A couple of years ago, Kingston University bought hundreds of Iris Murdoch’s letters. When I heard about this, I emailed The Centre for Iris Murdoch Studies (oh yes), arranged a time to go down there, underwent a rigorous examination of my motives that included waterboarding and being forced to listen to Level 42’s entire back catalogue, put on special Kev-proof gloves made from swan’s feathers, swore I’d be really, really, really, really careful and then sat there for hours, quickly immersed in Iris’ thoughts and dreams and anxieties, all the time being glared at by the scarily-bespectacled Keeper Of The Letters.
All the letters were from Iris – she apparently destroyed every single one she ever received. And, while The Guardian had been full of the ‘sensational’ discovery of her long-term gay relationship with Philippa Foot, the fascination for me lay in those to Raymond Queneau, the French writer who wrote one of my favourite books, ‘Exercises in Style’. I sat there trying to piece together what he must have said to her: her responses were loving, tantalising, exquisite and sad.