Helen's Reviews > Iris Murdoch: A Writer at War: Letters and Diaries, 1939-1945

Iris Murdoch by Iris Murdoch
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's review
Jun 27, 2011

really liked it
Read in August, 2011

I love reading never-before published letters from writers of any age. These letters written by the British author Iris Murdoch are especially interesting as they come during a life-changing time in history: just before and during World War II when Iris was only in her early twenties. This book is neatly divided into three section: (1) Murdoch's diaries written prior to the war during a youthful summer jaunt around Britain acting in make-shift plays produced by herself and her friends/fellow actors (2) letters to and from her friend/romantic admirer Frank Thompson, a soldier who would die in the war (3) letters to (and one from) David Hicks, another soldier in the war who she becomes engaged to and then dumped by during the course of the letters.

For me, the letters to and from Frank are the most interesting. You see a lot more of Iris's intellectual and vibrant self in this section. Her letters to David -- mostly after Frank's death -- are more agonizing to read as Iris tries to draw the attention of a man who is evidently more interested in himself than her. You feel almost pleased by the end that she does not marry him; you feel certain they would have lead a Zelda/F. Scott Fitzgerald existence of constant fights and displeasure if they had. Unfortunately, you can only conjecture about David's involvement in Iris's life as only one letter of his is printed in this book. This is shortly after their courtship is cut off and he announces to Iris his intentions to marry the woman who would become his wife. I wonder if the letters David wrote to Iris still exist and if they do why they were not printed here. There is an unevenness to the third part of the collection because we only have Iris's portion of their correspondence.

Iris to Frank:

A letter from you, my old friend, has arrived, lamenting lost opportunities for youthful nihilism -- wrongly, I feel sure. A healthful nihilism can flourish at any age -- but only for the very young do certain aspirations & idealisations attain their perfect roundness & brilliance. We shall never feel complete that way again -- but it is good to have felt so -- tubers, perhaps, stored against this lean season when we are growing hard fibres & impenetrable bark.

(May 31st 1943 -- pg. 142)


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