Quotes by Iris Murdoch

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Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea. more...

Then I felt too that I might take this opportunity to tie up a few loose ends, only of course loose ends can never be properly tied, one is always producing new ones. Time, like the sea, unties all knots. Judgements on people are never final, they emerge from summings up which at once suggest the need of a reconsideration. Human arrangements are nothing but loose ends and hazy reckoning, whatever art may otherwise pretend in order to console us. more...

How different each death is, and yet it leads us into the self-same country, that country which we inhabit so rarely, where we see the worthlessness of what we have long pursued and will so soon return to pursuing. more...

I hate solitude, but I'm afraid of intimacy. The substance of my life is a private conversation with myself which to turn into a dialogue would be equivalent to self-destruction. The company which I need is the company which a pub or a cafe will provide. I have never wanted a communion of souls. It's already hard enough to tell the truth to oneself. more...

The theatre is certainly a place for learning about the brevity of human glory: oh all those wonderful glittering absolutely vanished pantomime! Now I shall abjure magic and become a hermit : put myself in a situation where I can honestly say that I have nothing else to do but to learn to be good. more...

Language is a machine for making falsehoods. more...

We need a moral philosophy which can speak significantly of Freud and Marx and out of which aesthetic and political views can be generated. We need a moral philosophy in which the concept of love, so rarely mentioned now, can once again be made central. more...

Every persisting marriage is based on fear', said Peregrine. 'Fear is fundamental, you dig down in human nature and what's at the bottom? Mean spiteful cruel self-regarding fear, whether it makes you to put the foot in it or whether it makes you to cower... more...

Only the very greatest art invigorates without consoling. more...

Mathematics is good for the soul, getting things right enlivens a sense of truth, efforts to understand automatically purify desires. more...

Learning philosophy is learning a particular kind of intuitive understanding. more...

The most essential and fundamental aspect of culture is the study of literature, since this is an education in how to picture and understand human situations. more...

One should go easy on smashing other people's lies. Better to concentrate on one's own. more...

One of the secrets of a happy life is continous small treats. more...

The entry of a child into any situation changes the whole situation. more...

I just enjoy translating, it's like opening one's mouth and hearing someone else's voice emerge. more...

People have obsessions and fears and passions which they don't admit to. I think every character is interesting and has extremes. It's the novelist privilege to see how odd everyone is. more...

Reading and writing and the preservation of language and its forms and the kind of eloquence and the kind of beauty which the language is capable of is terribly important to the human beings because this is connected to thought. more...

Every human soul has seen, perhaps before their birth pure forms such as justice, temperance, beauty and all the great moral qualities which we hold in honour. We are moved towards what is good by the faint memory of these forms simple and calm and blessed which we saw once in a pure, clear light being pure ourselves. more...

Yes, of course, there's something fishy about describing people's feelings. You try hard to be accurate, but as soon as you start to define such and such a feeling, language lets you down. It's really a machine for making falsehoods. When we really speak the truth, words are insufficient. Almost everything except things like "pass the gravy" is a lie of a sort. And that being the case, I shall shut up. Oh, and... pass the gravy. more...

As we live our precarious lives on the brink of the void, constantly coming closer to a state of nonbeing, we are all too often aware of our fragitlity. more...

For most of us, for almost all of us, truth can be attained, if at all, only in silence. It is in silence that the human spirit touches the divine. more...

To lose somebody is to lose not only their person but all those modes and manifestations into which their person has flowed outwards; so that in losing a beloved one may find so many things, pictures, poems, melodies, places lost too: Dante, Avignon, a song of Shakespeare's, the Cornish sea. more...

The sending of a letter constitutes a magical grasp upon the future. more...

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

It is difficult in life to be good, and difficult in art to portray goodness. Perhaps we don't know much about goodness. more...

There is a gulf fixed between those who can sleep and those who cannot. It is one of the greatest divisions of the human race. more...

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

Jealousy is the most dreadfully involuntary of all sins. more...

Art and morality are, with certain provisos...one. Their essence is the same. The essence of both of them is love. Love is the perception of individuals. Love is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality. more...

Starting a novel is opening a door on a misty landscape; you can still see very little but you can smell the earth and feel the wind blowing. more...

One of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats, and if some of these can be inexpensive and quickly procured so much the better. more...

We can only learn to love by loving. more...

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

Every man needs two women: a quiet home-maker, and a thrilling nymph. more...

Art is the final cunning of the human soul which would rather do anything than face the gods. more...

Between saying and doing, many a pair of shoes is worn out. more...

Philosophy! Empty thinking by ignorant conceited men who think they can digest without eating! more...

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

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

Anything that consoles is fake. more...

Perhaps misguided moral passion is better than confused indifference. more...

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

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

The cry of equality pulls everyone down. more...

Happiness is a matter of one's most ordinary and everyday mode of consciousness being busy and lively and unconcerned with self. more...

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

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

We shall be better prepared for the future if we see how terrible, how doomed the present is. more...

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

The notion that one will not survive a particular catastrophe is, in general terms, a comfort since it is equivalent to abolishing the catastrophe. more...

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

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. more...

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

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

Perhaps when distant people on other planets pick up some wavelength of ours all they hear is a continuous scream. more...

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

Every artist is an unhappy lover. more...

Good writing is full of surprises and novelties, moving in a direction you don't expect. more...

Love is the source of our greatest errors; but when it is even partially refined it is the energy and the passion of the soul in its search for Good, the force that joins us to Good and joins us to the world through Good. Its existence is the unmistakable sign that we are spiritual creatures, attracted by excellence and made for the Good. It is a reflection of the warmth and light of the sun. more...

It was like hunting fish with an underwater gun, a sport which he had once been foolish enough to try. At one moment there is the fish - graceful, mysterious, desirable and free - and the next moment there is nothing but struggling and blood and confusion. more...

Dogs are very different from cats in that they can be images of human virtue. They are like us. more...

Possibly, more people kill themselves and others out of hurt vanity than out of envy, jealousy, malice or desire for revenge. more...

It is in the capacity to love, that is to SEE, that the liberation of the soul from fantasy consists. The freedom which is a proper human goal is the freedom from fantasy, that is the realism of compassion. What I have called fantasy, the proliferation of blinding self-centered aims and images, is itself a powerful system of energy, and most of what is often called 'will' or 'willing' belongs to this system. What counteracts the system is attention to reality inspired by, consisting of, love. more...

... he felt himself to be one of them, who can live neither in the world nor out of it. They are a kind of sick people, whose desire for God makes them unsatisfactory citizens of an ordinary life, but whose strength or temperament fails them to surrender the world completely; and present-day society, with its hurried pace and its mechanical and technical structure, offers no home to these unhappy souls. more...

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

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

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 ever murderous obsession. more...

Jealousy comes from self-love rather than from true love. more...

But fantasy kills imagination, pornography is death to art. more...

Man's creative struggle, his search for wisdom and truth, is a love story. more...

The bottomless bitter misery of childhood: how little even now it is understood. Probably no adult misery can be compared with a child's despair. more...

We re all muddlers. The thing is to see is when one's got to stop muddling. more...

A death is the most terrible of facts. more...

The human soul is not framed for continued proximity, and the result of this enforced neighbourhood is often an appalling loneliness for which the rules of the game forbid assuagement. more...

Love can't always do work. Sometimes it just has to look into the darkness. more...

Intense mutual erotic love, love which involves with the flesh all the most refined sexual being of the spirit, which reveals and perhaps even ex nihilo creates spirit as sex, is comparatively rare in this inconvenient world. more...

Socrates wrote nothing. Christ wrote nothing. more...

Marriage isn't a tram. It doesn't have to get anywhere. more...

People who boast of happy marriages are, I submit, usually self-deceivers, if not actually liars. more...

The very madness of the scheme protects it. more...

... where does one person end and another person begin? more...

To be a complete victim may be another source of power. more...

There is nothing like early promiscuous sex for dispelling life's bright mysterious expectations. more...

Not to have been born is undoubtedly best, but sound sleep is second best. more...

Oh the piercing sadness of life in the midst of its ordinariness! more...

Freedom may be a value in politics, but it is not a value in morals. more...

It's easier to sell junk when you're known than works of genius when you're unknown. more...

There is no beyond, there is only here, the infinitely small, infinitely great and utterly demanding present. more...

... half the world starves. What a planet. And the eating, if you're lucky enough to do any. Stuffing pieces of dead animals into a hole in your face. Then munch, munch, munch. If there's anybody watching, they must be dying of laughter. more...

Our destiny can be examined, but it cannot be justified or totally explained. We are simply here. more...

You cannot have both truth and what you call civilisation. more...

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

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

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. more...

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

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

confession ran in the family. more...

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 decu in human existence. A greedy start and a stupefied finish. Waiters, who are constantly observing this cycle, must be the most disillusioned of men. more...

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

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

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

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. more...

All our failures are ultimately failures in love. more...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 ... more...

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. more...

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

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

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. more...

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. more...

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 more...

Most real relationships are involuntary. more...

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

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. more...

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

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

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. more...

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

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

Real misery cuts off all paths to itself. more...

A middling talent makes for a more serene life. more...

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

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

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. more...

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

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

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. more...

The most interesting things are always happening behind one. more...

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

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. more...

Being in love is an exhausting business. more...

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

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

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

True love gallops, it flies, it is the swiftest of all modes of thought, swifter even than hate and fear. more...

Those who hope, by retiring from the world, to earn a holiday from human frailty, in themselves and others, are usually disappointed. more...

Hegel says that Truth is a great word and the thing is greater still. With Dave we never seemed to get past the word. more...

emotions really exist at the bottom of the personality or at the top. in the middle they are acted. this is why all the world is a stage. more...

we are such inward secret creatures, that inwardness the most amazing thing about us, even more amazing than our reason. but we cannot just walk into the cavern and look around. most of what we think we know about our minds is pseudo-knowledge. we are all such shocking poseurs, so good at inflating the importance of what we think we value. more...

Trains induce such terrible anxiety. They image the possibility of total and irrevocable failure. They are also dirty, rackety, packed with strangers, an object lesson in the foul contingency of life: the talkative fellow-traveller, the possibility of children. more...

When does one ever know a human being? Perhaps only after one has realized the impossibility of knowledge and renounced the desire for it and finally ceased to feel even the need of it. But then what one achieves is no longer knowledge, it is simply a kind of co-existence; and this too is one of the guises of love. more...

We are all prisoner, but the name of our cure is not freedom more...

So we live; a spirit that broods and hovers over the continual death of time, the lost meaning, the unrecaptured moment, the unremembered face, until the final chop that ends all our moments and plunges that spirit back into the void from which it came. more...

That's how vile i am! I live Ireland, I breathe Ireland, and Christ how I loathe it, I wish I were a bloody Scot, that's how bloody awful it is being Irish! more...

There is no substitute for the comfort supplied by the utterly taken-for-granted relationship. more...

Moralistic is not moral. And as for truth - well, it's like brown - it's not in the spectrum. Truth is so generic. more...

The priesthood is a marriage. People often start by falling in love, and they go on for years without realizing that love must change into some other love which is so unlike it that it can hardly be recognized as love at all. more...

A bad review is even less important than whether it is raining in Patagonia. more...

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

I see myself as Rhoda, not Mary Tyler Moore. more...

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

One doesn't have to get anywhere in a marriage. It's not a public conveyance. more...

Only lies and evil come from letting people off. more...

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

He was a sociologist; he had got into an intellectual muddle early on in life and never managed to get out. more...

We need a moral philosophy in which the concept of love, so rarely mentioned now by philosophers, can once again be made central. more...

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

What a test that is: more than devotion, admiration, passion. If you long and long for someone's company you love them. more...

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. more...

What a test that is: more than devotion, admiration, passion. If you long and long for someone's company you love them. more...

We are all the judges and the judged, victims of the casual malice and fantasy of others, and ready sources of fantasy and malice in our turn. And if we are sometimes accused of sins of which we are innocent, are there not also other sins of which we are guilty and of which the world knows nothing? more...

I feel half faded away like some figure in the background of an old picture. more...

Of course reading and thinking are important but, my God, food is important too. How fortunate we are to be food-consuming animals. Each meal should be a treat and one ought to bless every day which brings with it a good digestion and the precious gift of hunger. more...

The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. more...

They are universal places, like churches, hallowed meeting places of all mankind. more...

A good man often appears gauche simply because he does not take advantage of the myriad mean little chances of making himself look stylish. Preferring truth to form, he is not constantly at work upon the facade of his appearance. more...

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

Almost anything that consoles us is a fake. more...

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

We defend ourself with descriptions and tame the world by generalizing. more...

Education does' make you happy. Nor does freedom. We do' become happy just because we"re free - if we are. Or because we"ve been educated - if we have. But because education may be the means by which we realize we are happy. It opens our eyes, our ears, tells us where delights are lurking, convinces us that there is only one freedom of any importance whatsoever, that of the mind, and gives us the assurance - the confidence - to walk the path our mind, our educated mind, offers. more...

Coffee, unless it is very good and made by somebody else, is pretty intolerable at any time. more...

Of course reading and thinking are important but, my God, food is important too. more...

Every artist is an unhappy lover. And unhappy lovers want to tell their story. more...

The chief requirement of the good life, is to live without any image of oneself. more...

Education doesn't make you happy. Nor does freedom. We don't become happy just because we're free - if we are. Or because we've been educated - if we have. But because education may be the means by which we realize we are happy. It opens our eyes, our ears, tells us where delights are lurking, convinces us that there is only one freedom of any importance whatsoever, that of the mind, and gives us the assurance - the confidence - to walk the path our mind, our educated mind, offers. more...

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. more...

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

Upon the demon-ridden pilgrimage of human life, what next I wonder. more...

The chief requirement of the good life... is to live without any image of oneself. more...

Love is the extremely difficult realisation that something other than oneself is real. Love, and so art and morals, is the discovery of reality. more...

Happiness is a matter of one's most ordinary everyday mode of consciousness being busy and lively and unconcerned with self. To be damned is for one's ordinary everyday mode of consciousness to be unremitting agonising preoccupation with self. more...

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

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. Possibly, more people kill themselves and others out of hurt vanity than out of envy, jealousy, malice or desire for revenge. more...

Whit Meynell was a sociologist; he had got into an intellectual muddle early on in life and never managed to get out. more...

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

Stuart was not dismayed by his sexual feelings about the boy. more...

I have used the word "attention," which I borrow from Simone Weil, to express the idea of a just and loving gaze directed upon individual reality. I believe this to be the characteristic and proper mark of the active moral agent. more...

The theatre is a tragic place, full of endings and partings and heartbreak. more...

Almost any tale of our doings is comic. We are bottomlessly comic to each other. Even the most adored and beloved person is comic to his lover. The novel is a comic form. Language is a comic form, and makes jokes in its sleep. God, if He existed, would laugh at His creation. Yet it is also the case that life is horrible, without metaphysical sense, wrecked by chance, pain and the close prospect of death. Out of this is born irony, our dangerous and necessary tool. more...

Art is brief. (Not in a temporal sense.) [...] Words are for concealment. Art is concealment. more...

There is no triumph of good, and if there were it would not be a triumph of good. more...

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

We're all muddlers. The thing is to see is when one's got to stop muddling. more...

Just let them come, visit, like birds. more...

[They were] quiet intelligent surreptitious beavering-away snobs, as most cultured middle-class people are, unless there is some positive quality of character or education' to stop them. more...

The bereaved cannot communicate with the unbereaved. more...

youth is a marvelous garment more...

Time can divorce us from the reality of people, it can separate us from people and turn them into ghosts. Or rather it is we who turn them into ghosts or demons. Some kinds of fruitless preoccupations with the past can create such simulacra, and they can exercise power, like those heroes at Troy fighting for a phantom Helen. more...

What a test that is: more than devotion, admiration, passion. If you long and long for someone's company you love them. more...

Real worship involves waiting. more...

There is a spider called Amaurobius, which lives in a burrow and has its young in the late summer, and then it dies when the frosts begin, and the young spiders live through the cold by eating their mother's dead body. One can't believe that's an accident. I don't know that I imagined God as having thought it all out, but somehow He was connected with the pattern, He was the pattern... more...


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