Iris Murdoch herself visited Japan along with husband John Bayley at the request of the British Council. They stayed for around two weeks and the lecture Iris gave in Kobe that I attended took place at the Kobe Institute of St. Catherine’s on Friday 28th May 1993. This wide-ranging talk was on ‘The Modern Novel’.
Murdoch’s great love of the Flaying of Marsyas ignited Phillips’ inspiration. ‘When the National Portrait Gallery commissioned me to paint her portrait I recalled our conversation’, he said, and he ‘started a fairly hasty copy of the picture to act as a backdrop so that she might sit in front of the head of Marsyas.’ Phillips sketched in the Titian with broad brushstrokes; in contrast, he rendered the image of Murdoch herself with great precision and imbued it with a translucent, otherworldly light
Murdoch’s beer mats point the way to how some of the most dramatic moments of her life were played out in pubs, as indeed they are for many characters in her novels. The names of scores of pubs lie within their pages, for it is to pubs that characters go to weep, to quarrel, to think, to hope, and often to come to conclusions that will destroy their lives.