“To Room Nineteen,” one of the collected stories in Doris Lessing’s A Man and Two Women (1963), has been singled out as one of her best stories. It centers on a middle-aged English woman, whose world in a mid-twentieth century London suburb revolves around her husband, her four children, and her home. Everyone thinks Susan and her husband Matthew are the perfect couple, who have made all the right choices in life. When Susan packs her youngest children off to school, however, she begins to question the “intelligent” decisions she has made. When she discovers that her husband has been having extramarital affairs, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery that ultimately becomes a descent into madness.
This well-crafted story explores the warring impulses of intellect and instinct, mind and heart, against the backdrop of early 1960s London, when women were caught in the social conservatism of the past and unable to see the promise of a future that would encourage choice, fulfillment, and personal freedom. Lessing’s tragic story illuminates the restrictions placed on women of this era and the devastating consequences of those restrictions. “To Room Nineteen” cemented Lessing’s reputation as one of the century’s finest short story writers.
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