The philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch, born on this day in 1919, once reviewed Simone de Beauvoir’s post–World War II novel, The Mandarins, for The Nation in 1956. Three years later, R.J. Kaufmann, a professor of Elizabeth and modern literature at the University of Rochester, wrote an essay in the magazine on “The Progress of Iris Murdoch.”

She is a sophisticated philosopher, and it is her evident aim to put us back in intimate touch with our own being by using the indirect and dramatic strategies of art. She pursues in the novel what philosophers have always claimed to seek—reality. She comes well equipped to this quest. In fact, it is hard to see what can prevent her from growing into a great novelist. Her books show an organizing intelligence of the highest order, warmed by an attentive love for people and things. She has the rich resources of humility, of learning and of wide-ranging humor—humor impudent enough for slapstick and controlled enough for that wry Tacitean irony which is nearly tragic in tone. She is a disciplined worker and self-critical enough to learn from creative missteps. In her first two novels her imagination was too free-wheeling and hyperthyroid, but as she has developed she has quit indulging in novelistic virtuoso turns on magic rites, scenes of wildly farcical cross-purposes and quasi-allegorical spectacle…Growing fast, she has enrolled in the company of Tolstoy, George Eliot and D.H. Lawrence and seeks to match her powers against the inexhaustible contradictions of Yeats’s “foul rag and bone shop of the heart.”

July 15, 1919

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