘London’ novels of the 1970s; The Sacred and Profane Love Machine in 1974, A Word Child in 1975 and Henry and Cato in 1976. She really drew inspiration from London and I am delighted that we can celebrate her in return.”

Iris Murdoch remains an important and widely known literary and philosophical figure and she was highly regarded in her own lifetime. Having been a writer since childhood, she published 26 novels in all, as well as poetry and plays. Under The Net (1954) was her first novel and by 1958, with the publication of The Bell, the New Statesman was calling her ‘the foremost novelist of her generation’ while the Times Literary Supplement praised its rare conjunction of a ‘brilliant imagination and a passionate concern for conveying … moral concepts’.  The Sea, The Sea (1978) won the Booker Prize. Murdoch developed her philosophical ideas outside institutional academia and in a direction that was then counter to current trends. Responding to the horrors of the Second World War, she argued that morality was objective rather than subjective, as many of her contemporaries believed.

Other female writers commemorated by English Heritage’s London Blue Plaques Scheme include Ivy Compton-Burnett (also in Cornwall Gardens) Virginia Woolf, Frances Hodgson Burnett and Dame Agatha Christie. Out of over 200 plaques dedicated to notable figures in literature, only around 35 are dedicated to women and just over 15% of the thousand-plus official London blue plaques celebrate women: for the first hundred years of the plaque scheme’s existence, the great majority of those honoured were male. However, English Heritage’s ongoing ‘plaques for women’ campaign has seen a dramatic rise in the number of public nominations for women since it launched in 2016. Recent recipients of a blue plaque include Princess Sophia Duleep Singh, Jean Muir and Dame Barbara Hepworth. Nominations are the lifeblood of the London blue plaques scheme and if English Heritage is to continue to see a significant increase in the number of blue plaques for women, it needs more female suggestions.

The English Heritage London Blue Plaques scheme is generously supported by David Pearl and members of the public.

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