Writer John Bayley, Iris Murdoch's widower, dies at 89

Noted literary scholar John Bayley, whose book 'Elegy for Iris' was made into an Oscar-winning film, has died

John Bayley died Jan. 12 at age 89 in the Canary Islands, the London Telegraph reports. Bayley, a noted literary scholar, was best known for his 1998 book "Elegy for Iris" (published in Britain as "Iris: A Memoir") about his life with Iris Murdoch.

Murdoch was a Booker prize-winning novelist of fierce intellect who fell ill with Alzheimer's disease. Bayley's account of their marriage, and Murdoch's unraveling, became a surprise bestseller. It was made into the Oscar-winning film "Iris," which starred Kate Winslet and Judi Dench as the younger and older Murdoch and Hugh Bonneville and Jim Broadbent as the younger and elder Bayley. (Broadbent won the Academy Award for supporting actor.)

Bayley's memoir lifted the veil on the particulars of Alzheimer's, which was still little explored in literature and film. But it caused some controversy: It was published while Murdoch was in the late stages of the disease but still alive. Some friends considered the account intrusive; in letters to friends, Muriel Spark accused Bayley of “muckraking” and writing a “sordid” account.

After Murdoch's death, Bayley went on to write two more memoirs of his life that followed. "Iris and the Friends" (1999) told the story of the last year of her life, which included visitations from imaginary friends. In "Widower’s House" (2001), he wrote of being wooed by two women, stories that he said may have been embroidered (or not).

The bookish Bayley was born in Lahore in present-day Pakistan in 1925, attended Eton and served in the British Army during World War II. Afterward he attended Oxford, where he became a tutor in 1955 and eventually became the Wharton professor of English. He met Murdoch at Oxford; the two married in 1956. Years later, in a radio interview, Bayley said his affections for his wife were “in the mind, rather than physically erotic.”

And yet the couple had an enduringly close relationship. Editor Bob Weil, who visited them in 1997, wrote in the Partisan Review: "Although her condition could no longer be hidden, there was a profound joy and merriment that pervaded the Murdoch-Bayley household.... There was no gloom, no shame, and John was spritely and ebullient."

As a critic, Bayley, who was widely published, wrote about literary theory and Russian and English literature. His best-known work was "Shakespeare and Tragedy" (1980).

He is survived by his second wife, Audi Villers, whom he married in 2001.

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