Rosemary Hill writes:
The 1960s were Iris Murdoch’s heyday as a writer, the period when her literary reputation was highest and when her fiction was most in tune with socially experimental times. It was then, in 1964, while she was teaching philosophy at the Royal College of Art, that she met David Morgan, who was one of her students. The account he has written of their relationship combines his own reminiscences with some of her letters to him and veers between the unsettling and the excruciating . . . At their first private meeting Murdoch explained her rules for the relationship. He was not to sleep with her, but as they sat on the sofa in her London flat they kissed. A book lay between them. ‘It had become impossible not to touch you,’ she wrote to him afterwards, ‘to draw you a good deal closer – and perhaps it’s surprising we held out so long with only Piero della Francesca between us like a drawn sword.’ Morgan thoughtfully compares this with his own feelings about the encounter. There was the excitement ‘that a famous novelist was interested in me’, then a ‘moment of revulsion’ when he kissed her and the thought, as she pulled away from him sharply, ‘that she must have had dentures and was afraid that I might dislodge them’. As events develop it is hard to know whom to feel more anguished for. On the one hand there is Murdoch, positioning herself carefully at restaurant tables so as to have the light behind her, with the confidence, she tells Morgan, of ‘25 years behind me of being told in the most extravagant terms that I am beautiful’, all unaware that she reminds him (‘and I say this with tenderness’) of Wurzel Gummidge’s sister.
(LRB 22 April 2010)
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