She studied classics, ancient history, and philosophy at Somerville College, in Oxford. During World War II she was an active member of the Communist Party. From 1938 to 1942 she worked at the Treasury as an assistant principal, and then for the United Nations relief organisation UNNRA (1944-46) in Austria and Belgium. After a year without a job in London, She took up a postgraduate studentship in philosophy. In 1948 she was elected a fellow of St. Anne's College, Oxford, where she worked as a tutor until 1963. Her first published work was a critical study SARTRE, ROMANTIC RATIONALIST (1953). Her great love was a Czech Jewish poet and polymath called Franz Steiner, who died of a heart attack in 1952 - in her arms, according to his friend Elias Canetti. Although she had an affair with Canetti she married John Bayley, who was six years younger. He became a professor of English at Oxford and also published fiction. Iris never took any interest in children; she had some affairs, which Bayley tolerated in the otherwise happy marriage of two scholars. However, they shared one passion, swimming, which they practised whenever they had an opportunity to plunge into water.
Iris Murdoch made her debut as a proper novelist with UNDER THE NET (1954), A SEVERED HEAD (1961), but THE BELL ( written in 1958) is one of Iris’ most successful novels.
It depicts an Anglican religious community in Gloucestershire. The events focus on the replacement bell to be hung in an abbey tower. Finally the difficulties of the task culminate in an effort to move the bell along a causeway to the gates of the nunnery - the bell suddenly falls into the water and sinks without a trace. Although this book may sound rather boring, the complexities of her characters and the style in which the book is constructed made it so popular that the story was later televised on BBC1.
Murdoch published over twenty novels. In her early works, such as THE SANDCASTLE (1957), the books are generally short. Her later works are large, over 500 pages in length.
During the last years of her life she was reported to have become like "a very nice 3-year-old," as her husband described her. Murdoch died in Oxford on February 8, 1999. In his memoir Elegy for Iris John Bayley portrays lovingly but unsentimentally. "She was a superior being, and I knew that superior beings just did not have the kind of mind that I had." Murdoch's benevolent personality was not broken by her disease. In Iris and Her Friends: A Memoir of Memory and Desire (1999) Bayley continued to write about his wife lovingly.