Exactly seventy-three years ago this week, a young Iris Murdoch sat down and wrote a letter to her friend Ann Leech. Believing the country to be on the brink of war with Germany, she wrote with honesty and clarity about her feelings in those politically volatile times. The four-page letter is full of her characteristic zest and humour which she not infrequently turns against herself, declaring her words ‘melodramatic rot’.
Of course, the Munich Agreement deferred the outbreak of war for another year, but for Iris Murdoch, aged nineteen and about to go up to Oxford, there was an inspiring and slightly anarchic energy about the uncertainties faced by her generation. She writes:
“I too believe that the worst will happen – but I don’t feel at all afraid yet – only sad and strangely amused. I don’t want to leave London – I love the city, and if it’s going to be smashed up, I want to be there.
I can see nothing beyond Saturday – and so I am treasuring these last few days of peace, and perhaps of life – reading poetry, and enjoying pictures and music…
Singularly enough I feel happier now, despite my sadness, than I have ever felt for years. This isn’t real you know, whether we are blown to pieces or not – I am very close to reality now – something infinitely calm and still and beautiful.”
The letter from Iris to Ann is part of the Leech Archive and we have sent copies to the Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies at Kingston University. To read more, click on the pages, continued below, which will enlarge.