Monitor: Iris Murdoch - according to the world's papers

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The Independent Culture
WE HAVE known for some time that there would be no new work from Dame Iris Murdoch, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease. But her death on Monday provides sad occasion to look back over the British writer's intensely prolific and successful career as novelist, philosopher and academic. Murdoch will be remembered for her concern with social value, morality and the investigation of good and evil.

- Toronto Globe and Mail

SHE SEWED like mad, and wore plimsolls to ease the pressure of arthritis, not least when she went to the Palace to collect her DBE. She seemed proud that she could not type or use a word processor. She used a fountain pen for two drafts - "One should love one's handwriting," she used to say - and took the second draft in a plastic bag in order personally to deliver it to her publisher. She is read in Japanese and Russian and French, and belongs to her worldwide readership as much as she does to the British, who notoriously under-estimate their great artists.

- South Africa Mail and Guardian

FEW 20TH-century writers devote more space to physical description; faces, bodies, textiles and meals are endlessly described. Few serious literary writers are capable of writing as baldly and even as badly. Murdoch's prose can be diffuse, pedantic, graceless, weighted by multiple clauses and undermined by fussy little asides such as when a simple reference to apples becomes "apples (not Cox's Orange Pippins, which had not yet appeared in the shops)". She was also guilty of writing appalling dialogue - her characters engage in dialogue as spoken nowhere on earth except in a Murdoch novel.

- Irish Times

DAME IRIS Murdoch explicitly requested that there be no funeral or memorial service held in her honour. Ed Victor [her literary agent] said that his office had been inundated with calls from readers wanting to take part in some form of commemoration. He urged them to reread one of her novels instead. Mr Victor said that Murdoch may have left a vast archive of letters as she "spent hours writing an immense correspondence" but it was too early to tell. The author was constantly writing notes to people, said Mr Victor. The "lowliest person" in the agency would send her a contract and, instead of simply signing it, she would returned it with the most "charming note", thanking that person "so much for sending the contract".

- Times

ALTHOUGH SHE was made a Dame of the British Empire, she rarely garnered the attention given to gaudier contemporaries. Neither criticism nor praise seemed much to affect her. She rarely read modern writers, preferring the British and European novelists of the 19th century (Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Henry James, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky) with whom she felt a special affinity.

- New York Times

AS HER life went on, her books got longer. None of her later novels is shorter than 500 pages. Reviewers complained about her excesses, about her torrents of adjectives and about her heedless sentences. She was also taken to task for the elaborate patterning of relationships in her books, with everybody in love with everybody else. Malcolm Bradbury mocked her style in a single sentence: "Fiona says that Hugo tells her that Augustina is in love with Fred."

- Daily Telegraph

NOT ONLY were there Irish characters in many of her novels but The Unicorn and The Red and the Green are set in Ireland and The Book and the Brotherhood contains a scene set in Wicklow. Some people guffawed when they heard her English accent but part of Murdoch's inner world was absolutely Irish. Though living all her life out of Ireland she visited regularly. In conversation she spoke of Moll's Gap, The Forty Foot, asked about the Irish educational system, the English curriculum in Ireland, Cahal Daly whom she admired and President Mary Robinson whom she sent congratulations to on her inauguration.

- Irish Times

[JOHN] BAYLEY and Murdoch were married for more than 40 years, and their marriage was "the stuff of doting legend" in literary circles. Bayley had set out to be a novelist, too, but turned to criticism after marrying Murdoch in 1956 because, he acknowledged, she was just better at fiction. "Iris," he wrote, "was one of those meteors who are instantly recognized." In 1994, Murdoch said that her parents and her work were two of the most important things in her life. But the most important, she said, was her husband. "To have had a happy marriage," she said, "is a very good thing."

- LA Times

IT WAS not, in her view, the novelist's task to find a road map to the real. Rather than be statements of social and political criticism, she said, novels "should aim at being beautiful". Despite varied settings and symbols, many of her stories in one sense or another were about love, in its many guises and varieties. "No love is entirely without worth," she once said, "even when the frivolous calls to the frivolous and the base to the base."

- Washington Post

BRITISH NOVELIST Malcolm Bradbury said she ranked alongside writers such as Anthony Burgess and William Golding. "She belongs amongst the four or five great novelists of the second half of this century to come out of Britain."

- South China Morning Post