Dame Iris MURDOCH (1919–1999)

Novelist, Moral Philosopher

30 Charlbury Road

Iris Murdoch

Iris Murdoch was born in Dublin into an Irish protestant family with a farming background of many generations. She was the only child of Hughes Murdoch, a civil servant, and Irene (née Richardson). By 1926 they were living in Chiswick. Iris went on to win a scholarship to Badminton School and in 1938 went up to Somerville College on a scholarship, emerging with a First in Greats in 1942. Her magnetic personality attracted many friends, among whom was Philippa Foot, and many proposals of marriage. On graduating she was plunged into war work, serving first in the Treasury and later in London and Europe for the United Nations organisation tackling rehabilitation for millions of displaced persons.

In 1948 she was appointed tutor in philosophy at St Anne’s College, Oxford, and remained in post as fellow until 1963. Her focus was on a metaphysical approach to moral questions rather than the then dominant Oxford tradition concerned with the analysis of moral language. Her first published work on philosophy was Sartre, Romantic Rationalist (1957). The Sovereignty of Good (1970) and Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (1992), helped to re-establish ethics within the British philosophical tradition.

Best known to the general public for her novels, she is regarded as one of the most distinguished post-war novelists. Her first published work was Under the Net (1954). Altogether she wrote 26 novels, each one eagerly awaited. Among other prestigious literary prizes, she won the Whitbread Prize for The Black Prince in 1973 and the Booker Prize for The Sea, The Sea in 1978. Some consider The Bell (1958) to be her finest novel. In 1987 she was awarded the DBE for services to literature.

In 1956 she had married John Bayley, Warton Professor of English at Oxford and literary critic. They lived at Cedar Lodge, Steeple Aston, a blissful haven for them for 30 years. In 1989 they moved to 30 Charlbury Road in North Oxford (below):

30 Charlbury Road

In 1997 she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Her case attracted much publicity, increasing public awareness of the condition. She was cared for by John Bayley at home until finally transferring to The Vale, a home in Oxford for dementia patients. A year before she died her husband had published Iris Murdoch, a Memoir about their marriage and her decline. An acclaimed film Iris celebrating her whole life, was based on the book.

Iris’s work continues to fascinate and inspire research and scholarship. There is a Murdoch Research Centre at the University of Chichester where biennial conferences are held. The Iris Murdoch Society reaches a large following across the world. A Murdoch Archive is held at the University of Kingston.


  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, article by Peter Conradi
  • See also Iris Murdoch, a Life, by Peter J. Conradi (2001) and Iris Murdoch, as I knew her, by A. N. Wilson (2003).

The plaque was unveiled at 30 Charlbury Road on 26 May 2023 by Professor Peter Conradi, biographer. Among those attending were Mrs Audi Bayley, Professor Anne Rowe and Dr Miles Gleeson of the Iris Murdoch Society, and Oxford philosophers. A plaque was unveiled later in the day for Philippa Foot and the double event concluded with a reception at Somerville College, alma mater to both women.

Photographs taken at the unveiling ceremony:

Speech given by Professor Conradi at the unveiling (PDF)


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