Iris and her friends: a memoir of memory and desire

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He had a luxurious and cultivated household in Munich, with many servants and a summer house in the mountains outside the city. Mann supported German nationalism during the Great War and quarreled bitterly with his older writer-brother, Heinrich, who took an international stance and espoused the French cause. But they were staunch allies in their opposition to Nazism, both before and after Hitler came to power, and both went into exile. Thomas must have had an extremely strong character to survive the loss of his houses and all his possessions, his manuscripts and correspondence, his publisher, royalties, and Nobel prize-money, his citizenship, honorary doctorate, and German audience.

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In that class and that time children did not live in close proximity to their parents. The Mann children had a separate nursery and were brought up by maids, governesses, and tutors, but their father was exceptionally withdrawn. Their autobiographies all paid tribute to his elegant style, high art, penetrating irony, subtle wit, depth of meaning, and profound insight into European culture. They all defined their own identity in relation to their father. But their own literary efforts were inevitably criticized by reviewers either for exploiting his name or for failing to equal his achievement.

Escape to Life , written in English by Erika and Claus and published by Houghton Mifflin in the spring of , shortly before the outbreak of World War II, is an autobiography, a portrait of their father and an effective piece of anti-Nazi propaganda. The somewhat euphemistic title agreed upon was Escape to Life.

He and Katia happened to be in Switzerland when the Nazis took power and burnt the Reichstag while blaming their political enemies for the fire. Their oldest children believed it was dangerous for them to return to Germany. Knowing their phone was tapped, they told the parents that the weather was so bad and the spring-cleaning of the house so disruptive that it would be better if they did not come back. The parents, unaccustomed to such subterfuge, had some difficulty deciphering the message.

The context of Escape to Life demands a dignified and flattering portrait of Thomas as leader of the emigration. But there are some hints, between the lines, of his repressive power and godlike authority at home. They associated him with the vague smell of cigar smoke, eau-de-cologne, and dust from his books. He is both touchy and lenient, weary and preoccupied, living in his own world and completely aloof from what goes on in the house. But his vanity, or his sense of honor, prevented him from doing so—at least, for a while.

After the reading there was a long and dismal silence. Very strange, indeed. I reveled in mysticism, for I thought him a skeptic. He is by instinct and tradition a Protestant: I was attracted to Catholicism. I had his terminology in my fingertips, his images in my blood. Everybody was struck by their peculiar charm and puzzled by their rapid dialogues bristling with secret formulas, tender allusions, enigmatic jokes.

Though born a year and nine days after his sister, Klaus always celebrated his birthday on her day—November 9. The last inevitable step has a fascination and even a practical interest which no previous event can equal. Five hundred words a day for 60 years adds up to a long shelf of books.

An accomplished speaker and performer of the highest rank, he read the Schiller essay—cut by Erika from to 20 pages—in both West and East Germany. On holiday in Noordwijk he worked, like Gustav von Aschenbach, while sitting in a chair on the seashore. The doctrine [he] sought to inculcate was that not only was the physical continuation of human life at stake but also. The first sign of his fatal illness occurred in Noordwijk, three weeks before his death, with a dragging pain in his left leg that was originally diagnosed as a thrombosis, or a dangerous blood clot.

He was flown back to Zurich for more specialized treatment, and his appearance, after his holiday, seemed to Erika reassuring. His narrow head was bronzed by the sun, he suffered no pain and did not complain of feeling ill.

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He collapsed on August 11, and was given intravenous drugs, blood transfusions, flasks of oxygen and finally morphine. Buy with confidence, excellent customer service!. Seller Inventory n. John Bayley. Publisher: Thorndike Pr , This specific ISBN edition is currently not available. View all copies of this ISBN edition:.


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Synopsis About this title Nothing in the literary world has been as startling as the spotlight shone on the year-old Oxford don John Bayley, whose New York Times best-selling Elegy for Iris has spoken to readers the world over about suffering, sacrifice, and love. Review : Novelist Iris Murdoch died in after a three-year battle with Alzheimer's disease. Buy New Learn more about this copy. Customers who bought this item also bought. Stock Image. Published by Thorndike Pr New Hardcover Quantity Available: 2. Seller Rating:.

Apart from her gentleness, one of the most memorable features about her was a great sweetness. In fact, it reminds me of the charming sweetness of another woman, the Duchess of York, now the Queen Mother. I was still a youth when I first saw the Duchess standing on a platform in a park in Tasmania beside her husband, then the Duke of York and later George VI. I was so affected by the sweetness of her smile that after passing her, I ran through a small gate in the fence of the park and joined the tail end of the crowd that was walking past her. By the time I passed her again, I was one of the stragglers and she seemed to give me a smile of unutterable sweetness.

Strangely, though very gentle and sweet, my mother was a very firm disciplinarian. She even used corporal punishment when she felt it was necessary.

Iris and Her Friends: A Memoir of Memory and Desire

Oddly, though, she never used it with my sister Rita, who was about seventeen months older than I was. She did not use it very often on me but I have several memories of her striking the bare skin at the back of my knees or sometimes my posterior. I felt anger and resentment at the time but the great love that flowed from her, even when she was wielding the rod of punishment, made me forgive her quickly and easily. By the time evening had come and I was kneeling beside my bed saying the prayers she had taught me, I had forgiven her completely. Sometimes when both my sister Rita and I received some stern punishment, we would run away, hide among some hanging clothes, perhaps in a cupboard, and call "I'll tell Dad when he comes home!

My mother was so beautiful to my childhood eyes that I could not understand why she had not been made queen of some country. But my mother was not only physically beautiful, she also had shining spirituality about her. From long before we were old enough to go to school, she told us many beautiful stories from the Bible that she knew so well.

Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch - John Bayley - Google Livres

I learned later that the source of her copious knowledge of the Bible and her faith and love for that book came from her father, John Presnell of Ross, Tasmania, where my mother was born and brought up. John Presnell was a faithful, sincere follower of John Wesley, who, with his brother brought a spiritual revival to England in the nineteenth century. The Church founded in his name is sometimes called Wesleyan, sometimes Methodist.

The one in Ross bore the latter name and there my grandfather spent his Sundays, sometimes as a lay preacher, always as a leader of the choir. He carried his religion into his week days also, holding daily family prayers and teaching his many children the strict, in some ways puritanical, rules of living for God as taught by John Wesley. My mother, Caroline Mary, must have been one of his most apt pupils. The religion we learnt at her knee while we were still of pre-school age would be called fundamentalist today.

Iris and Her Friends

In the simple language she used, the main features of the religious teachings she gave were as follows: there is a Father God dwelling in Heaven above the sky, in whose likeness the first man, Adam, was made. This, of course, gave me a picture of God as an old man, a wise old man, perhaps with a long white beard.

He must, of course, be very ancient because he had been there so long. Our mother told us that, though God the Father was so far away in Heaven, he sees and hears everything we do or say. Furthermore, he records it all in a Book of Life, so if we do something wrong, such as telling a lie, or stealing, that is written down in the great book. But also our good deeds are recorded there. In Heaven, too, is the Son of God whose name was Jesus. Once a very long time ago, when the world was becoming very wicked and evil, this Son had come to earth as a man.

He was born of the Virgin Mary in Palestine and for some years walked throughout that country healing the sick and, usually to open air gatherings, teaching the truth about life and death and the right way for man to live to please the loving Father and so go to Heaven when he died. If anyone failed to please God, if he had many misdeeds or sins recorded unrepented in the Father God's Book of Life, he would go to a terrible place called Hell where he would suffer eternal punishment.

When I was a little older, I reflected that this seemed rather a harsh punishment for perhaps one misdeed, but at the time I accepted the teaching. Another of her fundamentalist teachings, which I think is still taught in some Christian denominations, was that at death we remain in a sleep in the grave until the day of God's great Judgment. On that day we would be raised in a body similar to that that had decayed in the grave for years or possibly centuries and stand with crowds of others before God's great Judgment seat.

Then we would find ourselves either with the virtuous ones going to Heaven or with the wicked, unrepentant ones on the road to Hell. This was not a very appealing scene to my childhood mind yet, even worse, was the prospect of lying in the cold grave perhaps for hundreds of years waiting the terrible Day of Judgment.

Through the years of my higher education, I discarded the whole idea and tried to persuade my mother that it was wrong. She, being quite psychic, had had a number of strange experiences about death, such as a vision of her mother being carried up to Heaven with a fleet of angels at her death, which had taken place some twenty miles away from where my mother was living. She also sometimes would see the figure of one of her family who had died standing at the foot of her bed. Also she frequently heard a knock at the window of her bedroom at the time some relation or close friend had died some distance away.

Such experiences, I argued, proved that people did not sleep in their graves but moved on somewhere if they were able to contact her in this way. She was somewhat stubborn about the idea of giving up the Methodist beliefs her father had taught her. I was glad that before she died she discarded the gruesome idea of waiting in the grave for Judgment Day.

There was another feature of John Presnell's teachings that came to me through the lips of my mother. That was the puritanical Victorian age repression of sexual urges. Sex could be indulged in between married couples only. Any temptation to indulge the sexual desires before marriage or without marriage at any age was certainly a sin going against the commandments of the Father God. This she taught as we grew older though it was before we knew where babies came from.

This delicate matter we learnt from other sources. Perhaps it was through my mother's influence in this regard that I did manage to remain virginal until beyond the age of twenty-one, though this was achieved with great difficulty and, like many of the youth of that time, I indulged in a hidden, guilt-ridden sex life in the years before my first marriage when I was thirty.

Through my student years at University, I met with young men who found different ways of appeasing this strong, almost unbearable sex urge, including regular masturbation and visiting brothels. The young generation, somewhere about the middle of the twentieth century, threw the Victorian morality to the winds and indulged in free love with the aid of a contraceptive pill, but this God-given powerful sex instinct is still causing much suffering and even tragedy among the youth of the world.

What is the answer?

John Presnell did not have it because two of his younger daughters scandalized their mother after their father's early death by each having an illegitimate son. Now, returning to my dear mother, I must mention another way in which she fulfilled Sathya Sai Baba's statement that a child's mother should be his first guru. Even though much of her Methodist, fundamentalist teachings had to be revised and broadened through the course of my life, it was, I believe, better than the atheistic way in which many, even most children today, are brought up.

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At least it makes one aware of the vital spiritual ingredient of life. Mother, though a farmer's wife and therefore a very busy housewife, found the time to teach Rita and me to read and write and do simple arithmetic before we set foot in school but she also gave us in childhood an unseen friend, who had died on the cross for our sake and still helped us in our day to day lives with problems of what to do and what not to do.

He, it was, we believed, who spoke to us in the voice of conscience. We loved him very dearly. His name was Jesus. I want to finish this chapter with a few interesting, and I believe, significant contacts I had with my mother after her death in When she died, I was ninety nine per cent certain that there was life after death and I eventually contacted her some months after her funeral through a clairvoyant woman from Brisbane named Anne Novak.

Happily, I discovered that the love I had shown in my psychic search for her had helped her a great deal and that she was now in a good place and in good conditions which seemed to be somewhere in the higher subdivisions of the astral plane. I have a good hope that I will see her again when I myself pass from this earth. After the death of Iris, my second wife, in , I had further psychic contact with my mother through Iris. How fortunate I was in knowing the Sai devotee and great clairvoyant, Joan Moylan, during the time of great loss and sadness for me when Iris left me for the spiritual adventure beyond.

I have told in other places how she used to come to my studio in the garden of my house in the Blue Mountains and there, Iris, who seemed to know what was happening on this side of the veil, always appeared within a few minutes of our taking our seats in the studio. She would always stay the whole morning and on one occasion the whole day while we talked of memories and about her life on the other side. At some of these meetings, among the people who came were my sister Rita and the younger one Leone, who was, Swami had told me, my twin soul.

Iris had told me that she had visited my mother and found her very happy in her astral abode. On one occasion I said to Iris, that my sisters and several old friends have come back but not my mother. Immediately she replied, "Would you like her to come. If so I will get her. I have learned in my studies of psychic science, particularly when I was a member of the Society for Psychical Research in London that on the astral plane, where vibrations are higher and therefore matter is lighter and more easily moulded by thought, people are able to iron out any defects in the body which is a replica of their last body on earth and to assume the appearance of any age they choose.

Though some, like Sri Yukteswar, the guru of Yogananda, choose to remain at the age at which they passed away, many return to the appearance of their earlier life.

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So my mother came in, looking about the same age as Iris, that is around the early twenties. Of course the clairvoyant Joan had never seen my mother in life, nor had she seen a photograph, so how could she be sure that the spirit or astral body of the one who had just appeared, was indeed my mother? She seemed to know immediately and described her to me. One interesting thing she said, "Your mother has such a sweetness about her. She reminds me of the Queen Mother.


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  • When she first came in, she seemed to forget herself for a moment and called me "Baby", as if the memory of me as a baby on her knee was very strong. I noted with some surprise that she was carrying her favourite book under her arm, the Holy Bible.