Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin in 1919 and studied Classics at Sommerville College, Oxford (1937-42). During the war, she worked for the treasury in London and lived with Philippa Food. Afterwards she went to Austria for UNRRA, working in a camp for Displaced Persons. In 1946 she was awarded a fellowship to study at Vassar College, New York but was denied a visa due to her former membership of the Communist Party. She held a studentship at Newnham College, Cambridge (1947) before becoming a fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford (1948-63). From 1963 she lectured at the RCA. She was married to John Bailey from 1956 until her death in 1999.

Murdoch is best known for The Sovereignty of Good (1970), a collection of three lectures which includes the famous ‘M and D’ example in which a mother-in-law comes to see her daughter-in-law justly. Her philosophy combines analytic method with ideas from Plato, Sartre and Freud. It has given rise to moral particularism and sparked interest in the ethical role of literature. She had great success as a novelist, winning the Booker Prize (1978) for The Sea, the Sea.

We’ve done our best to make sure this lifeline is accurate and complete. Please let us know if you spot any errors or omissions.


Jean Iris Murdoch (1919-1999)

(15 July) Born in Phibsborough, Ireland, to Irene Alice and Wills John Hughes Murdoch

Entered the Froebel Demonstration School, Roehampton

Joined Badminton School, Bristol, where she boarded until 1938

Attended university at Somerville College, Oxford, where she studied Classics She graduated in 1942 with first-class honours.

Joined the Communist Party of Great Britain, but left in 1942

Publication: ‘Midnight Hour’, Adelphi, pp. 60-1

Publication: ‘Rebirth of Christianity’, Adelphi, pp.134-5

(June) Began work for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA)

Publication: ‘Worship and Common Life,’ Adelphi, pp. 134-5

– Left UNRRA.

Began studying philosophy as a postgraduate at Newnham College, Cambridge. She was awarded the Sarah Smithson Studentship in Philosophy

Became a fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford, where she taught philosophy until 1963

Publication: ‘The Novelist as Metaphysician’, Listener, 43, pp. 473-6

Publication: ‘The Existentialist Hero,’ Listener,43, pp. 523-4

Publication: review of Simone de Beauvoir,The Ethics of Ambiguity, Mind, 59, pp. 127-8

Publication: review of Jean-Paul Sartre, The Emotions: The Outline of a Theory, Mind, 59, pp. 268-71

Publication: ‘Symposium: Thinking and Language’ (with A. C. Lloyd and Gilbert Ryle), Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume, 25(1), pp. 25-82

Publication: ‘The Existential Political Myth’, Socratic Digest, 5

Publication: ‘Nostalgia for the Particular’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 52, pp. 243-60

Publication: Sartre: Romantic Rationalist(Cambridge: Bowes and Bowes)

Publication: Under The Net(London: Chatto & Windus). Wins the runner-up prize at the Cheltenham Literature Festival

Publication: ‘Philosophy and Beliefs: A Discussion between four Oxford Philosophers’ (with Isaiah Berlin, Stuart Hampshire and Anthony Quinton), Twentieth Century, 157, pp. 495-521

Marries John Bayley, a literary critic and novelist

Publication: ‘Symposium: Vision and Choice in Morality’ (with R. W. Hepburn), Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume, 30, pp. 14-58

Publication: The Flight from the Enchanter: A Story of Love and Power(London: Chatto & Windus)

Publication: ‘Knowing the Void’, review of Simone Weil’s The Notebooks. Spectator, 197, pp. 613-4

Publication: ‘Let Them Philosophise’. Review of S. T. Coleridge, Confessions of an Inquiring Spirit. Spectator

Publication: ‘Something Special’ (short story) in Winter’s Tales 3 (London: MacMillan)

Publication: ‘Metaphysics and Ethics’, in D. F. Pears (ed.), The Nature of Metaphysics, (London: MacMillan), pp. 99-123

Publication: ‘Important Things’. Review of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Mandarins. The Sunday Times

Publication: The Sandcastle (London: Chatto & Windus)

Publication: ‘Hegel in Modern Dress’. Review of Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness. New Statesman, 53, pp. 675-6

Publication: ‘Existentialist Bite’. Review of E. Knight, Literature Considered as Philosophy: The French Example. Spectator

Publication: ‘Concepts or Blood’. Review of Colin Wilson, Religion and the Rebel. Manchester Guardian

Publication: ‘A Woman’s Don Delight’. In Cyril Ray (ed.), The Compleat Imbiber: An Entertainment(London: Putnam), pp. 193-6

Publication: ‘T. S. Eliot as a Moralist’. In Neville Braybrooke (ed.), T.S. Eliot: A Symposium for His Seventieth Birthday, (London: Rupert Hart-Davis)

Publication: ‘A House of Theory’. In Norman Mackenzie (ed.), Conviction (London: MacGibbon and Kee), pp. 158-62.

Publication: The Bell (London: Chatto & Windus)

Publication: Review of Boris Pasternak, Dr Zhivago.The New Reasoner: A Quarterly Journal of Socialist Humanism, 7, pp. 140-2

Publication: ‘Simone, Antoine and Anne’. A review of Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter. The Sunday Times

Publication: ‘The Sublime and the Good’. Chicago Review, 13(3), pp. 42-55

Publication: ‘The Sublime and the Beautiful Revisited’. Yale Review, 49, pp. 247-71

Publication: ‘Negative Capability’. Adam International Review, pp. 172-3

Publication: ‘Words and Ideas’. A review of Ernest Gellner,Words and Things. The Partisan Review

Publication: ‘Against Dryness: A Polemical Sketch,’ Encounter, 16(1), pp. 16-20

Publication: A Severed Head (London: Chatto & Windus)

Publication: An Unofficial Rose (London: Chatto & Windus)

Publication: ‘Mass, Might and Myth’. A review of Elias Canetti, Crowds and Power. The Spectator, pp. 337-9

Begins teaching one day a week in the General Studies department of the Royal College of Art

Publication: The Unicorn (London: Chatto & Windus)

The play of A Severed Head, adapted by J.B Priestley, opens in Bristol

Becomes the first woman to address the Philosophical Society at Trinity College Dublin

Publication: ‘The Moral Decision about Homosexuality’, Man and Society, 7, pp. 3-6

Publication: ‘The Idea of Perfection’, The Yale Review, 53(3), pp. 342-80

Publication: The Italian Girl (London: Chatto & Windus)

Publication: The Red and The Green (London: Chatto & Windus)

Publication: ‘The Darkness of Practical Reason’. Review of Stuart Hampshire, The Freedom of the Individual. Encounter, pp. 46-9

Publication: The Time of the Angels (London: Chatto & Windus)

The play of The Italian Girl, adapted by James Saunders, opens in Bristol

Publication: ‘Political Morality’, Listener, pp. 353-4

Publication: The Nice and the Good (London: Chatto & Windus)

Publication: Bruno’s Dream (London: Chatto & Windus)

Publication: A Fairly Honourable Defeat (London: Chatto & Windus)

Publication: The Sovereignty of Good (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul)

Publication: ‘Existentialists and Mystics’ in Essays and Poems Presented to Lord David Cecil (London: Constable)

A Severed Headis released as a film

Publication: An Accidental Man (London: Chatto & Windus)

The play, The Three Arrows, opens in Cambridge, starring Sir Ian McKellan

Publication: ‘Salvation by Words’, New York Review of Books

Publication: The Black Prince (London: Chatto & Windus). Winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize

Publication: The Three Arrows & The Servants and the Snow (London: Chatto & Windus)

Publication: The Sacred and Profane Love Machine (London: Chatto & Windus). Winner of the Whitbread Literary Award for Fiction

Publication: ‘Socialism and Selection’ in C. B. Cox and Rhodes Boyson (eds), Black Paper 1975: The Fight for Education

Publication: A Word Child (London: Chatto & Windus)

Publication: Henry and Cato (London: Chatto & Windus)

Made an Honorary Fellow of Somerville College, Oxford

Publication: The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists (Oxford: Clarendon Press)

Publication: A Year of Birds (Compton Press)

Publication: The Sea, The Sea (London: Chatto & Windus). Winner of the Booker Prize

An opera, The Servants, written by the composer William Matthias, and based on Murdoch’s play, The Servants in the Snow, opens at the New Theatre, Cardiff

Publication: Nuns and Soldiers (London: Chatto & Windus)

The Bell is adapted for television

Made a Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences

Awarded an honorary D. Litt. by the University of Bath

Publication: The Philosopher’s Pupil (London: Chatto & Windus)

Publication: The Good Apprentice (London: Chatto & Windus). Nominated for a Booker Prize

Made an Honorary Fellow of Newnham College, Cambridge

Publication: Acastos: Two Platonic Dialogues (London: Chatto & Windus)

Publication: ‘Ethics and the Imagination’, The Irish Theological Quarterly, 52, pp. 81-95

Named Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire

Her play, The One Alone, is broadcast on BBC Radio 3

Publication: The Book and the Brotherhood (London: Chatto & Windus)

The play of The Black Prince opens at the Aldwych Theatre, London

Publication: The Message to the Planet (London: Chatto & Windus)

Receives the National Arts Club Medal of Honour for Literature

Publication: Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (London: Chatto & Windus)

Awarded an honorary D. Litt. by the University of Cambridge

Publication: The Green Knight (London: Chatto & Windus)

Publication of Joanna, Joanna (London: Colophon Press with Old Town Books)

Awarded an honorary D. Litt. by Kingston University

Publication: Jackson’s Dilemma (London: Chatto & Windus)

Publication: Existentialists and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature (London: Chatto & Windus)

Publication: Poems by Iris Murdoch, Yozo Moroya and Paul Hullah (Okayama: University Education Press). This is a limited edition book, with only 500 copies published

Awarded the Golden PEN by English PEN for a ‘Lifetime’s Distinguished Service to Literature’

(8 February) Died in Oxford.


Sarah Lewin (25/10/16)

My name is Sarah Lewin. Last year, during my final year of study for a BA in Philosophy at Durham, I was fortunate enough to begin working on the In Parenthesis project, as a Research Associate. My fundamental task was to compile comprehensive timelines for each of the women studied by the project: Mary Midgley, Philippa Foot, Elizabeth Anscombe, Iris Murdoch and Mary Warnock. These timelines aimed to chronicle all the significant life events and philosophical publications of the women, as well as any details of their interactions with one another. As straightforward as this task initially sounded, compiling the timelines proved to be much more challenging than anticipated. Each of the women were incredibly prolific, with Mary Midgley in particular producing 4-5 philosophical essays and reviews each month, from the early 1970’s, until present. The other four women had similarly staggering bibliographies to contend with, and many hours were spent consolidating this information into cohesive chronologies. Ultimately, I wanted to make the timelines as accurate as possible, and spent a great deal of time tracing each publication back to its original source, in order to ensure that all the bibliographical information presented in my work was correct. Despite being challenging, it was an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to research these incredible women, and to gain an insight into both their personal, and academic lives. Perhaps the greatest pleasure of all was hearing that Mary Midgley herself had read my chronicle of her life and works, and was able to add a few personal details that were not available through any amount of research. This additional input from Midgley ensures that her completed timeline offers a significantly comprehensive biographical account, and I am confident that the other four timelines are similarly illuminating, and accurate. Above all, the opportunity to do my own research for the In Parenthesis project has really confirmed to me that philosophy is something I would love to continue pursuing. This year I will be returning to Durham to do an MA in philosophy, and my work on the project has undoubtedly been a great factor in the success of my application. I’ve also been very fortunate to receive a scholarship from Durham University to help cover the tuition fees, and again, I am grateful to the In Parenthesis project for putting me in such a strong position for this award.