Literary world mourns as Iris Murdoch dies
TRIBUTES poured in last night for Dame Iris Murdoch, who died yesterday afternoon after a long struggle against Alzheimer's disease.She was born in Dublin but brought up in suburban London from the age of nine. Her childhood holidays were all spent in this country, however, and she always regarded herself as an Irish writer.
After entering a nursing home in Oxford a fortnight ago, she had lost the will to eat and drink. Her husband, literary critic John Bayley, was at her side when she died. She was 79.
Murdoch will be remembered as a novelist of ideas, a philosopher who wrote for the people beyond the senior common room. She won the Booker Prize for The Sea, The Sea and was put forward for the Nobel prize for literature.
But after the onset of Alzheimer's, the woman who wrote 27 novels as well as books on philosophy spent her last years contentedly watching children's television programme Teletubbies.
She married Bayley (73) when she was 34 years old. They met when he was a tutor at St Antony's College, Oxford, and she was a don at nearby St Anne's. He fell in love at first sight as she bicycled ``slowly and laboriously'' past his window.
Bayley, who wrote of her life and the progression of her disease in last year's Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch , said her death had been ``painless''. ``I was so happy that she was happy in a wonderful home, a nursing home. They were extremely good to her,'' he said. ``But she'd only been there a fortnight. She had been growing weaker and weaker. But it was such a painless death and I was with her. It was expected, but not as soon as this.''
Leading writers were among those expressing dismay at the news, offering tributes to Iris Murdoch, the woman and the novelist.
P D James spoke of her ``great sorrow'' at the news. ``She was one of the most remarkable novelists of her generation,'' she said. ``She had an extraordinarily fertile imagination.
``It is a grief to think she's no longer with us, no longer with us to write even though she had been ill for so long.''
Frederick Forsyth described her as ``one of the towering figures of fiction in our lifetime''.
Her death was ``a great loss'', he said, adding: ``She was a huge figure in contemporary fiction, one of the great novel writers we have produced through the last 60 years. I'm very sorry to hear that she's gone.''
Novelist Josephine Hart, a close friend since 1987, said: ``As a person, Iris was the most graceful human being I've met in my life. She had the deepest respect for every other individual person.''
Doris Lessing said: ``I'm very sorry. She was a fine writer. I'm very sorry she's died. What a dreadful loss.''
Another friend, John Grigg, the historian, said: ``Iris is one of those rare authors who have created a fictional world so vivid and strange that an adjective based on her name has entered the language. But she was even more rare in being a person who combined brilliant intellect and imagination with a marvellously warm and in many ways simple heart.''
Novelist Margaret Drabble called Murdoch a ``magical writer'' who had ``extraordinary'' narrative powers that gave ``such delight and pleasure''.
Malcolm Bradbury, who last saw her a year ago, said: ``I have known her for a long time and she was brilliant. She was one of the greatest British writers of the second half of the 20th century.''
( The Times, London)