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She first encountered existentialist writings while working with refugees, and she drew deeply from her fascination with those experiences in her second novel, ''Flight From the Enchanter'' (1956).
She graduated with honors in 1942 and immediately took a job with the Treasury.
In 1944 she began working for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, which helped Europeans displaced by World War II.
The somber experiences of the war had a profound impact on her thinking.
Close friends died while in service, and her work, often on the front lines, with poor and elderly refugees was hard but instructive.
Existentialism, with its focus on individual will, appealed to her, but she found its emphasis on the primacy of the self disturbing.
Her first published work, ''Sartre: Romantic Rationalist'' (1953), was a serious, clear explanation of existentialism and its place in contemporary thought.
Iris Murdoch, a prodigiously inventive and idiosyncratic British writer whose 26 novels offered lively plots, complex characters and intellectual speculation, died yesterday at a nursing home in Oxford, England. Her struggle with Alzheimer's was documented recently in ''Elegy for Iris,'' a memoir by her husband, the critic and novelist John Bayley, who was at her bedside when she died.
Miss Murdoch's first novel was published in 1954 and in a career that lasted for more than four decades, her fiction received many honors, including the Booker Prize for ''The Sea, the Sea,'' the Whitbread Literary Award for Fiction for ''The Sacred and Profane Love Machine'' and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for ''The Black Prince.'' Although she was made a Dame of the British Empire, she rarely garnered the attention given to gaudier contemporaries.
It focused on the picaresque adventures of a free-spirited Irishman making the rounds of some of the more raffish areas of London and Paris.
A reviewer in The Times Literary Supplement said the work seemed to announce the emergence of ''a brilliant talent.'' The novel signaled the beginning of an industrious and prolific career.