Doris Lessing Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Doris Lessing is one of the best known British novelists of her generation. Born Doris May Taylor, her parents were Alfred Cook Taylor, an English bank clerk, and Emily Maude McVeagh, his wartime nurse. The couple emigrated to Persia (later Iran) shortly after World War I, and in 1925 they moved with their daughter and younger son, Harry, to a farm in southern Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe). The family was always poor. The father, whose leg had been amputated, was a dreamer who became a cynic, and the mother was domineering but ineffective. They were socially and physically isolated, surrounded by the open veld. Lessing attended a Catholic school in Salisbury but left in 1933 because of eye problems; after her formal schooling ended at age fourteen, she continued reading voraciously.{$S[A]Somers, Jane;Lessing, Doris}

In 1938 Lessing moved to Salisbury to work in various jobs and to begin writing. She married Frank Charles Wisdom in 1939, had a son and a daughter, and was divorced in 1943. Two years later she married Gottfried Lessing; they had a son and were divorced in 1949. Much of her work deals with the Africa of her youth and young adulthood. Lessing moved to London, England, in 1949 and published her first novel, The Grass Is Singing, which shows her concern for racial issues and the plight of women. The book was a great success. It was reprinted seven times within five months of its publication, setting the pattern of widespread sales for nearly all of her subsequent works.

Lessing continued to live in London, though she traveled widely, as suggested in both her fiction and nonfiction, and her writing continued steadily. She was briefly a member of the Communist Party but left it officially in 1956. In the late 1950’s she participated in mass demonstrations for nuclear disarmament and was a speaker at the first Aldermaston March in 1958. During the early 1960’s Lessing also worked in the theater, helping to establish Centre 42, a populist arts program, and writing her own plays.

In the late 1960’s Lessing’s thinking was influenced by the mystical teachings of Sufism, which emphasizes conscious evolution of the mind in harmony with self and others. The relationship between the individual and the collective has been a major Lessing theme. Her works present a sense of urgency, of the need for change in both individual consciousness and social harmony. The human race knows better than it acts, Lessing always suggests, and human beings must learn to live together in greater social concord. This central theme appears not only in her realistic works such as the Children of Violence series (which includes Martha Quest, A Proper...

(The entire section is 1101 words.)


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Born to British parents in Persia, where her father, Alfred Cook Tayler, worked in a bank, Doris May Lessing moved to southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1925, when she was five. There she lived on a remote farm, south of Zambezi. “Our neighbors were four, five, seven miles off. In front of the house no neighbors, nothing; no farms, just wild bush with two rivers but no fences to the mountains seven miles away.” In her teens, she moved to a “very small town that had about ten thousand white persons in it. The black population did not count, though it was fairly large.” This was the Africa of apartheid; Lessing would later chronicle its horrors.

While still in her teens, Lessing married and had two children. She later married again and, in 1949, left her second husband to go to England, bringing her son with her. The emptiness of the African veld and the life of small African towns are the themes of much of her earlier work, including the early volumes of the Children of Violence series. The scene then shifts in her fiction, as it did in her life, to England, and particularly London.

Lessing was a member of communist groups in both Africa and England. In Africa, she describes the group as “having no contact with any kind of reality. I found this when I came to England and had a short association with the British Communist party.” Lessing’s disillusionment with the difference between the official Communist Party and the...

(The entire section is 468 words.)