The Novels (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Over seventeen years, from 1952 to 1969, Doris Lessing wrote a series of five novels under the title “Children of Violence.” In them, she chronicles the life of Martha Quest: an adolescent who scorns her parents’ Victorian principles, through a young woman’s two failed marriages and a flirtation with Communism, to an independent woman who tries to live actively rather than passively. Lessing, in her essay “A Small Personal Voice,” states that the overriding question addressed in each of the five novels is: “What is due to the collective and what to the individual conscience.” Thus, the novels them selves, as well as Martha, move constantly between these two poles.
In the first volume, Martha Quest, Lessing introduces her fifteen-year-old protagonist, Martha Quest, a child of the veld who is already starting to rebel against her narrow-minded and dominating mother and her sickly father, who lives under the emotional shadow of World War I. Though her childhood has been spent on a farm, Martha is widely read and eagerly, yet naively, absorbs any and all ideas that might put her at odds with her parents’ generation and their views on the “native problem” and sex. Her two means of escape, besides her books, are to wander over the veld and dream of what might be, and to visit the Cohen boys (Joss and Solly) in town.
Martha’s escape into dreams and visions helps lead her into each new phase of her life throughout all...
(The entire section is 2688 words.)
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