And Still, She Wrote

A group of scientists at University College London (my alma mater, by the way) has examined Iris Murdoch’s last novel, Jackson’s Dilemma, looking for clues in her writing about the neurodegenerative disease she was suffering from–Alzheimer’s.

The experts say it shows a smaller vocabulary than her previous novels, which were noted for the richness of their language, suggesting she was in the grip of the “word-finding difficulty” characteristic of the earliest phase of Alzheimer’s.

When the novel came out in 1995, a few critics had noticed a difference in Murdoch’s style:

A S Byatt said Jackson’s Dilemma was akin to an Indian rope trick in which the characters “have no selves and therefore there is no story”. Penelope Fitzgerald suggested that the economy of the writing made it appear that Murdoch had “let her fiction wear through”. Hugo Barnacle described it as reading “like the work of a 13-year-old schoolgirl who doesn’t get out enough”.

Murdoch confessed she had suffered writer’s block while trying to complete it – an early sign of the illness.

At the end of the article you can see two samples from Murdoch’s writing, one pre- and one post-onset of the illness.