The Four-Gated City covers the years 1950 through 1997, focusing centrally on Martha Quest’s middle-age years. The novel derives its title from the book of Revelation, but the title refers specifically to four types of houses that represent for Lessing the human-made world. Martha’s passing between the houses connects the gates of the houses in postwar London, which she depicts as violent and corrupt. It is little wonder that perfect sanity seems like insanity in such a world. The question of mental balance in an imbalanced world is one that Lessing undertakes in this novel.
Since Martha has severed all ties with the collectives that once had placed restrictions on her life, she now relinquishes her public self, Matty, and asserts her inner character, Martha. Soon after her arrival in London, she finds sexual communion with a man named Jack. During a critical sexual experience with him, she has a vision in which she sees the golden age of her youth on the veld and a picture of herself as a middle-aged woman living in a house filled with sad-faced children.
When financial necessity presses Martha to find a job, she accepts a position as secretary to an aristocratic English novelist, Mark Coldridge. Her duties expand as Mark’s eccentric family life becomes more complicated. Soon, Martha is running the entire household, which consists of Mark’s insane wife, Lynda, Mark’s troubled, orphaned nephew, Paul, and Mark’s own...
(The entire section is 584 words.)