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Doris May Lessing (ne Tayler; born 22 October 1919)


Short story collections

The Grass Is Singing (1950) (filmed as Killing Heat(1981)) Retreat to Innocence (1956) The Golden Notebook (1962) Briefing for a Descent into Hell (1971) The Summer Before the Dark (1973) Memoirs of a Survivor (1974) The Diary of a Good Neighbour (as Jane Somers, 1983) If the Old Could... (as Jane Somers, 1984) The Good Terrorist (1985) The Fifth Child (1988) Love, Again (1996) Mara and Dann (1999) Ben, in the World (2000) sequel to The Fifth Child The Sweetest Dream (2001) The Story of General Dann and Mara's Daughter, Griot and the Snow Dog (2005) sequel to Mara and Dann The Cleft (2007) Alfred and Emily (2008)

The Children of Violence series

Martha Quest (1952) A Proper Marriage (1954) A Ripple from the Storm (1958) Landlocked (1965)

Five Short Novels (1953) The Habit of Loving (1957) A Man and Two Women (1963) African Stories (1964) Winter in July (1966) The Black Madonna (1966) The Story of a NonMarrying Man (1972) This Was the Old Chief's Country: Collected African Stories, Vol. 1 (1973) The Sun Between Their Feet: Collected African Stories, Vol. 2 (1973) To Room Nineteen: Collected Stories, Vol. 1 (1978) The Temptation of Jack Orkney: Collected Stories, Vol. 2 (1978) Through the Tunnel (1990) London Observed: Stories and Sketches (1992) The Real Thing: Stories and Sketches(1992) Spies I Have Known (1995) The Pit (1996) The Grandmothers: Four

The Four-Gated City (1969)

Short Novels(2003) Cat Tales

The Canopus in Argos: Archives series

Shikasta (1979) The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five(1980) The Sirian Experiments (1980) The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 (1982) The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire (1983)

Opera libretti

Particularly Cats (stories and nonfiction, 1967) Particularly Cats and Rufus the Survivor(stories and nonfiction, 1993) The Old Age of El Magnifico (stories and nonfiction, 2000) On Cats (2002) omnibus edition containing the above three books

The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 (music by Philip Glass, 1986) The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five(music by Philip Glass, 1997)


Playing the Game (graphic novel illustrated by Charlie Adlard, 1995)


Each His Own Wilderness (three plays, 1959) Play with a Tiger (1962)


Fourteen Poems (1959) The Wolf People INPOPA Anthology 2002 (poems by Lessing, Robert Twigger and T.H. Benson, 2002)

Zimbabwean-British writer. Her novels include The Grass Is Singing, The Golden Notebook, and five novels collectively known as Canopus in Argos. Lessing was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature Lessing was born in Iran, then known as Persia, on 22 October 1919, to Captain Alfred Tayler and Emily Maude Tayler (ne McVeagh), who were both English and of British nationality. Lessing was educated at the Dominican Convent High School, a Roman Catholic convent all-girls school in Salisbury (now Harare). She left school aged 14, and thereafter was self-educated; she left home at 15 and worked as a nursemaid. When she fled to London to pursue her writing career and communist ideals, she left two toddlers with their father in South Africa (another, from her second marriage, went with her). She later said that at the time she thought she had no choice: "For a long time I felt I had done a very brave thing. There is nothing more boring for an intelligent woman than to spend endless amounts of time with small children. I felt I wasn't the best person to bring them up. I would have ended up an alcoholic or a frustrated intellectual like my mother." Writing developments In 2007, Lessing was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. She was 87, making her the oldest winner of the literature prize at the time of the award and the third oldest Nobel Laureate in any category. She also stands as only the eleventh woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature by the Swedish Academy in its 106-year history. Lessing was out shopping for groceries when the announcement came, arriving home to tell reporters who had gathered there, "Oh Christ!. She told reporters outside her home "I've won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I'm delighted to win them all. It's a royal flush." Lessing's fiction is commonly divided into three distinct phases: the Communist theme (19441956), when she was writing radically on social issues (to which she returned in The Good Terrorist [1985]), the psychological theme (19561969), and after that the Sufi theme, which

was explored in the Canopus in Argos sequence of science fiction (or as she preferred to put it "space fiction") novels and novellas. Lessing's Canopus sequence was not popular with many mainstream literary critics. For example, in the New York Times in 1982 John Leonard wrote in reference to The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 that "[o]ne of the many sins for which the 20th century will be held accountable is that it has discouraged Mrs. Lessing... She now propagandises on behalf of our insignificance in the cosmic razzmatazz." To which Lessing replied: "What they didn't realise was that in science fiction is some of the best social fiction of our time. I also admire the classic sort of science fiction, like Blood Music, by Greg Bear. He's a great writer." When asked about which of her books she considers most important, Lessing chose the Canopus in Argos sequence. These novels present an advanced interstellar society's efforts to accelerate the evolution of other worlds, including Earth. (Similar concepts occur in science fiction by other authors, e.g. the Progressor and Uplift sequences.) Using Sufi concepts, to which Lessing had been introduced in the mid-1960s by her "good friend and teacher" Idries Shah, the series of novels also owes much to the approach employed by the early 20th century mystic G. I. Gurdjieff in his work All and Everything. Earlier works of "inner space" fiction like Briefing for a Descent into Hell (1971) and Memoirs of a Survivor (1974) also connect to this theme. Lessing's interest had turned to Sufism after coming to the realisation that Marxism ignored spiritual matters, leaving her disillusioned. Lessing's novel The Golden Notebook is considered a feminist classic by some scholars, but notably not by the author herself, who later wrote that its theme of mental breakdowns as a means of healing and freeing one's self from illusions had been overlooked by critics. Lessing does not like the idea of being pigeonholed as a feminist author. When asked why, she explained: What the feminists want of me is something they haven't examined because it comes from religion. They want me to bear witness. What they would really like me to say is, 'Ha, sisters, I stand with you side by side in your struggle toward the golden dawn where all those beastly men are no more.' Do they really want people to make oversimplified statements about men and women? In fact, they do. I've come with great regret to this conclusion. Doris Lessing, The New York Times, 25 July 1982


Fact and Fiction in Doris Lessings Autobiography Anca GEORGESCU Valahia University of Trgovite If indeed any autobiographical enterprise involves the self-conscious and deliberate tantalization of oneself and the creation of a fictive construct, Lessing deliberately posits fiction and truth as two sides of the same coin. Linda Hutcheon defines historiographic metafictions as offered as another of the discourses by which we construct our versions of reality, arguing that both the construction and the need for it are what are foregrounded in the postmodern novel. (Hutcheon, 40) Patricia Waugh also provides a comprehensive definition by describing metafictions as fictional writing which self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in order to pose questions about the relationship between fiction and reality. (Waugh, 574-6) In this paper, I do not, however, seek to allow autobiography to collapse completely into the genre of fiction, but rather, to highlight the autobiographical nature of much of Lessings fiction and the fictionality and constructed nature of her autobiography proper. Before embarking on a detailed analysis, I think it is necessary to consider some theoretical background of the autobiography as genre. Autobiography is most commonly and generically defined as the biography of a person narrated by that person, or the story of a persons life as told by him or herself. The last three decades of the twentieth century saw the genre move from the peripheries to the centre of the literary canon, for reasons which it may be helpful to inspect. This was a period when criticism was dominated by poststructuralist and postmodernist theorisation of the text as a purely textual object, a self-referential weave of codes whose significance could only be explained by itself, not considering the presumed immanence of a real author whom the text figured. Such exposure of the mimetic fallacy and beliefs in a residual or underlying truth is evident in the famous essays by Roland Barthes, Death of the Author (1968), and Foucault, What is an Author (1969). On the other hand, James Olney (1980) has noted the appeal of autobiography in enabling an escape from the closed ground of intertextual play and the aesthetic dimensions of fiction towards the historical, sociocultural and anthropological, observing that autobiography has become the focalizing literature for various politically engaged areas of study Postcolonial Studies, Black Studies, Womens Studies, Ethnic Studies, etc. But one of the most important explanations for the critical turn toward autobiography as literature was the shift of attention from bios to autos, that is from the life of the self which is responsible for prominence of the genre and the generation of questions of a philosophical, psychological and literary kind. And this is the crux of the matter, Olney proceeds to argue, for the

special appeal of autobiography in recent times: it is a fascination with the self and its profound and endless mysteries, as much as an anxiety about the dimness and vulnerability of that entity, about its shadowy existence or non-existence in the text and in life. (Olney, 19) The leading spokesman for a formal generic definition of autobiography was Philippe Lejeune. In Le Pacte autobiographique (1975) he presented a formula combining chronological narration, mimesis and individualism: he defines autobiography as a retrospective prose narrative that a real person makes of his own existence, when he emphasizes his individual life, especially the history of his personality. To Karl Weintraub (1978), an autobiography is the retrospective narrative of an individuals life, written by that individual, with the aim of telling the true story of his public or private experience. Evidently all these theorists posit autobiography as the narration of the life of a person written by him / herself and rely upon two features which have recently received critique: the first being the presence of the author in the text the idea that a single pre/existing personality can be projected via literary mediation - and that idea that an autobiography must not in any sense be fictitious. Such a traditional vision of the integral Self and its autobiographical expression has been the object of revisions over the last years, with the result that the Self is seen as neither integral, nor private, nor unique. Postmodern concepts take the Self for a grammatical entity and for a symbolic construct rather than a referential one; that is to say, the Self is not a unified psychological representation whose essence or identity is prior to the language which expresses it; rather its essence and identity are constituted by the language that produces it. And here is the point of intersection with psychoanalysis, as in Lacanian terms, the Self is formed in the Symbolic Order, which is the structure of language itself where we have to enter in order to become speaking subjects, in order to say I. These critics admit that there are two systems operating within autobiography: a referential system linking the textual self to reality and committed to producing the image of the real; and a literary system in which a self not formerly in existence is created through language and in which the author is committed to producing the effect of the real or verisimilitude (what Olney and John Paul Eakin have called metaphors, figures or fictions of the self). These critics then subscribe to the idea that the autobiographical I, however unreliable, is indeed the privileged textual double of a real person, as well as a self-evident textual construct. And here is the key of most of Doris Lessings fiction: the author herself is, more often than not, behind the character as a masked persona in her fictional novels, playing at the same time with a textual constructedness in her autobiographical novels. As for the question of truth versus fiction, it is clear today that an autobiography is an artistic arrangement of facts, an imaginative organization of

experience. Roy Pascal (1960) was the first critic to speak of design and truth in autobiography and to point out that there is no dividing line between the two; because truth may entail imagination and imagination may contain partial truth, because memory is forgetful and selective, and also creative. It is along these lines that Paul Eakin argues in Fictions in Autobiography (1988) that autobiographical truth is not a fixed and stable content, but a complicated process of self-discovery and self-creation, and that the Self of all narrative autobiography is necessarily a fictitious construct. (p.25) The autobiographers of the twentieth century tend to accept that an essential constituent of the truth in a life is fiction; they no longer believe that an autobiographer is capable of offering a faithful reconstruction of a verifiable historical past. On the contrary, it is understood that the materials of the past are remodelled by memory and imagination in order to meet the demand of the present state of consciousness. To support the selective nature of memory, Lessing says in Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography to 1949 that: Telling the truth or not telling it, and how much, is a lesser problem than the one of shifting perspectives, for you see your life differently at different stages, like climbing a mountain while the landscape changes with every turn in the path. Had I written this when I was thirty, it mould have been a pretty combative document. In my forties, a wail of despair and guilt: oh my God, how could I have done this or that? Now I look back at that child, that girl, that young woman with a more and more detached curiosity. [...] Besides the landscape it self is a tricky thing. (Lessing, 12) Through placing ones past under acute scrutiny and overall revision, the autobiographical exercise is a cognitive achievement and the narrative reconstruction is nothing less than a creative assertion of ones identity. If autobiography is a cognitive act, a quest for and a construction of selfhood, psychoanalysis is a healing process that first and foremost takes place through language, through the ability of language to engage in a creative reinterpretation of the past. Psychoanalysis in particular can be valuable to literature both as a tool to understanding texts, and as a metaphor for texts: selfrepresentational texts become a presentation of oneself in various guises, a search for truth, answers. Psychoanalysis and self-representational writing both provide opportunities to reach the past, analyze past experiences, and perhaps re-invent them by experiencing them again, while living in the present. During a session with a psychoanalyst, an individual endeavours to reconcile his or her present feelings and existence with the past which he or she may have suppressed. An act of selfrepresentational writing such as Lessings resembles the relationship and

situation created between an analyst and analysed. Lessing occupies the position of both while she is reading and re-reading Under My Skin. She is able to recreate past selves and commune in an inner dialogue with earlier and necessarily fictive selves. Lessing is aware of the unreliability and unpredictability of memory and of the tensions which arise from conflicting demands from the past and memories. The act of self- representational writing involves delving into ones past as an individuals memory constructs it, and it can question the importance and relevance of whatever memory retrieves from ones own history. As you start to write at once the question begins to insist: Why do you remember this and not that? Why do you remember in every detail a whole week, month, more, of a long ago year, but then complete dark, a blank? How do you know that what you remember is more important than what you dont? (Lessing, 13) Anyway she seems to remember almost everything as in Under My Skin she is brutally honest in parts and wilfully obscure in others. The first volume of autobiography follows the writer from her birth in 1919 to 1949, the year she left Southern Rhodesia for London and her life as a single mother and aspiring writer. She recounts her very early years in Persia, the railway journey across a chaotic Soviet Russia, the promising voyage to Africa, and the years in the bush and in convent school. She also describes the lives of the Taylor family, their fellow whites, and the African majority around them. Under My Skin is not so much a recollection of her early life in Southern Rhodesia as a dissection of it. Throughout the book, she juxtaposes description of events that occurred in her youth with her current unsentimental judgments of them. The chapters on childhood are marvellously, sometimes frighteningly detailed. Her account is remarkably free of nostalgia while giving full weight to the enduring influence of childhood: In the story of a life, if it is being told true to time as actually experienced, then Id say seventy per cent of the book would take you to age ten (Lessing 109). Doris Lessing was born as Doris Tayler in 1919 in what was called then Persia. Her mother trained as a nurse, was devoted to the middle-class values of the British Empire; her father, a book lover and a banker, dreamed of farming. Following ideas about child-rearing fashionable at the time, Emily Maude Tayler imposed on her children a rigid education. Doris Lessing responded with deep anger against a mother who on principle refused to feed her when she cried, who made it clear that she preferred her son to her daughter, and who chatted openly to guests about how the little girl in particular made her life a total misery. Marked by this lack of affection, by this poisonous motherdaughter relationship, Lessing uses it as a recurring theme, in her fiction and

here, in Under My Skin resumes is to for years I lived in a state of accusation against her, at first hot, them cold and hard (Lessing, 15). Because the autobiographical act is a re-reading of ones past, a recognition that is self-conscious and selective, it becomes a re-vision, a re-writing of the past in the light of the present. This applies whether it is fictional or autobiographical, distinctions which Lessing blurs. Through selfrepresentational writing, Lessing is able to act on the pity she felt for her mother in life. Always concerned to analyze and understand her past, she admits in Under My Skin: I was in nervous flight from her ever since I can remember anything, and from the age of fourteen I set myself obdurately against her in a kind of inner emigration from everything she represented ... Now I see her as a tragic figure, living out her disappointing years with courage and with dignity. I saw her then as tragic, certainly, but was not able to be kind. (Lessing, 15) After Persia the Taylers moved to Rhodesia and for Lessing, growing up in the country was a wonderful formative experience. At the age of seven she was sent to a convent boarding school where the nuns themselves the unwanted daughters of German peasants frightened their charges with hellfire stories. She spent four years there and then she dropped out of the education system definitively. Yet she had never been a poor student. On the contrary, if only to please her mother, she made sure she always came first in class. She was popular with the other girls, inhabiting a false self she calls Tigger, fat and bouncy ... brash, jokey, clumsy, and always ready to be a good sport, that is, to laugh at herself, apologize, clown, confess inability. When later she gravitated into Communist circles, she was known as Comrade Tigger. She repudiated the nickname once she left Rhodesia in 1949; but, refusing to go away, the Tigger self mutated into what Lessing calls the Hostess self, bright, helpful, receptive, attentive, and disturbingly reminiscent of her mother. (Lessing 386, 89, 20) Lessings first marriage, at the age of nineteen, was to a man much older than herself a marriage involving not the real woman but the Tigger self, the jolly young matron (207). Not yet ready for motherhood, she gave birth to a son, and then neglected him. A second child followed. Much of this material went into A Proper Marriage (1954), the second of the Martha Quest novels and the most directly autobiographical. While married to Frank Wisdom, she joined a Communist group. In her account of her Communist years certain defensiveness is detectable. In truth, she writes, I was never committed with all of myself (284). In fact, she did not join the Communist Party officially until 1952 a decision she describes as the most neurotic act of my life and left it in 1956 ( Walking

in The Shade, 52). The activities of the Salisbury Communists, their loves and hates, take up much of the Martha Quest novels. After divorcing Frank Wisdom, she married Comrade Gottfried Lessing, a German Jewish Marxist, in order to give him the protection of citizenship. By this time, feeling stifled by life in Salisbury, she decided to leave England. The burden of her unsatisfactory marriages and motherhood are also present in Martha Quest novels under the guise of a passive heroine, dissatisfied with life but unable to take control of her destiny in any meaningful way. Her first volume of autobiography ends in 1949, when she is almost 30, newly divorced, with her British citizenship regained and waiting to go to England. Much of this chronology is familiar from Lessings series of novels Children of Violence. What is different is not that one is true and the other fiction, but that the themes of a life remembered at a distance are more profound. It is possible therefore, to view Lessings self-representational writing as textual tools which she creates and manipulates so that she can re-enter the realm of the past. I would say that her self-representational works, both fictional and autobiographical are an attempt to come to know the past selves because from them she creates characters which she, as author, can manipulate and analyze. I suggest that they are an attempt to fix the past, so that she is able to present the truth as she perceives it. In Under My Skin Lessing insists that: clearly I had to fight to establish a reality of my own, against an insistence from the adults that I should accept theirs ... I am deducing this. Why else my preoccupation that went on for years: this is the truth, this is what happened, hold on to it, dont let them talk you out of it (Lessing, 14). However she seems to be inconsistent with herself when she says in Under My Skin [that ... we make up our pasts. You can actually watch your mind doing it, a little fragment of fact and then spinning a tale out of it.] She concludes that the commonsense or factual approach leads to nothing but errors. Autobiographical writing can reflect thereby some of the main preoccupations of postmodernism, which has often been defined in terms of questions about our knowledge of the past and the difficulty of articulating our relationship to it.(Linda Hutcheon, A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction). Of her novel Martha Quest she writes, I was being a novelist and not a chronicler. But if the novel is not the literal truth, then it is true in atmosphere, in feeling more true than this record, which is trying to be factual. ( Under My Skin, 162) Life-writing can be said always to contain both autobiographical and fictional aspects, but an awareness of the problematic involved means that the writer has to negotiate the way in which the autobiographical and the fictional aspects of

the writing process interact in the text. Doris Lessing deliberately juxtaposes fiction and truth in her autobiography proper. They therefore exemplify the definition of historiographic metafiction narrative offered by post modernist theorist Linda Hutcheon, definition with which I began my paper, saying that Under My Skin can be an example of historiographic metafiction. If Linda Hutcheon defines historiographic metafiction as another of the discourses by which we construct our versions of reality (Hutcheon, 40), Doris Lessing offers us, in her fiction and in her autobiography her own version of fiction as well as her own version of reality. Sometimes it is nearly impossible to find a dividing line in Lessings books between the imaginary and the autobiographical. Volume two, Walking in the Shade, takes up the story from Lessings arrival in London in 1949, with her young son Peter and the manuscript of The Grass is Singing, to the publication of The Golden Notebook (1962). Here she describes how communism dominated the intellectual life of the 1950s and how she, like nearly all communists, became disillusioned with extreme and rhetorical politics and left communism behind. Evoking the bohemian days of a young writer and single mother, Lessing speaks openly about her writing process, her friends and lovers and her years of psychotherapy. In this second volume she is much less forthcoming, she reveals few secrets and little even of what we might recognize as a conventional life narrative. Instead, her effort is to convey the atmosphere of the London she knew in the 1950s, exemplified through episodes of her experience. Lessings London was full of party members and sympathizers, drawn to the cause by a utopian hopefulness. Unlike the United States, party affiliation was neither dangerous nor shameful in Britain. Lessing, a party member in Africa, joined it in Britain as well. She recounts in detail a trip to Moscow, focusing on the group of literary observers who accompanied her. Much of the text describes her gradual disaffection with communism and reflects on the idealism that led so many people to ignore or minimize the evidence of Stalins atrocities. If a single question dominates the book, it is the question of how she and so many others have given themselves as tools to the Communist Party. In exploring her own motives, Lessing recognizes that her first, depressing experience of the inflexible British Class System played a part. And besides she believed in the anti-colonial struggle, the brotherhood of man and other ideals of Communism. But finally she has to see her motive for joining the Party as irrational: on the individual level she was participating in some kind of social psychosis or mass self-hypnosis, while at a personal level she was being controlled by a deeply buried thing ... riding me like a nightmare, a continuation of early childhood feelings. (Lessing 58, 89) Her second volume is in most respects a memoir, a memoir of a rather scattered, life-and-opinions kind; it lacks the thoroughgoing self-exploration, whereas the first volume is more like a novel.

Writing her autobiography means for Lessing a dialogue with the voice of the memory, since autobiography is inherently the genre of memory. Psychoanalysis and psychotherapy also work with past memories re-told in the present as an attempt to reconcile ones present feelings and existence with the past one may have suppressed. Because an individuals perception of his or her self is forever changing and the unconscious realm is a dynamic one, I can say that Lessings autobiography illustrates an evolving sense of selfhood. Her autobiographical truth is not a fixed and stable content, but a complicated process of self-discovery and self-creation; the I she talks about is no longer herself, but someone with the same name, though another age, surrounded by other circumstances. By investing herself with authority and distance by the literary positioning of herself as author, she is able to exert power and command over the text while at the same time allowing her past to be recreated. The process of self-representational writing enables Lessing to sustain a dialogue with herself and her past in an attempt not to heal inner divisions, as she seems to regret nothing (her state of accusation against her mother, her affiliation to Communist Party, her marriages, her relationship with her children, or rather the lack of it) but to find out who she is. In Bakhtinian terms, her autobiography can be seen as a new entry in the ongoing conversation represented by Lessings corpus, a confrontation with previous authorial identities readers have constructed from her works, an attempt to dialogize those conversations and reopen the debate. Primary bibliography: 1. Lessing, Doris, Under My Skin, volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949, HarperCollins, 1994. 2. Lessing, Doris, Walking in the Shade, Volume Two of My Autobiography, 1949-1962, Flamingo, 1998. General bibliography: 1. Eakin, Paul John, Fictions in Autobiography: Studies in the Art of SelfInvention, Princeton U.P., 1998. 2. Hutcheon, Linda, The Politics of Postmodernism, Routledge, 1989. 3. Lacan, Jacques, The Mirror Phase as Formative of the Function of the I, trans., A., Sheridan, London, 1977 4. Lejeune, Philippe, Le pacte autobiographique, Paris, Editions du Seuil, 1975. 5. Olney, James, Autobiography and the Cultural Moment: A Thematic, Historical and Bibliographical Introduction. Autobiography: Essays Theoretical and Critical, Princeton U. P., 1980. 6. Pascal, Roy, Design and Truth in Autobiography, Cambridge U. P., 1960.

7. Weintraub, Karl J., The Value of the Individual: Self and Circumstance in Autobiography, Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1978.

The Golden Notebook (1962). This book, as well as the couple that followed it, enters the realm of what Margaret Drabble in The Oxford Companion to English Literature has called Lessing's "inner space fiction", her work that explores mental and societal breakdown. The book also contains a powerful anti-war and anti-Stalinist message, an extended analysis of communism and the Communist Party in England from the 1930s to the 1950s, and a famed examination of the budding sexual and women's liberation movements. Plot summary The Golden Notebook is the story of writer Anna Wulf, the four notebooks in which she keeps the record of her life, and her attempt to tie them all together in a fifth, gold-colored notebook. The book intersperses segments of an ostensibly realistic narrative of the lives of Molly and Anna, and their children, exhusbands and loversentitled Free Womenwith excerpts from Anna's four notebooks, coloured black (of Anna's experience in Central Africa, before and during WWII, which inspired her own bestselling novel), red (of her experience as a member of the Communist Party), yellow (an ongoing novel that is being written based on the painful ending of Anna's own love affair), and blue (Anna's personal journal where she records her memories, dreams, and emotional life). Each notebook is returned to four times, interspersed with episodes from Free Women, creating non-chronological, overlapping sections that interact with one another. This post-modernistic styling, with its space and room for "play" engaging the characters and readers, is among the most famous features of the book, although Lessing insisted that readers and reviewers pay attention to the serious themes in the novel. Major themes All four notebooks and the frame narrative testify to the above themes of Stalinism, the Cold War and the threat of nuclear conflagration, and women's struggles with the conflicts of work, sex, love, maternity, and politics.


A critical paper by Nicholas Ogan ***** June 6, 2006 The Golden Notebook is a novel which seems to provoke extreme reactions in its readers. It is impossible to read much about it without seeing, repeatedly, the comment that This book changed my life. Reviewers gush, readers adulate, and we are told that even today the novel is a standard part of University courses in feminism. On the other side there is an outspoken minority that insists the book is self-indulgent, formless, and even, say some, downright unreadable. In her autobiography Walking in the Shade, Lessing says, apropos of The Golden Notebook, that such is the hunger of readers for the autobiographical that one has to repeat: no, it did not happen just like that. Nevertheless, the book is clearly autobiographical. The part about the young adults living in wartime Rhodesia has the feel of a memoir, and its evocation of youthful passions rings true. And the descriptions of Annas ghastly love affairs seem also to be directly drawn from life. Perhaps the novels greatest strength is not its formal structure, not its pronouncements on the sex war and on politics but rather its convincing and artistically successful rendering of reality as Lessing experienced it. Lessing makes much of the structure of the novel. The red notebook for the political part of the novel, the yellow notebook for personal reminiscences, the blue one for a diary, the black one for her early experiences, and the golden one for some kind of supposed synthesis, all interspersed with the omnisciently narrated conventional novel, Free Women, all make for a cumbersome and somewhat pretentious format. Some will argue, unconvincingly, that the structure somehow mirrors the confusion of the narrators life, but the effect is to make the book something of a hodgepodge. The various heroines, whether named Ella or Anna, are so obviously the same person, that the changing point of view adds little to the book. A strength of the novel is its portrait of the political climate among the British members of the Communist Party in the fifties. These scenes, like those in wartime Rhodesia, resonate with lived experience, and the atmosphere makes Annas disillusionment with Communism understandable. But it seems that Lessings rejection of Communism is for all the wrong reasons; Lessing does not seem to have grown beyond her nave Marxist beliefs, but only to have

become disillusioned with the Communist party as she personally experienced it; she seems surprised that Stalin was not a nice man, and her contempt for capitalism, as personified by Richard, seems a permanent part of her mindset. In her 1971 introduction to the novel, she goes so far as to say that Marxism, and its various offshoots, has fermented ideas everywhere, and so fast and energetically that, once way out, it has already been absorbed, has become part of ordinary thinking. Ideas that were confined to the far left thirty or forty years ago had pervaded the left generally twenty years ago, and have provided the commonplaces of conventional social thought for right to left for the last ten years. Indeed. Insofar as this volume has pretensions to being a novel of ideas, rather than a simple memoir, one could say, depending on ones own politics, that it is at best simplistic, at worst completely wrongheaded. Another aspect of the novel which might raise some eyebrows is Lessings treatment of Annas breakdown or crackup. We are told that Anna is suffering writers block, and we are told that she is breaking down, but this part of the story doesnt seem to have the immediacy and vividness of the rest of the book. Somehow, the transition from writing in the various individual notebooks to writing the golden notebook is supposed to relate to these themes. And Annas plans at he end of the book to work in a sort of marriage welfare centre, and to join the Labour Party and to teach night classes for delinquent children, is also supposed to relate to this somewhat incoherent theme of mental illness and healing. But this theme, frequently mentioned by Lessing, is not as skillfully handled as some others. When all is said and done, the novels primary theme is the relationships between men and women. Curiously, Lessing seems very off-base in her reaction to the reviews the volume received. Again from Walking in the Shade: The Golden Notebook did not at once become the Bible of the Womens movement, for that is how it was described in country after country. The reviews in both Britain and the States, by women as well as men, were sour, grudging, hostile.I was shocked and upset by those reviews.There was a note in these reviews that showed some nerve had been touched. When you see or hear it, you know that the reviewer is writing not about the book but about herself or himself. When a reviewer writes with a certain kind of sour spite, it is not This novel upsets me because it made me think of my mother, my husband, my child, but This is a dreadful novel. And the level of the reviewing was shocking. I now know that in any field there are always only a few good people, and the rest are second-rate and ignorant. Not one of the reviewers even noticed the The Golden Notebook had an interesting shape, and this at a time when critics were complaining about the conventionality of the English novel. They were so disturbed by the sex-war aspect of the novel, they did not see anything else. What has to be understood about reviewers is that they are mostly a

very emotional lot. Their function is surely to weigh, balance, think, consider, but often they merely emote. Well, this is heady stuff. The issue of Lessings feminism is an interesting one. One wonders what degree of irony Lessing intends in describing the Anna/Ella character as a free woman. She is free in the sense of having a number of affairs, but, at heart, she is really a serial would-be monogamist. Again and again, Lessings women are described as needy, clinging, and yearning for decidedly pre-feminist style of relationship with the always truly dreadful men in their lives. In fact, all the characters in The Golden Notebook, are pretty dreadful, although, admittedly the men are the most awful. Unaccountably, Lessing heaps scorn on those reviewers and critics who have noticed this phenomenon. Again, from Walking in Shade: One criticism then the loudest, has since become less. It was that the men characters were so unpleasant. I could not see this. (Behind this one hears, Woman writers cannot write about men, that old last-ditch defense.) Then, it was that all the characters are so unpleasant. At once one has to wonder: what extraordinarily wonderful people the critic must know, unlike any human being one has ever known oneself. And how flatteringly he or she must see himself, herself, not at all as others see them. One really has to wonder at this outburst, for it seems incontrovertible that the men in The Golden Notebook form a parade of shallow, manipulative, faithless, cruel fellows, while the woman are less vicious but more neurotic. Published forty-four years ago, The Golden Notebook no longer shocks, if indeed it ever did. Despite some structural flaws, and despite its relentlessly negative view of relationships, it is a well written, deeply felt, and at times deeply moving account of a time, a place, and a womans life. Questions for Discussion 1. The Golden Notebook has been called the Bible of the womens movement. What is Lessings attitude on men? On women? On relationships and the sex wars? Are these attitudes consistent with feminism as it existed in 1962? In 2006? 2. What was Lessings intention in using the complex structures of the various notebooks as the basis for the novel? Is she saying something profound about compartmentalization? About breaking down and healing? Does the structure work intellectually? Aesthetically? Would the novel have been better or worse if it had been more conventionally structured?


3. Anna, Molly, and Marion are all mothers. What is Lessings view of motherhood, and how does it relate to her overall view of women? 4. On the whole, Lessings views seem depressingly pessimistic, with Janets attendance at a conventional school, and Mollys going off into a conventional marriage, ending the novel unhappily. Is there hope for Anna?

The Fifth Child David and Harriett Lovatt is an ambitious couple in the seventies in England: their ambition is not a professional but a personal one. They want to have a big happy family, even if this is against the trend of the times. They buy a big house that they cant afford and plan to have at least six children, possibly eight. They have one, the second follows shortly after, soon they have four. People enjoy staying at their place and family and friends gather in the big house during the holidays. Until the day Harriet is pregnant with her fifth child, Ben The four previous pregnancies were no breeze, but the fifth is nightmarish. The baby moves in Harrietts womb as if it were trying to claw its way out. It almost kills her. When the child is born, at eight months, Harriett takes an immediate dislike to it. The baby is ugly, strong, with cold eyes and an unusual strength. Ben does not react to marks of affection (that the mother must force herself to show), and is immediately viewed by her as a freak of nature. She thinks of him as a troll or a goblin, a genetic throwback. Growing up, Ben vents his rage at the world. He howls, screams, fight, and attracts the antipathy of everyone around him. Soon people almost cease to visit. The Lovatts kids fear their own brother, an atmosphere of weariness and unhappiness pervades. By his disturbing presence, Ben destroys his own family The Fifth Child is a short novel, about 130 pages, and can be read as a philosophical tale. Many things are not as straightforward as they look in Bens monstrosity. The fact is that the Lovatts themselves are not the "lovable" people they think they are. Their dream of happiness is a selfish one, made at the expense of others. They couldnt have afforded the house were it not for the financial help of Davids wealthy father, and they couldnt have raised their children without the help of Harrietts mother.

They involve the people around them in their great scheme without asking them what they would rather do. It is significant also that Harrietts burnout symptoms begin before she is even pregnant with Ben: the germs of unhappiness in the Lovatts household precede Bens existence. Also, as in Mary Shelleys Frankenstein which inspiration is felt throughout the novel, there is the matter of responsibility. It is clear from the beginning that Harriett and David are irresponsible people, otherwise they wouldnt count on other people to help them fulfill their dreams. When they decide to have children, they expect nothing else but charming blue-eyed kids like the Gerber baby (and their first four fit the clich). It is evident when Harrietts sister has a baby with Down syndrome that everybody is uneasy about the baby. Harriett even thinks that this is a punishment for the fact that her sister and her husband have marital problems. When Ben arrives, she is completely unprepared for him, but although she says she does not love him, she has a strong bond with him. After all, she gave birth to him. Finally, she is the only one who will finally take responsibility for him, but at the expense of her other kids. At one point, the family pressures Harriett into leaving Ben in an institution. But Harriett feels guilty, and finally takes him back home. This marks the beginning of the familys explosion. If the bigger children can find a balanced life with relatives, the youngest child before Ben, Paul, is starved for motherly affection and finally becomes a troubled child, as unmanageable as Ben: "Paul was even more difficult than Ben. But he was a normal "disturbed" child, not an alien". It is not that the mother prefers Ben to Paul, but she takes care of Ben more than she does of Paul, simply because she feels that he needs it more. Is she wrong? There is no easy answer, and Lessing does not try to provide one. Harrietts choice makes two unhappy children Had she left Ben in the institution, he would have died but Paul would have become a healthy happy child. Harriett was presented with a horrible dilemma that no one would like to face (which reminded me a little bit of closing scene in the movie The Good Son starring young Macaulay Culkin and Elijah Wood) Finally, the most essential question of all is the following: what does Ben stand for? Is he really a Goblin or a Troll as his mother prefers to think? On several instances, he is catalogued as a hyperactive: is he simply a hyperactive child? He cant show feelings, is he therefore an autistic child? Or a psychotic, as his behavior sometimes suggest? Is his mother immediate dislike postpartum depression? Does he stand for everything that can go wrong with a child? Or is he simply the part of monstrosity that lies in every human being, even as a child? Does he symbolize the part of cruelty, of nastiness in everyone of us, under a magnifying glass? In our society, we refer to the baby as a "bundle of joy", "precious", etc. etc. forgetting that

in the nice chubby baby is already the future adult with all his flaws. Should we love the perfect baby or embrace the flawed human being the baby will become? Isnt Ben the symbol of parents expectations betrayed? If not in babyhood, then when the child becomes his own person, with dreams and goals different from what the parents were planning for him Isnt the Ben pictured in the last pages, hanging out with the wrong crowd, a group of pimply teenagers with mischief in mind, every parents secret fear? Isnt Bens monstrosity the alien part that is revealed in every child, as he becomes a separate being from his nurturing parents, and when they cant project themselves in him anymore? The Fifth Child is a thought-provoking book, well worth the readers time, and even though it was written in the eighties, it is refreshing in the sense that has none of the political correctness found in most recent fiction