Kensington & ChelseaNews

Dublin born philosopher commemorated with blue plaque

By Kelsey McCabe

A national historical society has honoured novelist and philosopher Iris Murdoch with a plaque placed in front of a building where she once occupied a flat.

On June 19, English Heritage unveiled a blue plaque at 29 Cornwall Gardens in Kensington, part of a mid-Victorian terrace house where Ms Murdoch spent three days a week in a top-floor flat for more than 25 years.

The new plaque is part of English Heritage’s blue plaque programme, which honours more than 1,000 notable individuals by marking places across London where they lived or worked.

Blue Plaques Panel member Claire Harman said: “During the time that Murdoch lived here she wrote some of her great ‘London’ novels of the 1970s, The Sacred and Profane Love Machine in 1974, A Word Child in 1975 and Henry and Cato in 1976.

“She really drew inspiration from London and I am delighted that we can celebrate her in return.”

Born in Dublin in 1919 and raised in London, Ms Murdoch studied English before the Second World War, during her time at Somerville College, Oxford. After the war, she studied philosophy at the University of Cambridge, and ultimately returned to teach philosophy as a fellow at the University of Oxford.

In the course of her career, Ms Murdoch published 26 novels, notably 1978’s The Sea, The Sea, for which she won a Booker Prize, and 1958’s The Bell, which earned widespread critical acclaim early in her career.

Picture: A new plaque honouring Iris Murdoch outside 29 Cornwall Gardens in Kensington (Picture: English Heritage)

Outside of her literary work, Ms Murdoch was also a respected philosopher. In the wake of the Second World War, she wrote extensively on moral realism, a framework which suggested that morality was not subjective, but objective.

The new plaque is part of English Heritage’s ‘plaques for women’ campaign, which launched in 2016 and aims to highlight more notable historical women by honouring them with blue plaques. English Heritage continues to seek nominations for its blue plaques program.

Out of more than 200 plaques dedicated to notable figures in literature, only around 35 are dedicated to women, with just 15 per cent of the thousand-plus official London blue plaques celebrating women.

For the first hundred years of the plaque scheme’s existence, the great majority of those honoured were men. But, English Heritage’s ongoing ‘plaques for women’ campaign has seen a dramatic rise in the number of public nominations for women since it launched in 2016.

Other female writers commemorated by English Heritage’s London Blue Plaques Scheme include Virginia Woolf, Frances Hodgson Burnett and Dame Agatha Christie. 

Pictured top: Members of the Blue Plaques Panel celebrate the new plaques unveiling on June 19 (Picture: English Heritage) 

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