Sunday, September 19, 2021

My hero John Bayley by Richard Eyre

Iris Murdoch with her husband John Bayley.
 Photograph: Eammon Mccabe for the Guardian

My hero: 

John BAyley by Richard Eyre

Bayley was a marvellous writer, a great critic and wonderful company. Some criticised him for writing about the illness of his wife, Iris Murdoch. But he said: ‘Iris would have approved’

Richard Eyre
Thu 22 Jan 2015

got to know John Bayley, whose death was reported this week, when I made the film Iris, based on his two memoirs of his wife, Iris Murdoch, and her decline and death from Alzheimer’s. I found him enchanting: highly intelligent, of course, a sharp and entirely accessible literary critic but, rarer still, a marvellous writer and wonderful company. Some criticised him for writing his account of his wife’s illness: they were people who had never lived with someone with Alzheimer’s. Of his memoirs Bayley said: “Iris would have approved.” I believe she would. He was eccentric, droll and, in my experience, undeviatingly honest.

There was nothing grand about John. He would as happily talk about Hollywood in the 1940s as about Tolstoy – and seamlessly switch from one to the other. We were talking once of the character of Anna Karenina – he was a brilliant advocate of Russian literature – when I suggested that Anna K had a kind of glow about her. “I think it was true of Iris, too,” he said, “but of course I never thought that she was pretty. She had a very compelling face. My views of feminine beauty, which are very simple-minded, were based entirely on the cinema. I liked people like Esther Williams, the swimming star. I used to say to Iris, ‘You know, she has such a kind face, rather like yours.’ She did have a nice face.”
John was a brilliantly readable reviewer, often witty and sometimes waspish, but invariably bearing the authority of a man who could speak knowledgeably of all European cultures. He believed that the point of literature was to make sense of the world, and, although shy and unassertive, he was a blazingly confident guide to how and where to discover those truths. If I were looking for an epitaph for him it would be from Tolstoy: “We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.”

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002 My hero / Harley Granville-Barker by Richard Eyre
003 My hero / Edward Goldsmith by Zac Goldsmith
004 My hero / Fridtjof Nansen by Sara Wheeler 
005 My hero / Mother Mercedes Lawler IBVM by Antonia Fraser

007 My hero / Ernest Shepard by Richard Holmes
008 My hero / JG Ballard by Will Self
009 My hero / Alan Ross by William Boyd
010 My hero / Ben the labrador by John Banville

011 My hero / Vicent van Gogh by Margaret Drabble
012 My hero / Franz Marek by Eric Hobsbawm


017 My hero / Jack Yeats by Colm Tóibín
018 My hero / Francisco Goya by Diana Athill
019 My hero / Max Stafford-Clark by Sebastian Barry
020 My hero / Arthur Holmes by Richard Fortey

036 My hero / Robert Lowell by Jonathan Raban
037 My hero / Beryl Bainbridge by Michael Holroyd
038 My hero / Charles Schulz by Jenny Colgan
039 My hero / Oliver Knussen by Adam Foulds
040 My hero / Annie Proulx by Alan Warner

041 My hero / David Lynch by Paul Murray
042 My hero / Edwin Morgan by Robert Crawford
043 My hero / Anne Lister by Emma Donoghue
044 My hero / Jane Helen Harrinson by Mary Beard
045 My hero / Edmund Burke by David Marquand
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047 My hero / Christopher Marlowe by Val McDermid
048 My hero / Gwen John by Anne Enright
049 My hero / Michael Mayne by Susan Hill
050 My hero / Stanley Spencer by Howard Jacobson

051 My hero / William Beveridge by Will Hutton
052 My hero / Jean McConville by Amanda Foreman
053 My hero / Alexander Pushkin by Elaine Feinstein
058 My hero / Cy Twombly by Edmund de Waal

079 My hero / Gene Wolfe by Neil Gaiman
087 My hero / Alberto Moravia by John Burnside
096 My hero / Isaac Babel by AD Miller
097 Lucian Freud by Esi Edugyan
100 Thomas Tranströmer by Robin Robertson
102 My hero / David Hockney by Susan Hill


190 My hero / Iris Murdoch by Charlotte Mendelson
194 My hero / René Descartes by James Kelman
199 My hero / Albert Camus by Geoff Dyer


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