Why Pamela Hansford Johnson disliked Iris Murdoch

Pamela Hansford Johnson

Iris Murdoch

Lesley Chamberlain begins:

It was the only time they met, and apparently Murdoch, the younger of the two, left no record of it. Johnson by contrast was full of venom:

Iris is heavy, low-slung, grotesque in appearance: he is little and stuttering, with a fluting voice. I rather liked him. But she is nervy, socially ill at ease, and not my thing at all. She is profoundly and deeply feminine, despite appearances: all those frilly heroines are compensation figures. I hate to seem a bitch towards her – I think her life hasn’t been easy. This doesn’t mean I can stand the incoherence of her novels.

This extraordinary passage comes from Johnson’s diaries, of which her recent biographer Wendy Pollard has made first and excellent use. Pamela Hansford Johnson Her Life, Works and Times was published in 2014 and I’ll be reviewing it in a future issue of The Times Literary Supplement.

PHJ, as her biographer calls her, was just coming up to fifty at the time. Murdoch was seven years her junior.


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