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Elegy for Iris

(The Iris Trilogy #2)

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  1,603 ratings  ·  125 reviews
With remarkable tenderness, John Bayley recreates his passionate love affair with Iris Murdoch--world-renowned writer and philosopher, and his wife of forty-two years--and poignantly describes the dimming of her brilliance due to Alzheimer's disease. Elegy for Iris is a story about the ephemeral beauty of youth and the sobering reality of what it means to grow old, but its
Paperback, 288 pages
Published December 14th 2001 by Picador (first published January 1st 1999)
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Connelly I do not think there can be such a thing as a ‘full written story’ of Iris. ‘Iris Murdoch‘ is an imaginative construction, the work of many hands. You…moreI do not think there can be such a thing as a ‘full written story’ of Iris. ‘Iris Murdoch‘ is an imaginative construction, the work of many hands. You are on your own among the possibilities. (less)

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Average rating 3.64  · 
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 ·  1,603 ratings  ·  125 reviews

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Christopher Roth
May 06, 2012 rated it liked it
This book was already known to me as the memoir of Iris Murdoch's descent into Alzheimer's, written by her husband while she was still alive. (Never saw the movie.) I was less disturbed by the tragedy of Alzheimer's than by the unsettling dynamic between Iris and John and what it reveals about each of them—most of it revealed unwittingly by the author. It was already known that she continued to have a richly populated bisexual sex life after marrying John, but this is not what bothered me: after ...more
Jun 10, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Peggy by: Marcia Till
I had to switch my four stars to three, and I'm sure it's worth four or even five stars to most readers. It's just that I had difficulty getting through the random memories and ruminations John Bayley brings to this book. Again, I lay the blame on myself rather than the author who is obviously learned, highly intelligent and intellectual (although he spends much time downplaying or protesting this). It sometimes reads like a literary circles name-dropping fest, other times is so introspective in ...more
Aug 22, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: misogynists
John Bayley was told by a woman in similar circumstances to himself that “being married to someone with Alzheimer’s disease is like being chained to a corpse”. Unfortunately in this self-indulgent memoir of 40 years of marriage to Iris Murdoch it seems that Bayley himself has been the perpetual corpse, meekly and dutifully trailing along after his formidable wife and responding to her every demand. Even when she fully succumbs to dementia he fails to respond to the frustrations of the situation, ...more
Rebecca Brothers
Apr 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I read Iris Murdoch in college with my professor Dr. Roberta White. I loved Murdoch's brilliantly smart fiction. When Dr. White told us the author had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, my thoughts immediately jumped to the loss we would all have as her brain collapsed in on itself. I was dating the man who would become my husband, and I knew his grandfather had early-onset of the same disease. I had watched him try to talk to his grandfather, to reach the man he loved so much, and I had w ...more
Jul 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Bettie
From IMDb:
True story of the lifelong romance between novelist Iris Murdoch and her husband John Bayley, from their student days through her battle with Alzheimer's disease.>

Kate Winslet ... Young Iris Murdoch
Hugh Bonneville ... Young John Bayley
Judi Dench ... Iris Murdoch
Jim Broadbent ... John Bayley
Penelope Wilton ... Janet Stone

It's curious to see 2 characters from Dowton Abbey, Hugh Bonneviile and Penelope Wilton playing together in this movie. And Kate Winslet and Judi Dench are sp
In this poignant memoir, looking back to their meeting, "courtship" and marriage, Bayley eloquently describes his marriage to Iris Murdock as separateness, yet togetherness, each pursuing their illustrious academic careers.  Never overly romantic  but never estranged, it is a comfortable companionship, made up of common interests - a swim in the river ( they take their honeymoon on the continent searching for rivers to swim in, with delightful and comical experiences), radio broadcasts at luncht ...more
Jamie Collins
Mar 06, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
John Bayley’s memoir about his wife, award-winning author Iris Murdoch, who was still alive at the time he wrote this - but her mind was almost entirely lost to Alzheimer’s Disease.

I picked this up because I liked the movie; I watched the movie not because I’d ever heard of Iris Murdoch but because it stars Judi Dench and Jim Broadbent as the older Iris and John, and Kate Winslet and Hugh Bonneville as the younger versions. That’s a great team of actors, and the movie is good.

I found the book a
I only made it halfway through, but the first half's description of John and Iris' early relationship and early marriage felt intimate and very real. As a complete romantic, I found these pages simply lovely. I have not read any Iris Murdoch novels, but I want to now--and I plan on revisiting this book in the future someday (after I've read these novels). I'm just not ready to read about Iris' debilitating Alzheimer's and the strain it put on their marriage. Promising memoir! ...more
Cindy Jacobsen
Jan 23, 2015 rated it it was ok
This 'elegy' (a poem of serious reflection, typically a lament for the dead) certainly is a reflection of a life gone as it tells the story of Iris Murdoch by her husband John Bayley. It rambles around the years circling back to her Alzheimer's disease. For a relatively short book it felt like it would never end. ...more
D Dina Friedman
Feb 09, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: memoir
There are some lovely poignant moments in this book that kept me reading, but ultimately I found it disappointing. I felt that I was mostly being told about Iris, rather than really seeing their intimacy at work in real time. (In the few scenes where that was front and center, I felt much more connected). There's a lot of detail about people/places that aren't really brought to life, if you don't know or care about who they are. In fact, much of the book feels more like an internal journal than ...more
Nov 16, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, nursing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dec 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Elegy for Iris is, like the movie, like two stories wrapped into one.

The first is about the early days of romance and marriage for the book’s namesake, author Iris Murdoch and her husband and the book’s author John Bayley. The story starts in the 1950’s with them meeting and the nature of their relationship. Murdoch and Bailey’s open relationship and marriage was, what we would now call, polyamorous. That worked for them. At least according to what the author wrote, it did and there is no reason
Sep 23, 2007 rated it did not like it
Well, being that a movie was made out of this book I thought for sure that meant that it would be a decent book. Unfortunately I was wrong. I mean, come on. Judi Dench. Kate Winslet. Has to be good. Nope. This is a memoir written by the husband of Iris who is a victim of Alzheimer's. I have read memoirs, and I understand that a memoir is usual less captivating than a novel being that it is about someone's real life, but then minus the fact that this is not written by the person whom it is about, ...more
James Henderson
John Bayley's memoir of his life with Iris Murdoch, the renowned writer and philosopher is a beautiful but sad story. His love for her leads him to a luminous memoir of her brilliant life and their love for each other. He poignantly describes the dimming of her brilliance due to Alzheimer's disease. Elegy for Iris is a story about the ephemeral beauty of youth and the sobering reality of what it means to grow old; filled with touching moments that seem almost too personal but are beautiful anywa ...more
Sep 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Elegy for Iris is charming, heart-wrenching, and ultimately inspiring. John Bayley writes with great love about the quirky courtship and subsequent marriage he shared with his wife, the novelist Iris Murdoch. I was struck by what seemed to be Mr Bayley's own unreliable voice as narrator. I found myself aching to hear Iris's version of events. Of course that is the tragedy at the heart of the book; Iris Murdoch succumbed to Alzheimer's Disease. Bayley's great contribution are wry descriptions of ...more
Kris - My Novelesque Life

"A melodious, affecting tribute to one of the greatest writers of her time--now stricken with Alzheimer's disease--by her devoted husband of over forty years "I was living in a fairy story--the kind with sinister overtones and not always a happy ending--in which a young man loves a beautiful maiden who returns his love but is always disappearing into some unknown and mysterious world, about which she will reveal nothing." So writes John Bayley about his wife, Iris Murdoch, considered by
Kilian Metcalf
Dec 10, 2014 rated it it was ok
What an unpleasant and actually repellent read this is. I love Iris Murdoch's fiction and hoped to get some insights into her personality and writing process. Instead the book is a hodge-podge of unrelated anecdotes, mostly about Baylay's needs and interests. Do I really need to know that housekeeping, gardening, and personal hygiene were not a priority for them? Or that he had to wrestle her to get her clothing off so he could put clean clothes on her dirty body? Ugh. I know that living with an ...more
Jan 30, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
This was for me an introduction to Iris Murdoch. It was sad in a number of ways, firstly to witness such a brilliant woman becoming a shell of the person she was due to her Alzheimer's. I found the one-sided adoration of John for Iris sad, the fact that he could gloss over her apparent affairs, the squalid state of their house etc.

Once I started reading, I looked up references to people mentioned in the book, photos of their house and I've reserved a few of Ms Murdoch's books from the library.
Apr 03, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Rather than a discussion of the descent into Alzheimer's, this is a memoir of a much-loved companion, consort, and wife. Because of the location and the era, much of it was beyond my level of affinity, and I like to get inside a book and feel comfortable. This one didn't do it. The last couple of chapters were insightful, about the methods he used to try to keep the relationship real to him when she no longer was truly in the moment. ...more
Apr 21, 2008 rated it did not like it
Read a review in the Wall Street Journal - sounded great. So boring. No character development. Read it on an airplane and left in in the seat pocket (it was the closest thing to the trash without actually putting a book in the garbage).
Nov 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
Touching memoir written by Iris Murdoch's spouse, John Bayley, is a splendid window into her writing. It makes one want to read more of her books and wish there could been more. The author handles her darkening days fraught with Alzheimer's disease with grace, honesty and love. ...more
Mar 01, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, memoir
I found both Bayley and his late wife odd and unappealing.
Ruth Bonetti
Oct 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
So sad to read of the slow loss of a brilliant mind. Does it engage the "use it or lose it" (crosswords, foreign languages) line? ...more
Jul 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
2019 is the centenary of her birth. Twenty years have passed since Iris Murdoch died of Alzheimer’s disease. Her husband, Oxford literary scholar John Bayley (1925-2015), published this elegy for his wife in the year of her death. A copy turned up at our local charity bookshed and the time seemed right to end my reluctance to invade the privacy of a writer whose novels I read with pleasure. My copy (1999, St Martins Press NY), with its squarish format and subdued cover design in tones of cream, ...more
Wow. What a beautiful elegiac (true to title form) rendering of a life of a marriage.

Iris Murdoch and John Bayley are certainly not a typical couple; she, the more famous of the two, a master writer of the mid-century English novel, he an esteemed literary scholar. Both taught at colleges at Oxford, until Murdoch rescinded her position to focus solely on her writing. Bayley's observations and reflections of their marriage are absolutely touching. Though one might find their relationship dissocia
Sophie Glazer
Feb 25, 2021 rated it it was amazing
“I am sailing into the dark,” Iris Murdoch reflected in a rare, lucid moment. Alzheimer’s had already stripped her of her supple language, her penetrating insight, her winning social gifts, even her lifelong delight in the natural world, in birds and roses, in swimming. All she had left was a childish comfort in her marriage: she and her husband would watch Teletubbies together, would snuggle together, would talk baby talk with each other. And now and then she would, shockingly, be herself again ...more
Jul 15, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a hard book to read, but not for the reason I thought it would be. It wasn't Iris Murdoch Alzheimer's disease that was so hard to read about. It was John Murdoch's response to it that was hard. My father died of Alzheimer's disease last June; he had been an aerospace engineer, and had had a sharp, quick sense of humor. It was very hard to see my father regress into himself, but my interaction with my father wasn't about me. It wasn't about trying to make my father understand who I was, ...more
Alan L Terricciano
Although not a driving narrative, I think Mr. Bayley creates a rich portrait or Iris through his series of vignettes and images. This vividness coupled with a self-awareness about his own faults made the closing chapter, "Now," particularly potent in conveying the loss, frustration and horror of the disease. Having lost my father to Alzheimer's the book helped me understand my mother's response to my father's decline much more clearly. (I wouldn't recommend the book to her, however, because she ...more
Jeanne Mixon
Mar 15, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I'd been reading some Iris Murdoch novels and I wanted to know what her inspirations were and what kind of person she was because some of her characters are so rapacious and violent and extreme and I wanted to know where that came from. This is a difficult book for a 60 (soon to be 61) year old to read because looking ahead to the future can be a grim exercise. But it does answer broadly the questions I was asking and then some. Bayley does not wallow in a need for sympathy from the reader for h ...more
Warped  Warble
May 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I adored this book. It takes human experience up a few notches, the idea of two brilliant individuals forming into a couple, to while their time on the planet existing in an academic milieu and organically allowing a dilution of their fierce individual identities was a joy to read. Mr Bayley, an Oxford Don, was in awe of his brilliant wife Iris, even as he watched her wither away as a result of Alzheimer's, he seemed unsuccessfully clutching on to her erstwhile laurels. He always saw himself as ...more
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Professor John Bayley CBE, FBA, FRSL was a British literary critic and writer.

Bayley was born in Lahore, British India, and educated at Eton, where he studied under G. W. Lyttelton, who also taught Aldous Huxley, J.B.S. Haldane, George Orwell and Cyril Connolly. After leaving Eton, he went on to take a degree at New College, Oxford. From 1974 to 1992, Bayley was Warton Professor of English at Oxfo

Other books in the series

The Iris Trilogy (3 books)
  • Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch
  • Iris and Her Friends

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Happy Women's History Month! One of the undisputedly good things about modern scholarship is that women’s history is finally getting its due....
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