Existentials and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature by Iris Murdoch (edited by Peter Conradi) - review by A S Byatt

A S Byatt

Her Philosophical Essays Changed Everything

Existentials and Mystics: Writings on Philosophy and Literature


(Chatto & Windus 546pp £20 order from our bookshop

Iris Murdoch has said in the past that her philosophy is quite separate from her novels. This is perhaps because she has a suspicion of the 'novel of ideas', and believes that the novel should be grounded in contingency, in the 'thinginess' of which she believed Sartre had not enough. Her novels are nevertheless peopled with philosophers, with people to whom serious thought matters, and who are changed by it. It is equally clear that one of her central concerns as a philosopher is art in general, and the novel in particular as a way of thinking, of understanding. When I first met her work, as a young student in the arid days of the 'angry young men', I was puzzled and entranced by a sense that there was more there, formally and conceptually, than I could account for. I wrote a book on her work, to try to

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