Letters from Iris Murdoch to Roly Cochrane

Scope and Content

This archive contains letters from the author Iris Murdoch to scholar and translator Roly Cochrane. Most of the letters and cards are undated and few have envelopes with post marks or information in the contents that allow a date to be derived with any certainty. Topics covered in the letters include his work as a scholar and translator, her writing, mutual interests in spirituality, travelling, domestic news, health, and her thoughts on his book Facing Reality (a copy of the text is included with the collection). Some of the letters are from the mid 1990s when Murdoch's Alzheimer's was quite advanced.

Administrative / Biographical History

Iris Murdoch was born Jean Iris Murdoch in Dublin, Ireland on 15 Jul 1919. When she was very young Iris and her parents moved to London, England, and Iris studied at Frobel and Badminton schools. She followed this with studies in classics, ancient history and philosophy at the University of Oxford, and after the Second World War she undertook further study at the University of Cambridge. During the war years Murdoch worked for the Treasury in London, and then joined the UNRRA providing relief in formerly occupied countries in Europe. In 1948 she became a fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford, where she taught and researched philosophy.

Iris Murdoch wrote a number of tracts on philosophy, however it is for her novels that she is best known. She wrote 26 novels in total, her first being Under the Net published in 1954. Other notable works include The Bell and The Sea, The Sea for which she won the Booker Prize . Her last novel, Jackson's Dilemma was published in 1995.

In her youth Murdoch had relationships with a number of individuals, including Elias Canetti. She met author and scholar John Bayley while working at Oxford, and they married in 1956. She wrote to a great number of people and maintained friendships in this way.

Later in life Murdoch was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, the first effects of which she had attributed to writer's block. She died in 1999.

Roly [Rollin] Cochrane was a graduate of Seattle Pacific University and Stanford University. He joined the faculty at Stanford, teaching French and published a French textbook in 1973. After that he moved to Europe to continue his language studies and eventually settled in Amsterdam where he worked as a translator. He died, age 61, on 14 February 2002.

Roly Cochrane first wrote to Iris Murdoch in 1984 or 1985 and they began a correspondence that lasted until her death in 1999.


The archive has been divided into 4 series:

  • Letters and datable cards c1985-cApr 1989
  • Letters c mid-1989 - c1999
  • Postcards and cards
  • Typescript of Roly Cochrane's book Facing Reality

Conditions Governing Access

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Other Finding Aids

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Conditions Governing Use

The letters cannot be copied from at this time.