Iris Murdoch's Oxford Library

Scope and Content

Iris Murdoch's library as held at her house in Oxford. The books were collected by Iris Murdoch throughout her lifetime. The books predominately relate to her interests in philosophy, theology and psychology, with some on other subjects including poetry and mysticism. Approximately half of the books were annotated by Iris Murdoch, some of them to great length and detail. The annotations show her thoughts on the books and on philosophy and theology in general. This went on to influence her philosophical teachings and writings, as well as inspiring themes in her novels. The majority of the books date from the 20th Century, however there is a few older texts within the collection, the oldest dating to 1535. The collection also contains some of Murdoch's notebooks, particularly her notes on the work of Jean-Paul Sartre and on songs she was taught during the 1930s.

With the books a collection of music scores and sheets was acquired, with some song books dating back to the late 1800s. Many of these were inherited by Iris Murdoch from her mother, Irene. There is also a collection of beer coasters collected by the author, and some terracotta oil lamps dating from the Roman period.

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.

Access Information

Open to researchers by appointment- please email Appointments typically offered Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 9am - 4.30pm. For more information on Kingston University Archives and Special Collections please see our website at

Other Finding Aids

Also see our archives catalogue here

Item descriptions for the books in the collection can be found on our library catalogue

Conditions Governing Use

Some of the items cannot be copied from due to its age or physical condition. Copying of Murdoch's annotations is also restricted. Please send any requests for copying to the archives at

Related Material

More books previously owned by Iris Murdoch are held as part of the Iris Murdoch's London Library