Sep 012012
Dame Iris Murdoch

Dame Iris Murdoch enjoyed an intense 60-year romance with one of her closest friends, a collection of newly-released letters has revealed.

The 250 letters, spanning half a century from the 1940s to the 1990s, were written by Murdoch to philosopher Philippa Foot, her longtime friend and confidante.

The depth of the relationship between the pair came to light after the collection was bought by Kingston University’s Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies.

Dame Iris Murdoch with her husband, author John Bayley

Dame Iris is regarded as one of Britain’s finest authors. She wrote 26 books, including Under the Cut and The Sea, The Sea during a long career.

She was portrayed by Kate Winslet and Dame Judi Dench in the 2001 film iris, which charts her battle with dementia and death in 1999.

Murdoch and Foot – who died in 2010 – met in the 1940s when they were studying at Oxford University together.

They had a brief affair in the 1960s, before both marrying; Murdoch to novelist John Bayley and Foot to historian M.R.D Foot.

But they remained close.

The collection can be viewed at Kingston University’s Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies

One letter, from the late 1950s, addresses a fall-out between the pair,which left them estranged for a period of time.

Murdoch wrote: ‘Losing you, and losing you in that way, was one of the worst things that ever happened to me. I hope very much that we can now recapture something. I have thought of you so much in these years and dreamed painfully of you too. I would entirely wish only to speak to you from the heart.’

A decade later, after their relationship became more intimate, she wrote: ‘Sometimes I feel I have to invent a language to talk to you in, though my heart is very full of definite things to say. You stir some very deep part of my soul. Be patient with me and don’t be angry with my peculiarities. I love you very much.’

Kingston University paid £107,000 for the collection, funded by a Heritage Lottery Fund grant.

Dr Anne Rowe, director of the Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies, said the letters provided a rare insight into the author’s private life and thoughts.

Philippa Foot, who died in 2010. The pair met in the 1940s when they were studying at Oxford University

She said: ‘They hold particular human interest because of the intense personal relationship between the two women who first met as undergraduates at Somerville College, Oxford.

‘They went through all the ups and downs of friendship together but they remained very close for six decades. In the final stages of Murdoch’s illness, Philippa was one of the few people apart from Murdoch’s husband with whom she could be left alone without becoming agitated.’