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Iris Murdoch

  • The whole language is a machine for making falsehoods.

  • Daytime sleep is a cursed slumber from which one wakes in despair.

  • He ... raised his hand when he saw me with the dignified gesture of a patriarch greeting the appearance of an expected sign.

  • My heart was beating like an army on the march.

  • ... when caught unawares I usually tell the truth, and what's duller than that?

  • Nothing is more maddening than being questioned by the object of one's interest about the object of hers, should that object not be you.

  • ... until I have been able to bury my head so deep in dear London that I can forget that I have ever been away I am inconsolable.

  • Remember that the secret of all learning is patience and that curiosity is not the same thing as a thirst for knowledge.

  • What makes you imagine ... that anything of importance can be taught in a school?

  • The most interesting things are always happening behind one.

  • ... I am not famous for anything in particular. I am just famous.

  • The notion that one can liberate another soul from captivity is an illusion of the very young.

  • These three o'clock awakenings when one starts up, imagining that one has a mortal sickness; and indeed this is true. Life is that sickness, and at that cold hour one can realize it.

  • All our failures are ultimately failures in love.

  • That she had no memory made her generous.

  • Mockery did not come easily to Dora, and had to be thought out beforehand.

  • The talk of lovers who have just declared their love is one of life's most sweet delights. Each vies with the other in humility, in amazement at being so valued. The past is searched for the first signs, and each one is in haste to declare all that he is so that no part of his being escapes the hallowing touch.

  • ... confession ran in the family.

  • Like all inexperienced people, Toby tended to make all-or-nothing judgments.

  • Our actions are like ships which we may watch set out to sea, and not know when or with what cargo they will return to port.

  • ... we can only learn to love by loving.

  • Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real.

    • Iris Murdoch,
    • "The Sublime and the Good," in Chicago Review ()
  • One doesn't have to get anywhere in a marriage. It's not a public conveyance.

  • In almost every marriage there is a selfish and an unselfish partner. A pattern is set up and soon becomes inflexible, of one person always making the demands and one person always giving way.

  • The best thing about being God would be making the heads.

  • ... you cannot have both truth and what you call civilization.

  • Falling out of love is chiefly a matter of forgetting how charming someone is.

  • ... only lies and evil come from letting people off.

  • Only love has clear vision. Hatred has cloudy vision. When we hate we know not what we do.

  • ... evil soon makes tools out of those who don't hate it.

  • Most of our love is shabby stuff, but there is always a thin line of gold, the bit of pure love on which all the rest depends — and which redeems all the rest.

  • ... to be understood is not a human right. Even to understand oneself is not a human right.

  • Being in love is an exhausting business.

  • Art and psychoanalysis give shape and meaning to life and that is why we adore them, but life as it is lived has no shape and meaning ...

  • Nothing is more beautifully and acceptably self-assertive than good singing.

  • Another person's illness is often harder to bear than one's own.

  • For to be powerless, to be a complete victim, may be another source of power.

  • I think being a woman is like being Irish ... Everyone says you're important and nice, but you take second place all the same.

  • The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure at heart.

  • Being good is just a matter of temperament in the end.

  • No love is entirely without worth, even when the frivolous calls to the frivolous and the base to the base.

  • Words are the most subtle symbols which we possess and our human fabric depends on them.

  • Love is the last and secret name of all the virtues.

  • ... being homosexual doesn't determine a man's whole character any more than being heterosexual does.

  • People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.

  • In a happy marriage there is a continuous dense magnetic sense of communication.

  • Eating reveals the characteristic grossness of the human race and also the in-built failure of its satisfactions. We arrive eager, we stuff ourselves and we go away depressed and disappointed and probably feeling a bit queasy into the bargain. It's an image of the déçu in human existence. A greedy start and a stupefied finish. Waiters, who are constantly observing this cycle, must be the most disillusioned of men.

  • The absolute yearning of one human body for another particular one and its indifference to substitutes is one of life's major mysteries.

  • Real misery cuts off all paths to itself.

  • A letter is a barrier, a reprieve, a charm against the world, an almost infallible method of acting at a distance.

  • Art is not cozy and it is not mocked. Art tells the only truth that ultimately matters. It is the light by which human things can be mended. And after art there is, let me assure you all, nothing.

  • All art deals with the absurd and aims at the simple. Good art speaks truth, indeed is truth, perhaps the only truth.

  • Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one's luck.

  • I live, I live, with an absolutely continuous sense of failure. I am always defeated, always. Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea. The years pass and one has only one life. If one has a thing at all one must do it and keep on and on and on trying to do it better.

  • ... there is a natural tribal hostility between the married and the unmarried. I cannot stand the shows so often quite instinctively put on by married people to insinuate that they are not only more fortunate but in some way more moral than you are.

  • The most potent and sacred command which can be laid upon any artist is the command: wait.

  • ... for most of us the space between 'dreaming on things to come' and 'it is too late, it is all over' is too tiny to enter.

  • Of course men play roles, but women play roles too, blanker ones. They have, in the play of life, fewer good lines.

  • Music relates sound and time and so pictures the ultimate edges of human commmunications.

  • Art is a kind of artificial memory and the pain which attends all serious art is a sense of that factitiousness.

  • All artists dream of a silence which they must enter, as some creatures return to the sea to spawn.

  • We defend ourselves with descriptions and tame the world by generalizing.

  • Jealousy is the most dreadfully involuntary of all sins.

  • There is nothing like the bootless solitude of those who are caged together.

  • Every artist is an unhappy lover.

  • I can browse indefinitely in a stationer's shop, indeed there is hardly anything in a good stationer's which I do not like and want.

  • The bereaved cannot communicate with the unbereaved.

  • Bereavement is a darkness impenetrable to the imagination of the unbereaved.

  • He led a double life. Did that make him a liar? He did not feel a liar. He was a man of two truths ...

  • How rarely can happiness be really innocent and not triumphant, not an insult to the deprived.

  • Probably no adult misery can be compared with a child's despair.

  • Human affairs are not serious, but they have to be taken seriously.

  • One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats ...

  • Actors are cave dwellers in a rich darkness which they love and hate.

  • A long marriage is very unifying, even if it's not ideal, and those old structures must be respected.

  • Most real relationships are involuntary.

  • Jealousy is born with love, but does not always die with love.

  • A name is a road.

  • We must live by the light of our own self-satisfaction, through that secret vital busy inwardness which is even more remarkable than our reason.

  • Food is a profound subject and one, incidentally, about which no writer lies.

  • ... a less than perfect meddling in the spiritual world can breed monsters for other people.

  • We are such inward secret creatures, that inwardness is the most amazing thing about us, even more amazing than our reason.

  • Literature could be said to be a sort of disciplined technique for arousing certain emotions.

    • Iris Murdoch,
    • in The Listener ()
  • True love gallops, it flies, it is the swiftest of all modes of thought, swifter even than hate and fear.

  • We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality.

    • Iris Murdoch,
    • in Rachel Billington, "Profile: Iris Murdoch," The London Times ()
  • A middling talent makes for a more serene life.

  • All art is a struggle to be, in a particular sort of way, virtuous.

    • Iris Murdoch,
    • in John Haffenden, Novelists in Interview ()
  • Art is the final cunning of the human soul which would rather do anything than face the gods.

  • In philosophy if you aren't moving at a snail's pace you aren't moving at all.

  • I think philosophy is extremely good training for anyone who wants to do anything. Although that is an idea which people may speak scornfully of now, I think it does teach one to , it teaches judgement insofar as it can be taught, it gives a confidence in dealing with conceptual problems wherever they arise, and of course they arise everywhere.

    • Iris Murdoch,
    • in Olga Kenyon, Women Writers Talk ()
  • ... I think the novel is essentially a comic form (tragedy is for the theatre), not meaning by that full of jokes, but that it is about the absurd detail of human life, the way in which one cannot fully understand what is happening. Life is muddle and jumble and ends inconclusively, and when this is presented with great comic art the sorrows of human life can be truthfully conveyed; one is moved by the spectacle, and feels that something truthful has been told in a magic way.

    • Iris Murdoch,
    • in Olga Kenyon, Women Writers Talk ()
  • A bad review is even less important than whether it is raining in Patagonia.

    • Iris Murdoch,
    • in The London Times ()
  • ... fantasy kills imagination, pornography is death to art.

  • I daresay anything can be made holy by being sincerely worshipped.

  • Perhaps when distant people on other planets pick up some wave-length of ours all they hear is a continuous scream.

  • ... any writer is inevitably going to work with his own anxieties and desires. If the book is any good it has got to have in it the fire of a personal unconscious mind.

    • Iris Murdoch,
    • in Gillian Dooley, ed., From a Tiny Corner in the House of Fiction: Conversations With Iris Murdoch ()
  • ... where does one person end and another person begin?

    • Iris Murdoch
  • Falling out of love is very enlightening. For a short while you see the world with new eyes.

    • Iris Murdoch
  • The sin of pride may be a small or a great thing in someone's life, and hurt vanity a passing pinprick, or a self-destroying or even murderous obsession.

  • Youth is a marvelous garment.

Iris Murdoch, Irish-born English novelist, philosopher

(1919 - 1999)

Full name: Iris Jean Murdoch Bayley