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Murdoch memoir provokes furor

September 06, 2003|From Associated Press

Four years after Iris Murdoch's death from Alzheimer's disease, a battle is raging in England over her reputation.

A.N. Wilson says his warts-and-all memoir, "Iris Murdoch as I Knew Her," is "a humorous, affectionate attempt to recall what the great novelist was like." Reviewers have called it "lurid," "vile" and a "character assassination" of Murdoch's devoted husband, John Bayley.

When she died at 79 in 1999, Murdoch -- author of 26 novels including "The Bell" and the Booker Prize-winning "The Sea, the Sea" -- was hailed as one of the most important British novelists of the century. Through a bestselling memoir by Bayley and an Oscar-winning film, "Iris," starring Judi Dench, many more people now know her as a poignant figure in a shapeless cardigan sinking into the abyss of Alzheimer's.

Wilson, who knew the couple for 30 years, says he wants to reclaim Murdoch from her image as "the Alzheimer's Lady" and paint a picture of a vibrant, charismatic woman and a dazzlingly original thinker.

His book characterizes Bayley -- widely praised for his steadfast care of his wife -- as a "spoilt child" who never read Murdoch's books and was guilty of "resentments, envy, poisonously strong misogyny and outright hatred of his wife."

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