Friday's arrival at Farncombe was in fog as thick as junket, at the mph of a hesitant hedgehog. Such is the cosseting charm of the Cotswolds Conference Centre and Chris our ebullient host that by the time the 9 members of my writing course assembled together after supper, the drive-from-hell had slipped from our agenda: from that first session till we parted on Sunday this was an outstanding group, mutually supportive as well as creatively diverse.
Some great stories were germinated, and Saturday night was an especial delight, with thought-provoking and entertaining readings varying from Nick's droll morality tales to James's 'rumble in the jungle' honeymoon blog.
Back when Kate Winslet -who played the novelist in her wayward youth- was still reading Janet & John, I was avidly devouring the novels of Iris Murdoch. The film of her life was based on her husband's insensitive memoir and consequently paid scant tribute to her luminous literary talent. To my mind, the scandalising and sentimentalising of her life story was probably the reason there was no major retrospective review of her works, and I wrote as much in The Journal of the Society of Authors. I grieved for the downgrading of her reputation from clever philosopher to barmy bag-lady. "In his book of that name", I wrote, "Milan Kundura imagines two dead writers talking about immortality. Hemingway protests bitterly to Goethe that this is no honour but a cruel sentence: Our books will probably soon stop being read. But people will never stop prying into your life. I used to think that Ernest Hemingway, with his fearful homophobia and flaky sexuality, would forever be the leading example of this ironic truth, but poor belittled ‘Iris’ has left him far behind."
The serious retrospective review hasn't happened yet, but some of her letters have been published in a collection entitled Iris Murdoch, A Writer at War, and I'm interested that editor, Peter J Conradi, writes in The Times: "Dame Iris, in life so august, remote and intensely private, was in death unwittingly reduced to two opposed stereotypes: in vulgar language, bonking (younger Iris) or bonkers (elderly Iris). If you’re American: screwing or screwy. Both sensationalisms reduced her to gross physicality, bypassing and demeaning the one thing about her that was truly remarkable – the freedom of her mind."
If you're interested, I recommend The Bell, The Nice and the Good, and A Fairly Honourable Defeat. It's not too late...