Study Guide

A Proper Marriage

by Doris Lessing

A Proper Marriage Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

A Proper Marriage covers the years 1939 to 1941 in Martha Quest’s life. After leaving home and symbolically taking her life into her own hands, Martha is confused by the events that have placed her in a situation that is no more free than the one that she left. Lessing’s ironic view of the gap between one’s personal desires and the compelling power of collectives is brilliantly focused through the protagonist’s inexplicable acts of self-sabotage.

The first few weeks of Martha’s marriage to Douglas Knowell are marked by strange physical sensations, the early signs of pregnancy. When Martha recognizes the symptoms, she realizes that she must have been pregnant before her wedding. Immediately, she feels trapped. Feeling that her choices thus far have eliminated her options, however, she decides to suppress her repulsion toward pregnancy and to surrender to her maternal instincts. While concentrating on her pregnancy, she is uneasily aware that she is reenacting a basic process in evolution. Additionally, she fears more than ever that her future will become a replication of her mother’s life. Although Martha recognizes the awful possibility, she still lets the fog of happiness envelop her as long as she can envision the eventual pleasure of regaining her own body.

Meanwhile, Martha is influenced by the patriotic hoopla surrounding the advent of World War II, and she enrolls in Sister Doll’s Red Cross course. One day after starting classes, Martha suddenly realizes that all her recent actions have been drawing her closer to the repetitive circle of...

(The entire section is 649 words.)

A Proper Marriage Bibliography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bloom, Harold, ed. Doris Lessing. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.

Draine, Betsy. Substance Under Pressure: Artistic Coherence and Evolving Forms in the Novels of Doris Lessing. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983.

Karl, Frederick. “The Four-Gaited Beast of the Apocalypse: Doris Lessing’s The Four-Gated City.” In Old Lines, New Forces: Essays on the Contemporary British Novel, edited by Robert K. Morris. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1976.

Klein, Carol. Doris Lessing: A Biography. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2000.

Lessing, Doris. A Small Personal Voice: Essays, Reviews, Interviews. Edited by Paul Schlueter. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974.

Martinson, Deborah. “Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook: ’An Exposed Position.’” In In the Presence of Audience: The Self in Diaries and Fiction. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2003.

Pickering, Jean. Understanding Doris Lessing. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990.

Rubenstein, Roberta. The Novelistic Vision of Doris Lessing: Breaking the Forms of Consciousness. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979.

Waterman, David F. Identity in Doris Lessing’s Space Fiction. Youngstown, N.Y.: Cambria Press, 2006.