That indefinitely extended requirement that one human being makes upon another

Dear Iris, “I think it’s terrible to be in danger of writing a philosophical novel”, you said in an interview. And I know you have systematically refused to be called a philosophical novelist. However, may I politely disagree? Anatole Broyard attributes to you the idea that good art is philosophy swimming, or philosophy drowning. I could not trace…

Iris Murdoch

Iris Murdoch (Jean Iris Murdoch, 15 July 1919 – 8 February 1999) was an  Anglo-Irish novelist and philosopher. Murdoch studied classics at Somerville College, Oxford. She was awarded a first-class honours degree in 1942. She went into the civil service and was assistant principal in the Treasury from 1942 to 1944. From 1944 to 1946, she worked with refugees…

Home is a place in the mind

Dear Maeve, If your novella The Visitor (2000, originally written in the 1940’s) had a face, it would be one of a trapped animal, diverted from its burrow, silently showing its teeth to its predator. A strange and moveable mask that would convey a mixture of fear, loneliness, and ferocious anger. The story opens with…

Maeve Brennan

Maeve Brennan (January 6, 1917 – November 1, 1993) was an Irish writer and journalist. Born in Dublin, she moved to the United States, in 1934, when her father became the first Irish ambassador in Washington. She attended the Sisters of Providence Catholic school in Washington, Immaculata Seminary, and graduated with a degree in English from the…

From now on I shall only wear white,

Dear Nuala, Sometimes I feel that your novel Miss Emily (2015) is haunted by the ghost of something – a bird? – it distractedly let slip out of its realm of possibilities. It centers around the relationship between the 19th-century American poet Emily Dickinson and a fictional Irish housemaid named Ada Concannon. The story is set…

Nuala O’Connor

Nuala O’Connor (Nuala Ní Chonchúir, born 14 January 1970) is an Irish writer and poet. She has a Bachelor in Irish from Trinity College Dublin and a Masters in Translation Studies from Dublin City University. She has worked as translator, bookseller and librarian, and now teaches creative writing. Her poetry and fiction were published in the Wales Arts…

Molly Keane

Molly Keane (born Mary Nesta Skrine, 20 July 1904 – 22 April 1996) was an Irish writer. She went to a boarding school in Bray, County Wicklow, married one of a Waterford squirearchical family in 1938 and had two daughters, Sally and Virginia. Between 1928 and 1956, she wrote under the pseudonym M.J. Farrell.  Awards Shortlisted for…

Their victims lie strewn all round

Dear Elizabeth, I’ve been meaning to write to you since the beginning of April, when the 1938 Club brought me right inside ‘the turned-in heart’ of your novel The Death of the Heart (1938) – but, well, everyday life, as it happens, got recklessly on the way. Set in the period between the World Wars,…

Elizabeth Bowen

Elizabeth Bowen (Elizabeth Dorothea Cole Bowen, 7 June 1899 – 22 February 1973) was an Irish writer. Born in Dublin, she moved with her mother to England in 1907, when her father became mentally ill. After her mother’s death, in 1912, Bowen was brought up by her aunts. After attending art school in London, she decided to be a writer,…

Everyone was shut in upon themselves

Dear Norah, I just came back from a trip by bike, during which There Were No Windows (1944) was my loyal reading companion. While Spring bloomed all around me, your book drove a sharp contrast to this outdoorsy vacation. The story of Claire Temple, an elderly woman facing loneliness and the onset of dementia, takes…

Norah Hoult

Norah Hoult (10 September 1898 – 6 April 1984) was an Irish writer. Born in Dublin, Norah was orphaned when she was still a child, and was sent to live with their father’s relations in England. Once there, she and her brother studied in various boarding schools. Norah worked as a journalist for the Sheffield Daily Telegraph….