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Concluding narratives of a career with dementia: accounts of Iris Murdoch at her death

  • GILLIAN McCOLGAN (a1), JAMES VALENTINE (a2) and MURNA DOWNS (a1)

Abstract

Obituaries and other accounts of well-known people at their death offer a narrative defining identity through the life story. It is particularly poignant when the story is told of an author, and draws upon not only life course metaphors but also features of the author's fiction. In this paper we look at a case where the dementia of a famous author figures in the tributes at her death. The predominant narrative of dementia has until recently been that of a tragic loss of self. This has reinforced an image of social death. Biomedical determinism has similarly focused on the disease, rather than seeing the person and allowing their voice to be heard. While Iris Murdoch may not have wanted tributes to tell her story, they have allowed us to examine conventional narratives of a person with dementia. We chart the ‘career’ of a person with dementia, and their perceived transformation of identity, defined in terms of being demented rather than with dementia. Bad and good are attributed to aspects of Iris Murdoch's life through a repertoire of available stereotypes. These appear to involve the retrospective application of characteristics of dementia, along with those of goodness and purity. Common gender representations relating to Iris Murdoch's married life and the caring situation are interwoven in the accounts. We are told a story that reflects and reproduces conventional narratives of the life course and of dementia, characterising the deceased in terms of a moral career.

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Corresponding author

Address for correspondence: Gillian McColgan, Centre for Social Research on Dementia, Department of Applied Social Science, University of Stirling, Stirling, UK, FK9 4LA

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Concluding narratives of a career with dementia: accounts of Iris Murdoch at her death

  • GILLIAN McCOLGAN (a1), JAMES VALENTINE (a2) and MURNA DOWNS (a1)

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