Letters from Iris Murdoch to Philippa Foot

Scope and Content

Letters sent from Iris Murdoch to her friend and fellow philosopher Philippa Foot from 1942 to the 1990s. Iris Murdoch and Philippa Foot met at the University of Oxford and went on to share a flat together in London from 1943 to 1945. There followed a period of some separation as Philippa Foot married historian Michael (MRD) Foot, following his previous relationship with and subsequent rejection by Iris Murdoch. Their friendship was rekindled in 1959 following Philippa Foot’s divorce, and they remained friends and corresponded regularly while the latter was based in the USA.

In the letters their friendship is discussed, as well as their work in philosophy and literature, travelling, and events taking place in the wider world at large. The earliest letters are written during the Second World War and describe life in London at the time.

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.

Philippa Foot was born on 03 Oct 1920. She studied at the University of Oxford before and during the Second World War, where she met Iris Murdoch. She moved to London in 1943 and shared a flat with Iris Murdoch while she worked at Chatham House in St James’s Square, moving out again in Spring 1945. She met historian Michael Foot in 1944 and they married in 1945, and later separated in 1960. The period of her marriage was one of more distance from Iris Murdoch as the latter had formerly dated and then rejected Michael Foot, once the marriage ended they rekindled their friendship and remained in contact throughout the rest of Murdoch’s life. After the war in 1947 Philippa Foot went to teach philosophy at Somerville College Oxford where she remained until she left to take up a number of posts in the US. She eventually settled at the University of California in Los Angeles in 1976 and remained here until her retirement. She was a very well known moral philosopher, and was known for basing her philosophy in actual real life examples as opposed to theory. She died, aged 90, in 2010.


Original order has been kept. The letters have arrived in files roughly sub-divided by decade, with some collections of previously undated letters at the end. Many of the letters have become mixed up however; and files contain letters from outside their main decade.

Conditions Governing Access

Open to researchers by appointment- please email archives@kingston.ac.uk. 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 http://blogs.kingston.ac.uk/asc

Other Finding Aids

Also see our archives catalogue here

Conditions Governing Use

Letters cannot be copied from at this time.

Custodial History

The letters were sent to Philippa Foot by Iris Murdoch over a long period of years. Foot collected together the letters in a red bag and later passed them on to another individual. The letters (still in the red bag) were then purchased by Kingston University.

The purchase was supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund.