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Hardcover Elegy for Iris Book

ISBN: 0312198647

ISBN13: 9780312198640

Elegy for Iris

(Book #1 in the The Iris Trilogy Series)

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Format: Hardcover

Condition: Like New

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Book Overview

A moving memoir by the husband of the great contemporary writer Dame Iris Murdoch captures the ineffable mystery and fascination that she has exerted on both him and her readers and chronicles her recent sad struggle with Alzheimer's disease. 25,000 first printing. First serial, The New Yorker.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

A love letter from a husband about his wife.

Jim Broadbent ("Topsy-Turvy," "Moulin Rouge") brought home Oscar gold for his role of John Bayley in the movie "Iris." With the film (also starring Dame Judi Dench in the title role, and "Titanic" star Kate Winslet playing a younger version) now available for rental, it's a good time to also check out the book upon which the movie is based. "Elegy for Iris" is Bayley's heart-rending memoir of his wife, celebrated novelist Iris Murdoch ("A Severed Head" and "The Bell" among them). It is the story of Bayley and Murdoch's romance, from their first meeting and the bookish Bayley's instant attraction to the girl on a bicycle. Love seemed to bloom almost immediately, despite Bayley's lack of experience and Murdoch's plethora of suitors. In fact, Bayley tells us that years later he happened upon Murdoch's note for their first date: "St. Antony's Dance. Fell down the steps, and seem to have fallen in love with J. We didn't dance much." At the same time, "Elegy" is also a tale of the modern John and Iris, as the celebrated novelist suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and her husband watches as her once brilliant mind falters. But while the book will bring tears, it isn't really a tearjerker. Bayley shares some of the personal, silly little jokes he tells Iris that at one time would not really have amused either of them, but which draw a favorable reaction from her now. And the way that one of his exasperated temper tantrums settles her nerves now more than coddling will. While Bayley is at times frustrated, understandably so, he seems more enamored of his wife then ever. He marvels at the things she does, reflects on their shared past, they way her mind worked then contrasted with the way it worked as he wrote "Elegy" (Murdoch died in February). At no time does Bayley seem to resent being saddled with his wife. In fact, he expresses distaste for the wife of another Alzheimer's patient when she comments that it is "like being chained to a corpse, isn't it?" No, declares Bayley, and he goes to bat for his wife. "I was repelled by the suggestion that Iris' affliction could have anything in common with that of this jolly woman's husband. She was a heroine, no doubt, but let her be a heroine in her own style. How could our cases be compared? Iris was Iris." So says a testament to quiet strength, bravery and love.

"But where the dead leaf fell, there did it rest"

(...) I have been interested in Iris Murdoch for a long time, not really having a clue as to what her novels might be like, what I should expect from her; should I steel myself and keep guard, or quite to the contrary - open the door to her literary world and let myself immerse in it completely. As is consistent with my long-standing ritual, I approach the writer from unusual angles - this has certainly been the case with Iris Murdoch. Instead of listening to friendly spirits telling me this and that, I acted spontaneously, and started my exploration from a postmortem memoir written by her husband, John Bayley. Exploration it shall be, for having read this volume, I am absolutely certain to release the internal guard, and open the door to the unknown world of Iris."CLOSER AND CLOSER APART"The memoir is an elegy for Iris, and it is not a typical biography, for it is written by her husband, with whom she spent over forty years together. Just like their marriage was, the introduction of Bayley to Iris was awkward, and I couldn't help but smile at Bayley's admission to his shortcomings as an admirer of Iris back in the fifties. Romantic at heart, helpless in practice, Bayley manages to attract Iris, and the story is indeed enchanting, even if told with such a burden of perspective of what happened later, or rather, just as he was writing the memoir. As is often the case with academics, they live in an unreal world of unmet expectations, sharpened visions and blurred emotions. Such was Iris; such has been Bayley. Every now and then the romantic and yet very earthly story of their early years and then marriage is interrupted with the present day reality of Iris terminal case of Alzheimer's disease. Interrupted, yes, but never disturbing. Bayley bravely relates the intrinsic features of living with Iris, as she slowly descended into memory oblivion, to her personal character traits as they became progressively apparent to him as they got used to each other. Getting used to it took a lot, as it happens with extraordinary minds that met each other in life. In great detail Bayley describes how apart they were during their marriage, and how much they both needed that apartness for their marriage to work properly. If you are looking for a detailed study of Iris Murdoch as a writer, with equally detailed account of her life, you might consider reading Peter Conradi's newest biography of the author. What that biography, or for that matter, any biography written by a stranger, will never give you, is a personal commentary on the internal life of the couple. Not surprisingly, there goes a saying that what other people do not know about your marriage is exactly what makes it yours. John Bayley raises the curtain a bit for us to see something we otherwise wouldn't have been able to see. And what we see is astonishingly consistent, albeit compact set of observations, recited in reserved tone. Let me only say that Bayley took a lot, accepted much, disregarded even m

Fond Touching and Introspective

`Iris: a Memoir of Iris Murdoch'`Iris' is a fond, touching, introspective memoir of Dame Iris Murdoch written by John Bayley, her husband of forty-odd years. Professor Bayley recalls the first moment he saw Ms Murdoch and how after meeting her, their relationship progressed awkwardly to marriage. Thereafter he describes their life together as a comfortable solitude à deux. After Dame Murdoch developed Alzheimer's disease, Bayley refused to accept the idea once presented to him that to live with someone suffering with Alzheimer's was rather "like being chained to a corpse, albeit a much loved corpse". He conveys his conviction that the unique individuality of his spouse was not lost to the common symptoms of Alzheimer's; though she was no longer aware of her considerable achievements Bayley still regarded her as the highly accomplished person he had always respected and revered. (Dame Iris Murdoch [1919-1999] wrote twenty-seven novels, won the Whitbread Prize and was short-listed for the Booker Prize six times before finally winning it for `The Sea, The Sea'. In 1976 she was awarded the CBE [Commander of the British Empire], then in 1987 she was knighted and became a Dame of the British Empire [DBE]. Furthermore she wrote books on philosophy and received honorary doctorates from both Oxford [1987] and Cambridge [1993]).Throughout the memoir, Bayley describes caring for his ailing wife with such extreme patience and tenderness that he seems almost too good to be true until he admits to "losing it" and punching her in a moment of rage and frustration. Nevertheless, Bayley seemed to regard his own life as enriched by his marriage to Iris Murdoch. Indeed, that he adored and esteemed her comes shining through. This memoir is both a tribute and a love letter-well worth reading.

Powerful and Sad

If you've lost a loved one to dementia, whether caused by Alzheimer's or strokes, you know that this dreadful change in your life can be--as a woman in Elegy for Iris notes so terribly--like "being chained to a corpse." You may feel you exist in a perpetual state of mourning, and release seems impossibly distant since the process of degeneration can last for a decade, fifteen years, or more.Four years ago before this book was published, Alzheimer's began to chip away at acclaimed novelist Iris Murdoch and she started to lose memories, associations and connection with herself. Her husband of forty years, English critic John Bayley, has written a memoir about this escalating series of losses that is imbued with admiration, love, and gentle humor. Bayley compellingly interweaves descriptions of his wife's sad deterioration with stories of their courtship and long, contented marriage. What is remarkable about this narrative (which needed better editing, however), is that despite the very real tragedy of Alzheimer's, he is not bitter or self-pitying, and what links him and his wife now is anything but a chain. Murdoch and Bayley seem to have given each other the freedom to live complete lives, however they needed to, and that freedom was a profound tie. "We were together because we were comforted and reassured by the solitariness each saw and was aware of in the other," he observes. And tracing their growing love for one another, he makes one envy the balance they found between separateness and companionship (which counterpoints their domestic squalor). From the earliest days onward, marriage and solitude were not contradictions for them. They could "be closely and physically entwined, and yet feel solitude's friendly presence, as warm and undesolating as contiguity itself."All that reverberates strangely with the ways in which Murdoch now is shut off from him far more than she ever was as a creative artist, but seems to need the constant reassurance of his presence. She is like a child hungry for attention, but unable to communicate clearly, and sometimes needs to be gently shooed away so that he can have time to himself. Yet she returns, anxious, needful. Sometimes her confusions drive him into a rage, but she often responds to these outbursts with the same ameliorative calm she always had.Given their long, happy marriage, Bayley and Murdoch's first meetings were comically inauspicious. In his late twenties and a graduate student teaching at Oxford after World War II, Bailey spied Murdoch bicycling past one day looking grumpy, grim, and not entirely attractive. Yet for Bailey, she was almost an apparition, a woman existing only in the moment--and for him alone. But his instantaneous fantasies were soon crushed when he met her at a party and realized she was merely another teacher. How ordinary! Worse still, she was clearly a popular and magnetic woman with many friends (and not a few lovers, he

A Little Gem

This book is heartbreakingly beautiful. Bayley loved his wife, Iris Murdoch, so deeply, and on so many levels and that love comes across beautifully in this book. Bayley brings us into the intimate private world that he and Murdoch shared. As a longtime fan of Iris Murdoch, I am thankful for the insight into her life and her work. This book is very personal, so much so that I don't think it can be read in one sitting, but rather should be savoured slowly and deliberately. I remember the sadness I felt hearing that she had Altzheimer's and then hearing that she died. This book brings back that sadness, but it comes back stronger because it also brings John Bayley's sadness. That is not to say that this book is a "downer" on any level. Quite the contrary. John Bayley has constructed a beautiful book focused mainly on his love for his wife, and how the love between them grew, from his first sighting of her riding a bicycle to the time when he wrote this book, as she was suffering from the ravages of the disease.

Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch Mentions in Our Blog

Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch in A Celebration of National Author's Day and National Novel Writing Month
A Celebration of National Author's Day and National Novel Writing Month
Published by Karen DeGroot Carter • November 02, 2020
The intrigue around what makes novelists tick has been explored in multiple stories through the years. Check out these books and movies during NaNoWriMo (or anytime!) to enjoy unique takes on the wonder and exasperation often experienced by those who pursue the writing life.
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