Doris Lessing

Doris Lessing

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    Doris Lessing
    Book Description:

    This study examines the writing career of the respected and prolific novelist Doris Lessing, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007 and has recently published what she has announced will be her final novel. Whereas earlier assessments have focused on Lessing’s relationship with feminism and the impact of her 1962 novel, The Golden Notebook, this book argues that Lessing's writing was formed by her experiences of the colonial encounter; it makes use of postcolonial theory and criticism to examine Lessing's continued interest in ideas of nation, empire, gender and race and the connections between them. The book examines the entire range of her writing, including her most recent fiction and non-fiction, which have been comparatively neglected. The book is aimed at undergraduate and postgraduate students of Doris Lessing’s work as well as the general reader who enjoys her writing. This is the first significant book-length critical evaluation in ten years.

    eISBN: 978-1-84779-354-6
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Series editor’s foreword
    (pp. vi-vi)

    Contemporary World Writersis an innovative series of authoritative introductions to a range of culturally diverse contemporary writers from outside Britain and the United States or from ‘minority’ backgrounds within Britain or the United States. In addition to providing comprehensive general introductions, books in the series also argue stimulating original theses, often but not always related to contemporary debates in post-colonial studies.

    The series locates individual writers within their specific cultural contexts, while recognising that such contexts are themselves invariably a complex mixture of hybridised influences. It aims to counter tendencies to appropriate the writers discussed into the canon of...

  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. Chronology
    (pp. ix-xii)
  6. 1 Contexts and intertexts
    (pp. 1-30)

    Doris Lessing’sIn Pursuit of the English(1960) provides an excellent point of entry into the extensive body of her work. It also allows us to begin to understand some of the contexts and intertexts that have been important in her writing. Issues of exile and migration are at the centre of this text and her work as a whole, suggesting the importance, but also the instability, of identity. Lessing is interested in ideas about class, nation, ‘race’ and gender, but, more importantly, in the links between these concepts and in the ways they overlap with and merge into one...

  7. 2 Going ‘home’: exile and nostalgia in the writing of Doris Lessing
    (pp. 31-52)

    Doris Lessing’s key novels of the period 1945–60 examine the years leading up to the Second World War and the early to middle years of the war itself. Like Lessing, her heroines, Mary Turner and Martha Quest, grow up in a British colony in Africa in this period. The umbrella title of the five-volume novel sequence focusing on Martha isChildren of Violence. This is indicative not just of Lessing’s preoccupation with the war, but also of her wider analysis of its connection with the violence of the colonial encounter. The sharpest irony for Lessing is occasioned by the...

  8. 3 The politics of loss: melancholy cosmopolitanism
    (pp. 53-82)

    What must strike any reader of Lessing’s 1962 novel,The Golden Notebook, is the extent to which its protagonist, Anna Wulf, has been affected by the experience of loss. In the first section of the conventional realist frame novelFree Women, Anna asks Molly: ‘“Well, don’t you think it’s at least possible, just possible that things can happen to us so bad that we don’t ever get over them?”’.¹ She mentions failed marriages, broken relationships, single parenting and years spent in the Communist Party as painful instances of ‘bad things’. Instead of struggling with pain, Anna seems to suggest that...

  9. 4 The voice of authority?
    (pp. 83-118)

    In 1979, Doris Lessing made the transition to new worlds, publishingShikasta, the first novel in herCanopus in Argos: Archivesquintet (1979–83) and her first novel written entirely in the speculative mode. Science fiction (SF) has always involved extrapolation, so in what ways is writing about new worlds a way of writing about our own? What is the best way of voicing the relation between the familiar and the unfamiliar? Does SF require a different voice or narration? If it does, how might that make a writer like Lessing rethink her authorial and narrative voice when she returns...

  10. 5 Writing in a minor key: Doris Lessing’s late-twentieth-century fiction
    (pp. 119-139)

    Doris Lessing’s late-twentieth-century fiction has often provoked and discomfited. Some readers ofThe Fifth Child(1988), its sequelBen,in the World(2000) and Lessing’s 1999 novelMara and Dannwere disturbed by her appropriation of racially marked stereotypes of the animal, the primitive and the atavistic. Such imagery has controversial implications in relation to ideas about ‘race’ and nation. A secondary and related concern for readers surrounds the success or otherwise of Lessing’s choices of genre and narrative technique; Lessing deploys what might be termed the ‘minor’ genres of urban gothic, picaresque and disaster narrative in her late-twentieth-century work...

  11. 6 Sweet dreams and rememories: narrating nation and identity
    (pp. 140-163)

    In her work since 2000, Doris Lessing is concerned with different ways of writing both personal and political histories. Although this is a preoccupation that goes back at least as far asThe Golden Notebook, working on the two volumes of her autobiography,Under My Skin(published in 1994) andWalking in the Shade(1997), must have heightened her interest in the question of how to narrate the past. This question is also addressed in her 1995 novelLove,Again, in which Sarah Durham, a theatre producer, writes and produces a play based on the journals of a nineteenth-century mixed...

  12. 7 Critical overview and conclusion
    (pp. 164-184)

    Before the award of the Nobel in 2007, Doris Lessing’s reputation (in the UK at least) was looking rather shaky. Her best work behind her, she seemed to express increasingly reactionary and hectoring views and her recent writing (with some exceptions) tended to the loose, baggy and monstrous (to borrow from Henry James).¹ She appeared to be more and more distant from the cosmopolitan feel of contemporary fiction: some kind of relic from the colonial past, the Communist past, even the feminist past. Reviewers felt the need to acknowledge the weight of this past with mostly respectful nods, often positioning...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 185-217)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 218-234)
  15. Index
    (pp. 235-244)