Iris Murdoch fans and scholars finally have an opportunity to read between the lines as fifteen volumes of the writer’s private journals, covering the period from 1939 to 1996, become available at Kingston University. The documents – which until now have been kept privately – have been donated to the University by Mrs Audi Bayley, the widow of John Bayley who was married to Iris Murdoch from 1956 until her death in 1999.
The gift also includes hundreds of unpublished poems, manuscripts, notebooks and letters, adding to the comprehensive collection already owned by the University which encompasses the late writer’s Oxford and London libraries along with more than 3,500 letters written by Murdoch.
University archivist Katie Giles said it was impossible to overestimate the value of the archive. “We now have the most significant collection of Murdoch-related material in the world,” she explained. “This latest generous gift of her personal diaries shows that Kingston University remains one of the leading global destinations for Iris Murdoch scholars.”
Among the collection is a journal from the 1980s which is packed with descriptions of domestic incidents and accounts of dreams. Most significantly, there are hundreds of cryptic comments on philosophy, theology, literature and the writing process itself.
There was quite a difference in style between the first and last journals, Dr Rowe said. “The first journal from 1939 captures the brief carefree period when Murdoch travelled the countryside with the Magpie Players – a group of Oxford students who performed ballads and songs,” she explained. By contrast, Dr Rowe added, her last entries comprised fragments of sentences that were written when Murdoch was in the grip of Alzheimer’s – with the final pages taking the form of letters, where she repeatedly wrote, ‘My dear, I am now going away for some time...’.
The procurement of the journals heralds a new collaboration between Kingston University and the University of Chichester which, in 2016, launched its affiliated Iris Murdoch Research Centre headed up by Dr Miles Leeson.
Find out more about the Iris Murdoch Collection.