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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 February 2020

Mathura Umachandran*
University of


This year marks the centenary of the birth of Iris Murdoch (1919–99). She has been celebrated as one of Britain's most important postwar writers with twenty-six prose fiction novels to her name. Murdoch was also an ancient philosopher who was primarily interested in issues of moral philosophy. Pinning down her place in the Anglo-American analytic tradition of philosophy, however, is not a straightforward task. On the one hand she cut a conventional figure, holding a tutorial fellowship at St Anne's College, Oxford, from 1948 to 1963. On the other hand, her philosophical writing increasingly departed from the coordinates of analytical philosophy. As Martha Nussbaum notes in her deeply ambivalent review of Murdoch's The Fire and the Sun: Why Plato Banished the Artists, Murdoch is ‘a novelist whose best work is deeply philosophical, a philosopher who has stressed…the special role that beauty can play in motivating us to know the good, …a Platonist believer in human perfectability, and an artist.’ Nussbaum points us towards understanding two key elements in Murdoch's thought: her commitment to Plato and the manner in which Murdoch's activity as philosopher and novelist should be considered as interdependent.

Research Article
Ramus , Volume 48 , Issue 2 , December 2019 , pp. 223 - 247
Copyright © Ramus 2020

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With thanks to Norah Perkins at Curtis Brown for kind permission to reproduce ‘Agamemnon Class, 1939’ in this venue, as well as to Dayna Miller and Anne Rowe at the Iris Murdoch Archive (University of Kingston) and Julian Reid at the Corpus Christi College Archive (University of Oxford). Lucy Bolton and Constanze Güthenke provided support at crucial moments. This article started life as a conference presentation at the Women Classical Committee's panel ‘Foremothers on the Frontline’ at the Classical Association meeting 2017 at the University of Kent, Canterbury, and is much improved for the discussions there. With thanks to Helen Morales for editorial support throughout, to Jaś Elsner, Ella Haselswerdt and the anonymous reviewers at Ramus for their constructive criticism.


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