Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1176
Considered a significant writer of the post-World War II generation, Lessing has explored many of the most significant ideologies and social issues of the twentieth century. Her prolific body of work displays many interests and concerns, ranging from racism, Communism, and feminism, to psychology and mysticism. Lessing began her career in the 1950s, writing realist fiction that focused on themes of racial injustice and colonialism. As her writing developed, Lessing began to compose fiction that anticipated many major feminist concerns of the late 1960s and 1970s. Her strong-willed, independent heroines often suffer emotional crises in male-dominated societies and must struggle with dominant sociopolitical constructs to reach higher levels of identity and liberation. A consistent theme cultivated throughout her work is the need for individuals to confront their fundamental assumptions about life in order to transcend preconceived belief systems and acquire self-awareness.
Lessing was born in Persia (now Iran) to English parents who moved their family to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the hopes of successful farming. She was educated in a convent school and later a government-run all-girls school, but her formal education ended at the age of thirteen. A voracious reader, Lessing had excelled in school and continued her education by reading the wealth of books her mother ordered from London. By the age of eighteen, Lessing had written two drafts for novels and was selling stories to South African magazines, although she would not publish her first novel, The Grass Is Singing, until 1950. In 1939 she married Frank Wisdom, a much older man with whom she had two children. The marriage, which lasted four years, inspired A Proper Marriage (1954), considered one of her most acutely autobiographical novels. Lessing joined the Communist Party in the early 1940s and also met and married Gottfried Lessing, a Jewish German with whom she had a son, Peter. In 1949 the couple separated, and Lessing and Peter moved to England. In London, Lessing established herself as a fiction writer, critic, journalist, and political activist. Though she severed her ties to the Communist party in the mid-fifties, in 1956 she was banned from returning to Rhodesia, presumably for anti-apartheid sentiments expressed in her writings. Although details of Lessing's personal life are limited, critics agree that her fiction draws significantly from her own experiences. Lessing continues to live in England.
The Grass Is Singing introduces two of Lessing's major recurring themes: the causes and effects of racism ("the colour bar") and the myriad ways that history and politics can determine the course of a person's life. The novel focuses on a white couple's impoverished, isolated life on a Rhodesian farm and the wife's reaction to her social and political condition. Lessing's highly acclaimed Children of Violence series is a bildungsroman that traces the intellectual and emotional development of Martha Quest. Like Lessing, Martha is a "child of violence" born at the end of World War I and raised in a bleak post-war era of social struggle, who must later face the tragedies of World War II. Over the course of the series, Martha moves away from personal, self-centered concerns to a broader awareness of others and the world around her. Imbedded in this process, though, is a keen exploration of feminine identity, creativity, and sexuality within a male-dominated space. In Martha Quest, (1952) Martha attempts to escape her restricted upbringing and her domineering mother. A Proper Marriage and A Ripple from the Storm (1958) recount Martha's two unsuccessful marriages to politically ambitious men and her involvement in left-wing, anti-apartheid, Communist activities. Landlocked (1965)—considered by many as an abrupt departure from the preceding concerns of the Children of Violence series—reflects Lessing's emerging interest in telepathy, extrasensory perception, and Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. The novel follows Martha as she travels to England where she experiences an apocalyptic vision. Britain—and later the entire world—are destroyed in The Four-Gated City (1969), a novel in which Martha comes to realize the limitations of rational thought and seeks to understand and embrace the collective consciousness and the higher truth of her own intuition.
The Golden Notebook (1962) centers on novelist Anna Freeman Wulf, whose life is represented by four "notebooks." Characterized by a symbolic color and narrated from different perspectives, each notebook incorporates aspects of Wulf's latest novel in narratives that assume multiple levels of significance. The title of the novel refers to Anna's desperate attempt to integrate her fragmented experiences in order to achieve wholeness through art. Similarly, The Summer Before the Dark (1973) focuses on a middle-aged woman who has a brief affair with a younger man as a means to rediscover a sense of identity. Lessing's "space fiction" series—"Canopus in Argos: Archives"—concerns three competing galactic empires: the benign Canopeans, the self-centered Sirians, and the evil Shammat. The series continues Lessing's interest in Sufism, stressing the interconnectedness of one's own fate and well-being to that of others. Manipulating events on Earth to retain a gene pool for their own immortality, these empires continue to affect human history through the intervention of immortal beings. Lessing's series of novels written under the pseudonym "Jane Somers"—The Diary of a Good Neighbour (1983) and If the Old Could … (1984)—feature the diaries of a woman named Janna who struggles with her mistakes and an acceptance of herself. In The Good Terrorist (1985) a middle-class woman's extreme liberal idealism leads her to organize a group of would-be revolutionaries who commit an act of terrorism. The rhetoric of contemporary political slogans plays a key role in the novel. The Fifth Child (1988) concerns a violent, antisocial child named Ben who wreaks havoc on his family and society. Its sequel, Ben, in the World (2000), follows Ben as he enters adulthood. In 2001 Lessing published The Sweetest Dream, a novel that examines the lasting effects of war through the relationship of Frances Lennox—a self-described "earth mother" living in the 1960s—and a group of post-war children that she takes into her home. In The Grandmothers (2004), Lessing continues to probe the human condition and questions about love, identity, and race.
Lessing has been recognized as one of the most accomplished writers of the twentieth century. Critics have praised the tension and immediacy in Lessing's work that is generated by her use of realistic descriptions, symbolism, and detailed imagery. Lessing's distinct, unapologetic rendering of marriage and motherhood, her anti-apartheid stance, and her experimentation with genre and form have made Lessing an exciting—and often controversial—literary figure. Initially criticized by some commentators for her "unfeminine" depictions of female anger and discontent, Lessing is now often commended for her candid portrayals of female characters who struggle with their roles and the division between their emotional and intellectual needs. According to Ellen W. Brooks, Lessing's appeal in her fiction "rests largely on her treatment of woman in modern life, the most thorough and accurate of any in literature. Her achievement is all the more significant in that so few writers have presented women with whom one can identify—complex, intelligent, questioning women who are not content with the status quo, who rebel against the established order."
Elayne Antler Rapping (Essay Date 1975)
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6461
SOURCE: Rapping, Elayne Antler. "Unfree Women: Feminism in Doris Lessing's Novels." Women's Studies 3, no. 1 (1975): 29-44.
In the following essay, Rapping explores how Lessing's female protagonists shape feminine identity and experience, especially within the context of a male-dominated society, in The Golden Notebook and Children of Violence.
The men that we call great are those who … have taken the weight of the world upon their shoulders; they have done better or worse, they have succeeded in re-creating it or they have gone down; but first they have assumed that enormous burden. This is what no woman has ever done, what none has ever been able to do. To regard the universe as one's own, to consider oneself to blame for its faults and to glory in its progress, one must belong to the caste of the privileged; it is for those alone who are in command to justify the universe by changing it, by thinking about it, by revealing it; they alone can recognize themselves in it and endeavor to make their mark upon it.…
—Simone de Beauvoir
The difference between the "male" approach to art and the "female," is not, as some like to think, simply a difference of "style" in treating the same subject matter … but the very subject matter itself. The sex role system divides human experience; men and women live in these different halves of reality; and culture reflects this.
One can hardly think of Doris Lessing without thinking of the issue of feminine art raised in these two statements. For no other novelist has explored so deeply or charted so fully the conflicts and paradoxes of feminine creativity in a male-defined and dominated culture. Indeed, Lessing's two major works epitomize the two conflicting tendencies or demands which women have had to confront and resolve or choose between in their art. On the one hand The Golden Notebook, with its innovative use of diary entries to project the reality of the heroine's subjective inner life, is a nearly pure expression of feminine consciousness, of the need to create a fictional world which honestly reflects the truths of feminine experience as they differ in substance and quality from the male. And on the other hand Children of Violence, modeled after the nineteenth-century epic novels which portrayed the life of a hero against a background of social and historical change, expresses the need to move beyond the limits of subjective feminine consciousness to a perspective which includes and speaks meaningfully to all of human knowledge and experience.
That a single author should, in a single decade, produce two such different works is itself indicative of the ambiguities and conflicts besetting every woman who takes seriously both her art and her feminity. For to create fiction is to be true to one's vision, one's senses, one's experiences; but to be a woman is to be given a very special set of experiences, and thus, a very special kind of vision. It has been the goal of Lessing's career to overcome this paradox, to write seriously about the world of empires and revolutions without denying or compromising her feminity; to incorporate the feminine perspective into the mainstream of literary tradition; to find a place for feminine power and creativity in a world which at best ignores and at worst forbids them.
In pursuing this goal Lessing has considered herself a "humanist" rather than "feminist" writer, in the tradition of the nineteenth-century novel which, for her, marks "the highest point of literature";1 and it was only insofar as she found it impossible, as a woman in the twentieth-century, to preserve and contribute to that tradition that she turned, after completing three volumes of Children of Violence, to the more narrowly feminist and experimental Golden Notebook, in an effort, as she put it, "to express my sense of despair about writing a conventional novel."2 In recognizing and exploring fictionally the roots of her failure, however, she seems to have arrived at a solution to her problem. For The Four-Gated City, the final and most important volume of Children of Violence, is in fact a synthesis of humanism and feminism, convention and experimentation, unlike anything previously written by a man or woman; and the seeds of its brilliance and originality lie in the very flaws which led Lessing temporarily to abandon the series.
To understand this, one need only read through Children of Violence and note the increasingly dramatic conflict between the range and scope of Lessing's political vision and the limitations of her female protagonist. For as Martha Quest moves further from the private world of childhood and adolescence into the public world of politics and society she seems to dwindle before our very eyes, becoming smaller and less significant with each succeeding volume as the forces of history grow larger, more complex and more menacing, until at last she is stripped of her autonomy, her powers of rational action, her very status as a heroine, proving once and for all that there can be no female heroes in a male world, at least not in the conventional sense of heroism.
Lessing triumphs over this conflict not by resolving it but by yielding to it, for it is just this traditional sense of individual heroism which she finally and ingeniously abandons in The Four-Gated City, but only after thoroughly exploring the implications of Martha's failure to be a heroine in an anti-novel about an anti-heroine. For if Children of Violence was to have been "a study of the individual conscience in its relations with the collective,"3 a feminine contribution to the great tradition of nineteenth-century humanism, The Golden Notebook is a nightmare version of the same theme, a self-mocking caricature of the individual conscience trapped within itself in which the very concept of "the collective" is either meaningless or terrifying. Anna Wulf, the anti-heroine, is a former political activist and novelist now paralyzed by a sense of impotence and futility. Like her creator, she "suffers torments of dissatisfaction and incompletion" because she is "incapable of writing … a book powered with an intellectual or moral passion strong enough to create order, to create a new way of looking at life."4 ("I'm tormented by the inadequacy of the imagination … the conflict between my life as a writer and the terrors of our time," said Lessing recently, but although "I feel the writer is obligated to dramatize the political conflicts of the time … I am unable to embody my political vision in a novel."5) Psychologically blocked, politically disillusioned, abandoned by her lover, Anna retreats into the privacy of the four personal diaries which symbolize her life, and the four walls which she covers with news clippings to symbolize the world outside herself as perceived and interpreted through an isolated feminine intelligence. She approaches the brink of madness but returns, in the end, to care for her child, take a job as a social worker and complete the novel she had abandoned when she began her notebooks.
The conflicts in the novel and in Anna's life are thus resolved, but the resolution is anti-climactic. For the fruits of Anna's (and Lessing's) heroic quest into the unexplored depths of feminine existence remain trapped in the privacy of the diaries, cannot be expressed in the public form of the novel. This ironic truth is at the heart of the structure of The Golden Notebook which is based on a constant interplay between the diary entries, which are the bulk of the text, and the novel-within-a-novel, ironically entitled "Free Women," which Anna finally produces out of the material of the diaries, and which serves as a structural framework enclosing and integrating the various notebook sections.
There are, then, two novels in The Golden Notebook, two models or images of reality, which remain separate and distinct. On the one hand the diaries, full of details and daydreams, chaotic patches of thought and feeling, shifting roles and relationships, great and small things thrown willy-nilly together, insights which connect to nothing, fantasies and rages which find no outlet or expression; and on the other hand "Free Women," the slight, shallow narrative of acts and events which progresses from beginning to end, from conflict to resolution, flattening and distorting all the rest into a predictably if superficially comforting pattern.
To those for whom The Golden Notebook has been an important personal and literary experience there can be no doubt of the significance of those disconnected bits and pieces of feminine existence which comprise Anna's diaries. But for Lessing, primarily committed to traditional fiction, the problem still remains: how to integrate the world of the diaries into that other world of the novel. The Golden Notebook failed to solve the problem because it was too much a statement of it. In focusing so intensely on the heroine's personal failures it revealed the complex web of psychological, cultural and historical forces which trap and isolate us, and the inadequacies of conventional fiction which necessarily falsifies and omits so much of life. But because it stopped there, because the richness of Anna's inner life was balanced by nothing in the public life she finally accepted or the public work she finally accomplished, it was an ultimately frustrating and even misleading work. Personal relationships, Lessing seemed to be saying, are indeed false and mutually destructive, yet one must get on with the painful job of raising children; meaningful work is indeed nonexistent, yet one must plod on hypocritically at some pointless or even harmful job; novels are indeed lies, yet one must trudge on with the impossible job of saying what cannot be said in a form which simplifies to a point of absurdity. Why must one? Why not go the more interesting routes of violence or madness, destroying the world or escaping from it into private fantasy?
The problem, thus posed, is a false one, for it assumes what Lessing has never assumed: the primacy of the individual life, of personal fulfillment and happiness. It is this implicit focus on personal problems and solutions which Lessing regrets, for she has no patience with modern writers who project themselves into the center of the universe, making of the artist, with his heightened self-awareness and sensibility, a contemporary hero. "Ever since I started writing I've wondered why the artist himself has become a mirror of society … (why) now almost every novelist writes about himself," she said in a recent interview. And of her own career: "Since writing The Golden Notebook I've become less personal. I've floated away from the personal."6
This process of "floating away from the personal" could describe the development of the entire Children of Violence series. But where, in the early volumes, the effect was negative, leaving a vacuum where the noble heroes and powerful deeds should have been, in the volumes written after The Golden Notebook, and particularly The Four-Gated City, the opposite is true. For in plunging so far into the personal mode Lessing discovered a way to get beyond it to the kind of collective social novel written by her nineteenth-century idols, without giving up the twentieth-century truths, revealed in The Golden Notebook, which rendered their particular forms obsolete.
And even more interesting, although less apparent, she has managed, in giving up the personal focus of The Golden Notebook, to preserve and even heighten the feminist consciousness which so enriched and illuminated it. For although Martha Quest, by this fifth volume, is bereft of all personal ambition and autonomy and reduced to a mere appendage of the household of Mark Cold-ridge, in relation to whom she functions in the most traditionally feminine and subservient roles; if we take our cue from Lessing and "float away from the personal" to a more general, historical perspective, we find in Martha a startlingly original image of feminine heroism, which goes beyond the exceptional woman usually found in books dealing with history, whether fiction or non-fiction, to include all the women who have anonymously contributed to the progress and civilization of the race. For if women have not often been among the powerful and famous of history, the reason, as a recent study of feminine history points out, is that:
the prevailing notion of what makes things historically noteworthy excludes women by definition. To put it another way, the things that have usually been considered to constitute feminity, and which women have pressed so hard to conform to, are precisely those things that remove women from the political arena. Although the image of feminity has changed significantly in some ways, in one dimension it has remained the same: what is feminine is almost antithetical to what is powerful. Yet history is made, after all, by the powerful. Since women have had neither political nor economic nor military power, obviously they did not make history and obviously they are not in history books.7
And yet, collectively, women have had an enormous, if indirect influence on history and have at the very least contributed their labors and services to making male enterprises possible. For this reason women have a right to ask, as they are beginning to, "Where were the women when this was going on?" This is precisely the question Lessing asks in The Four-Gated City, and the answers she gives are more than informative.
At the beginning of the novel, when Martha, newly arrived in London, drifts from street to street preserving her anonymity and rejecting the various limiting and defining roles offered her, she has the following thought:
Iris, Joe's mother, had lived in this street since she was born. Put her brain together with the other million brains, women's brains, that recorded in such tiny loving detail the histories of window-sills, skins of paint, replaced curtains and salvaged baulks of timber, there would be a recording instrument, a sort of six-dimensional map which included the histories and lives and loves of people, London—a section map in depth. This is where London exists, in the minds of people who have lived in such and such a street since they were born, and passing a baulk of timber remember, smiling, how it came rolling up out of the Thames on that Thursday afternoon it was raining, to lie on a pavement until it became the spine of a stairway—and then the bomb fell.8
And the rest of the book, from the point when Martha drifts as if inevitably into the Coldridge household and takes a position which eventually includes the entire spectrum of feminine roles and responsibilities, is the working out of this idea. For Lessing takes the stuff of male history, the public world of deeds and events, and over a period of more than half a century filters them through the veil of feminine sensibility, producing a multi-dimensional vision, or perhaps revision, of history in which women emerge as collective heroines, molding, preserving and interpreting the forms of life which make history possible.
Lessing's technique in accomplishing this is particularly interesting and daring, for from the moment Martha enters the house she is almost entirely imprisoned within it. Years and decades go by as she fulfills her household duties, thickening and graying with age and inertia as the world goes by her heavily draped windows, venturing outside to see the sky, the water, the rapidly and ominously changing landscape of advanced technological society only on the rarest and most routinely feminine occasions: to shop, attend a party, consult a doctor. And yet all of the social and technological changes taking place outside are reflected in the life of the house, and experienced and interpreted by Martha as she copes with their concrete, often dramatic effects on the personal lives of those she cares for. In this way the major events and eras of the late twentieth-century are filtered through and reconstructed by a feminine awareness of the details, the trivia of day-to-day life. What did the fifties feel like to people? What was the quality of life as lived then? Martha tells us first with sensory details: the look and smell of rooms; the shabby ornateness of "good" restaurants; the timid tastefulness of "the black dress worn with pearls"; the sweet gummy "nursery puddings" called by French names; all of this is recorded. And as the fifties drift into the sixties and toward the seventies, the sweep of history is made concrete and vivid in the changing shapes, colors, and textures of clothing, food, hairstyles. Rosy cheeks disappear under masks of ghostlike pallor; plump, dowdy women become fashionably angular and wraithlike; thick sauces give way to delicate wines; pale cashmeres and dark tweeds, to startling silks and satins draped and gathered into desperate, half-mad mimicries of a romantically imagined past.
And it is not only the trivia of fashion and atmosphere which Martha captures and records. The Coldridge house also absorbs and reflects the political upheavals of the times. The fear and hysteria of the cold war are objectified in the grim pathos of an abandoned child's birthday party rather than the headline event of which it is a minor by-product: the defection of a famous, wellborn scientist, Colin Coldridge, to Soviet Russia. Throughout this traumatic period Martha remains inside the besieged house, playing the role of housekeeper and surrogate mother, guarding the kitchen door against voracious newsmen grabbing after any bits of privacy which may be deemed worthy of elevation to the public domain.
There is some truth in one reviewer's claim that the style of this novel:
is like that of an unskilled letter writer who feels he has to report everything: this happened and then that; Lynda came home from the hospital but had to go back and we had a big party and that night Colin defected to Russia so Sally killed herself and then we spent hours and hours arguing about Communism.
But although "the only ordering principle," is, as she says, "chronological, and even chronology gets swamped in the helter-skelter rush of large and small events," this is not the result of Less-ing's "failure to select and focus."9 On the contrary, she has selected very carefully, for each small event and each minor detail foreshadow and forewarn of more general, often devastating ramifications. The small boy abandoned by his parents in the fifties becomes one of an army of young men and women whose attitudes and actions define and mold the sixties and seventies. One could, as Martha suggests, "do" the great peace marches of the sixties by "talking to people under twenty-one," and finding out "that there was no person there whose conception, babyhood, childhood or youth had not been 'disturbed',"10 by the last war. Thus the seeds of massive change are discovered in seemingly insignificant events apparent only to those, like Martha, who attend to details, preparing meals, making up guest rooms, tending to those nondescript souls whose presence no one else seems to notice. In this way women emerge as the guardians and interpreters of the common life, the maintainers of its order, pattern and meaning; for it is women who provide the glue of compassion and continuity without which men could not function and children could not replace them.
In Landlocked, the previous volume of Children of Violence, Martha had a recurrent dream of a house:
with half a dozen different rooms in it, and she, Martha, (the person who held things together, who watched, who must preserve wholeness through a time of dryness and disintegration) moved from one room to the next, on guard … her role in life, for this period, was to walk like a housekeeper in and out of rooms, but the people in the rooms could not meet each other or understand each other and Martha must not expect them to.11
And this image becomes the controlling metaphor for The Four-Gated City as the symbolic house of Martha's dreams is transformed into the reality of the Coldridge house with its many storeys, each the setting for a unique area of experience and activity; its many rooms, each enclosing the private life of a unique and separate person. Martha plays the multi-faceted archetypal female role women always play in the privacy of such houses: she holds things together when they threaten to disintegrate; keeps things apart when they threaten to destroy each other; adds to things which are inadequate or incomplete; absorbs or disposes of things which have become excessive. When the house becomes shabby she orders repairs; when Mark's work bogs down she contributes her knowledge and experience to his projects; when children are incompatible she arranges a vacation or change of school; when someone approaches violence or madness she holds on to them, sharing and absorbing some of their destructive energy.
The house thus becomes a microcosm of the larger society in which the polarization of sexes, generations, classes creates a perpetual state of tension and warfare within and between people. But the tension and warfare of family life produce different effects on different characters, and because these differences are determined to a great extent by sex, Martha, a woman as well as the custodian of the common life, relates to and participates in the world of female experience and activity somewhat differently from the male. This is not apparent or even true in the early sections of the novel, for although Martha fulfills a classically feminine role as Mark's secretary, she is occupied for the most part with his literary and political projects, and since she is clearly more experienced and sophisticated than he in both areas, he seems, to the reader if not himself, to be totally dependent upon her. But as time passes and the characters grow older, Martha shifts her interests and activities first to the world of the children, and then, as they grow up and leave home, to the woman's world of Mark's wife, Lynda, and her friends. And in the course of this process the profound differences between the conditions and experiences of adults and children, and more importantly, men and women, are gradually revealed. All are trapped; all are children of violence brought up and molded in an atmosphere of physical and psychic brutality and conflict; all have made more or less crippling adjustments, devised more or less successful strategies for survival; and all entertain fantasies of escape; but only the men have been able to transform their fantasies into concrete public projects for which they are rewarded. Mark's political concerns are translated first into novels, and later into an international network of rescue projects modeled after his lifelong fantasy of an early, idyllic England. Martha's friend Jack, who retreats into a private world of sexual preoccupation, transforms his self-indulgence into a thriving business, recruiting and training young women to act out his fantasies in dreamlike settings designed and built by him; and even the strangely one-dimensional scientist, Jimmy Wood, who seems to have no grasp on human reality, finds outlets for his madly dehumanized fantasies, first in the machines he invents, and later in the science fiction novels he creates. Politics, art, business, all are available to men, and as society loses its bearings and plunges toward self-annihilation, the general madness is reflected more and more in the madness, perversion and violence expressed and perpetrated by men of power and genius.
But for women, with rare exceptions, there is only the home, the finite set of walls, doors and windows in which they are caged. They too long for escape but for them the only free space is inner space, mental space, and for this reason many, like Lynda, who will not or cannot function as wives, mothers and housekeepers, retreat into a private world of dreams and fantasies and are labelled clinically insane. Most of the women in the book go through periods of insanity, suffer "breakdowns," are treated by psychiatrists; most of the men do not. And the reasons are connected with the very different roles and settings into which men and women are placed.12 For women are not only locked into rooms and houses, deprived of publicly valued work and denied space in which to create and produce for their own satisfaction; they are also the receptacles of all the psychic and emotional tension which the male world creates but will not acknowledge or deal with. Thus the very concept of madness with all its embarrassing paraphernalia: voices, visions, hysteria, delusion, is connected with and grows logically out of the feminine condition. Lynda, threatened by and therefore highly attuned to the unspoken tensions between her parents, and later between her father, his fiancée and herself, begins to hear their voices, to pick up their thoughts. And Martha herself, caring for the troubled, often fearful Coldridge children, similarly begins to pick up thoughts, receiving emotional vibrations from those around her. Going "up the stairs, through a house separated with the people who inhabited it, into areas or climates, each with its own feel, or sense of individuality," Martha thinks:
what an extraordinary business it is, being a middle-aged person in a family; like being a kind of special instrument sensitised to mood and need and state. For, approaching Paul, one needed this degree of attention; approaching Francis, that one; and for Lynda and for Mark quite different switches or gauges set themselves going, but automatically.
And simultaneously, as she thinks this, she notes the fraying carpet, the poorly varnished banister, and reflecting on her many roles and responsibilities, she sees a connection between the physical condition of the house, its emotional climate, and, by extension, the climate of the entire society. She sees herself "a mass of fragments, or facets, or bits of mirror reflecting qualities embodied in other people," and standing in the central stairway, surrounded by the many closed rooms, she feels "no centre in the house, nothing to hold it together." It too is "a mass of small separate things, surfaces, shapes, all needing different attention.… This was the real truth of what went on not only here but everywhere: everything declined, and frayed and came to pieces in one's hand.…"And she, a woman, is the "deputy in the centre of the house, the person who runs things, keeps things going, conducts a holding operation, in a perpetual battle with details."13
One could say that Martha and Lynda, sharing a house, supporting and learning from each other, are both aspects of Anna Wulf, at once drawn to madness and driven by responsibility, forced to choose or alternate between internal and external reality, a private or a shared life. But in The Four-Gated City Lessing gets beyond the either/or aspect of the problem by placing the themes and images of the earlier work in a broader fictional framework, expanding the boundaries of space, time and even human perception so all become aspects and units of a continuous collective experience. Images of isolation and fragmentation—notebooks, diaries, newspaper clippings tacked on walls, lists, maps, bare rooms enclosing and isolating individual souls—all are as abundant and important in The Four-Gated City as The Golden Notebook, but they are less frightening, less confining because they are not metaphors for individual situations requiring individual, immediate solutions. Anna, for example, could only escape her self-imposed exile into an inner world of notebooks and clippings through a personal, sexual relationship which drew her outside herself and catalyzed her into writing the fifth, liberating "golden notebook" which synthesized and transcended the other four. But the key to Mark Coldridge's escape from his four private clipping-covered walls is less personal and more cosmic; instead of a fifth notebook he creates, with the help of the others in the house, a "fifth wall" covered with clippings and reports of apparently mysterious technological and administrative accidents which "represented Factor X; that absolutely obvious, out-in-the-open, there-for-everybody-to-see fact which nobody was seeing yet,"14 and a symbol of a growing collective awareness of and effort to interpret and control the destructive patterns and forces of contemporary history before they reach their inevitable apocalyptic conclusion. And Mark's room, unlike Anna's, is only one of many such rooms kept by similarly minded people throughout the world and over the years, slowly evolving and changing to fit the changes in world affairs and the development of human insight.
There is, then, an ultimate sense of things fitting together here, given time and collective effort, both of which were noticeably lacking in The Golden Notebook, and this movement toward connection and integration is most fully symbolized in the images of houses which absorb and replace the isolated rooms of the earlier work. For although the Coldridge house and Martha's role within it replace Anna's single room as the metaphorical center of The Four-Gated City, neither it nor she are as essential to its structure. The house represents open rather than closed space, and when it crumbles and Martha herself dies, the process of holding together, of connection and expansion of relationships and experiences continues. For both Martha and the house embody impersonal, timeless qualities in people and the structures they build to contain their lives.
Martha, and indeed all the women in the novel, are thus part of a collective feminine identity which transcends individual personalities and time periods, as it progresses from room to room, from house to house, from generation to generation; and it is one of Martha's functions, as observer and interpreter of life, to notice and comment upon this fact. The hostility she feels toward Patty, for example, a Communist Party official with whom Mark has an affair during his "political phase," is resolved when Martha realizes in a dream that Patty represents one of her own former selves; and even her long-despised mother is acknowledged and integrated into Martha's self-image as she finds herself helplessly drawn into the maternal role of antagonist and enemy by Phoebe Coldridge's adolescent daughters. This sense of a common identity among increasingly numerous and diverse characters permeates the book so that at last there are no unique personalities, only personality traits common to many people in a particular historical and biological situation; and no personally generated thoughts, acts or creations, only collectively engendered and expressed ideas and projects. ("Now, when I start writing," says Lessing, "I ask, who is thinking the same thought? Where are the other people who are like me? I don't believe anymore that I have a thought. There is a thought around.")15
Roles and relationships shift and change as the characters move through their various phases and levels of experience and insight, and these shifting human relationships are analogous to the physical process of change, growth and evolution described by Rachel Carson in the passage which heads the first section of the book. Carson speaks of:
a continuing change now actually in progress … brought about by the life processes of living things.… Under the bridge a green mangrove seedling floats, long and slender, one end already beginning to show the development of roots.… Over the years the mangroves bridge the water gaps between the islands; they extend the mainland; they create new islands. And the currents that stream under the bridge, carrying mangrove seedlings, are one with the currents that carry plankton to the coral animals building the offshore reef, creating a wall of rocklike solidity, a wall that one day may be added to the mainland.16
And in the same way Lessing's characters represent a process of evolving change taking place in human history which cannot be discovered through an individualistic perspective, but can only emerge from a perspective of detachment and distance from personal, immediate facts. Nor can the nature of this evolutionary process be understood in the context of traditional western thought (which is de facto male thought). For the revolutionary development Lessing prophesies (and she has called The Four-Gated City a "prophetic novel"), is more than merely physical, historical, technological; it is most profoundly a revolution in consciousness, in sensibility, and it is fitting that she should choose the metaphors and images to express it, first, from the scientific works of a woman whose poetically expressed theories have never been fully accepted by the orthodox scientific establishment; and second, from the literature of mysticism, a tradition even less respected and respectable, even more associated in the western mind with things feminine: that is to say, irrational, insignificant, romantic, poetic, queer. For the world of religious cults, of mysticism and astrology, is a feminine world peopled by the most outcast, lonely, alienated of women; by those whose mental desperation Anna Wulf recognized but didn't quite share; by women like Lynda who, left out of the serious traditions and projects of western society, form a subculture coming together in mental hospitals, at seances, at horoscope readings, to share the secret knowledge and intuition for which they are branded mad. This is the subculture into which Martha finally moves, learning from Lynda and her friends the deep symbolic truths and connecting links available to those who give up the privileges of sanity to believe in and follow their inner voices and visions.
Lessing sums up this startling philosophical turnabout, whereby the mad become sane and the sane suicidally mad, in the passage from the mystical tales of the Sufis which heads the final apocalyptic section of the novel:
Sufis believe that, expressed in one way, humanity is evolving towards a certain destiny. We are all taking part in that evolution. Organs come into being as a result of a need for specific organs. The human being's organism is producing a new complex of organs in response to such a need. In this age of the transcending of time and space, the complex of organs is concerned with the transcending of time and space. What ordinary people regard as sporadic and occasional bursts of telepathic and prophetic power are seen by the Sufi as nothing less than the first stirrings of these same organs. The difference between all evolution up to date and the present need for evolution is that for the past ten thousand years or so we have been given the possibility of a conscious evolution. So essential is this more ratified evolution that our future depends on it.17
What is implied in this passage, and there is no mistake about it, is that western civilization as we have known it has been a half-crazed nightmare dreamed up by blind and one-eyed leaders and wise men who, having "rationally" and scientifically done away with most human values, are about to blow us all to smithereens unless we wake up and recognize our salvation in the rantings and ravings of the mad; of those despised, wretched, irrational souls who, having no investment in things as they are, can reject the conventions of "reality" and open themselves to a radically new consciousness. It is Lynda of course who symbolizes this new kind of savior, this prophet without honor, as she quite literally makes possible the survival of the human race by foreseeing, in one of her mad visions, the bleak and frozen English landscape in the aftermath of the technological holocaust destined to erupt in the civilized world; and convincing first Martha and then her son Francis in time to insure the escape and survival of colonies of human exiles.
At this point, as may be (perhaps alarmingly) apparent, the novel drifts off into what can only be described as science fiction. Lessing's interest in and incorporation of the themes and techniques of science fiction as a way of renewing the possibility of narrative fiction, of the creation of novels in which the human past, present and imagined future fit coherently and plausibly together, is a subject for another and probably longer essay. For now it is sufficient to say that Lessing has done this, that she has integrated the visions of Jimmy Wood, clinically sane and by worldly standards successful as a scientist and science fiction writer, but in a deeper sense quite deranged; and Lynda Coldridge, clinically mad and by worldly standards wholly incompetent, but in the deepest sense rational, insightful, endowed with visionary wisdom and knowledge; and merged them, producing a work as vast and sweeping as any of Tolstoy's or Stendhal's, in which the heroes are women, common women, madwomen, women doing what women have always done, and at last being named and credited for it.
- "A small personal voice," Declaration, Tom Maschler (Ed.), (New York, 1958), 188.
- Florence Howe, "Talk with Doris Lessing," Nation, 204 (March 6, 1967), 311.
- "A small personal voice," 196.
- The Golden Notebook (New York, 1962), 59.
- Jonah Raskin, "Doris Lessing at Stony Brook: An interview," New American Review, 8 (January, 1970), 174.
- Ibid., 173.
- Linda Gordon, "Sexism in American Historiography" (Unpublished paper presented to the American Historical Association, December, 1971. Mimeographed), 31.
- The Four-Gated City (New York, 1969), 10.
- Elizabeth Dalton, Review of The Four-Gated City, Commentary, 44 (January, 1970), 86.
- The Four-Gated City, 395.
- Landlocked (New York, 1965), 15.
- Lessing's most recent novel, Briefing for a Descent into Hell (New York, 1970), does in fact portray a male protagonist in the role of visionary madman, but this simply emphasizes Lessing's primary commitment to a "humanist" rather than "feminist" point of view, her determination to give universal meaning to her insights (many of which, as The Four-Gated City makes clear, grew out of her experiences as a woman) into the nature of contemporary madness. She succeeds at the expense of all sexual and cultural implication, however, creating, I think, a far weaker, less compelling work than any of her earlier ones.
- The Four-Gated City, 335-337.
- Ibid., 414.
- Raskin, 173.
- The Four-Gated City, 2.
- Ibid., 426.
Agate Nesaule Krouse (Essay Date November 1976)
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7522
SOURCE: Krouse, Agate Nesaule. "Doris Lessing's Feminist Plays." World Literature Written in English 15, no. 2 (November 1976): 305-22.
In the following essay, Krouse asserts that Lessing's plays Each His Own Wilderness and Play with a Tiger are "essential to understanding precisely the feminism of Doris Lessing."
Critics of Doris Lessing's work have concentrated primarily on her fiction. Her novels, especially The Golden Notebook and the Children of Violence series, have received careful attention. Her numerous short stories have been discussed less frequently.1 Even in the absence of a vast body of critical material explicating every aspect of her fiction, however, it is nevertheless widely read, taught, and discussed. With a few minor exceptions, all of Lessing's fiction is easily available in the United States.2
Her plays, however, remain unknown to many admirers of her work, largely because of realities of publication. Two have been discussed only briefly by specialists in contemporary theater, but have never been published and probably will not be since Lessing considers them "dead ducks" and "dated."3Each His Own Wilderness and Play with a Tiger, however, were published in England about the time of their first performances.4 While first editions may be difficult to obtain, both plays are currently available in paperback anthologies.5
Each His Own Wilderness and Play with a Tiger have important parallels to Lessing's fiction, even as they underline her versatility. Both are essential to understanding precisely the feminism of Doris Lessing, who has expressed disappointment that her work has been considered in the context of Women's Liberation.6 Both raise significant feminist issues, but differ markedly in their ways of doing so. While Play with a Tiger is occasionally strident and narrow, it can enlarge our appreciation of Lessing's other work, particularly The Golden Notebook. Each His Own Wilderness, on the other hand, presents a radical and convincing view of the oppression and liberation of women. It is, in fact, Lessing's A Doll's House. Both plays are interesting examples of literary feminism, and they also speak powerfully to Lessing's common reader, "… the Marthas of this world [who] read and search with the craving thought, What does this say about my life?"7
Play with a Tiger, first produced in 1962, shows one evening in the life of Anna Freeman, an Australian-born widowed writer living in London. In the course of the play, she breaks off her engagement to Tom Lattimer, who is on the point of conforming to middle class values; she talks to Harry, a friend strikingly similar to other philanderers created by Lessing such as Graham Spence in "One Off the Short List" and Richard Portmain in The Golden Notebook; she receives a visit from Janet Stevens, a naive young American woman, pregnant by Dave Miller; she talks intensely and intimately with Dave himself, a rootless American, and she recognizes that although she loves him and although they both understand each other and contemporary society, Dave is nevertheless walking out of her life and into marriage with Janet Stevens.
Play with a Tiger has a direct relationship to the Anna/Saul sections of The Golden Notebook. Anna Freeman, the name of the protagonist in the play, is also the "maiden" name of Anna Wulf, the protagonist in the novel. Dave and Saul, political and disillusioned Americans, have similarities too numerous to list, including a driving indiscriminate sexuality they discuss in slightly off-key American slang. In both works, Anna describes a dream about a tiger in almost identical terms.8 Lessing herself has explicitly indicated the closeness of the play and the novel. After Anna in The Golden Notebook has the dream about the tiger, she thinks to herself, "I must write a play about Anna and Saul and the tiger."9 And so we have a play by Doris Lessing about Anna and Dave and the tiger. Although Lessing has been justifiably annoyed by commentators who have regarded The Golden Notebook as primarily autobiographical, the very existence of Play with a Tiger suggests an especially close relationship between the sensibilities of author and character in the novel.
Play with a Tiger develops some of the same themes and situations as The Golden Notebook, though more simply and briefly because of dramatic requirements. One of the major themes in The Golden Notebook is that modern experience is chaotic, fragmentary and painful, yet acceptance of this truth can lead to new strength and creativity. The dialogue and staging of Play with a Tiger stress the value and necessity of openness to all kinds of experience. Dave insists that Anna leave the window open, that she not shut herself up against anything, no matter how painful or squalid.10 Although deeply disappointed in himself, Dave isolates the value of living the way he and Anna have: they have always been ready for "anything new in the world anywhere, any new thought, or new way of living,… ready to hear the first whisper of it" (II.60-61). The unrealistic staging also emphasizes their openness; it underlines that they are very much part of the world that surrounds them rather than protected by slogans or self-created isolation. "The lights are out. The walls seem to have vanished, so that the room seems part of the street" (II.37).
The central symbol in the play, the tiger, stresses the power of imagination and the value of openness to experience as well. Both Dave and Anna despair because of their inability to imagine something better than themselves "to grow into" (II.61). Only once has Anna had a vision of something other than herself, an "enormous, glossy padding tiger" who "purred so loud that the sound drowned the noise of the traffic" (II.61-62). The tiger lashed out at Anna, so that she was covered with blood," … he stared and he glared, and then he was off.… Then I heard the keepers shouting after him and wheeling along a great cage.… That was the best I could do. I tried hard, but that was the best—a tiger. And I'm covered with scars" (II.62).
The tiger of Anna's imagination has some obvious literary parallels: as a representative of awesome power he is reminiscent of the tiger in Blake's poem; as a portent of a terrifying future, he is similar to the "vast image out of Spiritus Mundi," the "shape with lion body and the head of a man" of "The Second Coming." He represents both the power and the limitations of the human imagination. On the one hand, he is beautiful and powerful and he purrs loud enough to drown out the traffic; he represents an escape from the ugliness and loneliness of everyday existence, not by excluding all experience but by admitting it on a different level of one's mind. On the other hand, he is vicious without provocation: in The Golden Notebook, the scars he gives in the dream are impermanent since Anna sees her arm is either not hurt at all or has already healed; in Play with a Tiger, however, Anna is "covered with scars" from her encounter with him. The tiger is also only momentarily free and wild before the keepers shut him in a cage. He is really no improvement over the human race: he is neither morally better nor existentially freer. He differs from "the golden spotted beast" who appears "as if … in a country where hostility or dislike had not yet been born" in Lessing's Briefing for a Descent into Hell.11 The tiger is, finally, a symbol of the male, who maims and hurts, but whose beauty and momentary freedom are desirable nevertheless. Even more specifically, he is Dave Miller.
Considered as a companion piece to The Golden Notebook, Play with a Tiger underlines the richness of the novel. The Golden Notebook is an important treatment of the experience of modern women largely because it fully and specifically deals not only with their personal, but also their political, intellectual, and artistic commitments and problems. Necessarily narrower in scope, Play with a Tiger concentrates on the personal instead. Furthermore, Play with a Tiger indirectly underscores how crucial is Anna's and Saul's mutual descent into madness in The Golden Notebook, how the crackup restores sanity and creativity. Lessing has written that, "… nobody so much as noticed this central theme, because the book was instantly belittled … as being about the sex war, or was claimed by women as a useful weapon in the sex war."12Play with a Tiger, however, is about the sex war, and it dramatizes fully the blows struck in it.
But the sex war as presented by Lessing in Play with a Tiger is not entirely convincing, partly because dramatic form demands simplicity and partly because she relies excessively on stereotypes she uses with greater tact elsewhere. The monogamous female, the victim of male faithlessness or unfairness, appears in much that Lessing has written. So does the philandering male. He knows he causes women pain, but he refuses to change. He is usually dishonest, unfaithful, hypocritical, sentimental, unjust, or even all of these things. Contrasted to the women in the same work, he is arat.13 While the view that women are morally better than men has been held by some feminists, it does violence to individuals, it is the basis of the double standard, and it can also limit the power of literature.
In Play with a Tiger, as in much of Lessing's work, marriage and other arrangements with men hold disadvantages for women. A repeatedly made, bitter criticism of female-male relationships here is that men successfully use clichés about women to evade their human responsibilities. Although his wife is "cracking up" as a result of his current affair, Harry has the "much used formula" that she likes weak men, that he can't help himself, and that she doesn't really mind his affair (I.19-20). Dave Miller, in spite of his contempt for slogans, holds the trite but comfortable belief that women are tougher than men (III.69-70) and that they don't need to take men seriously if they have children (III.70).
There are no exceptions to the rule that men are unfair to women in their behavior and assumptions. In this way Play with a Tiger differs from Each His Own Wilderness where at least one male character, Mike, is a good human being. Anna accuses both Tom and Dave of an unfairness similar to Harry's, and there is no evidence she is wrong. Tom has made callous use of women [sexually] (I.23). Anna predicts that Dave when married will behave exactly like Harry: when his wife turns into a boring housewife with no choice but to stay married, he will have a succession of affairs, confess them to his wife, and even use her forgiveness as an added attraction to other women (I.20-21). Dave dishonestly uses one woman to keep free of others. Like the other men he expects his infidelity to be accepted as a matter of course. He aggressively asserts his independence: he is not going to be "any woman's pet" and he is not going to live "according to the rules laid down by the incorporated mothers of the universe" (I.32-33). He also cheerfully accepts the fact women have to suffer: he tells Anna mockingly, "Women always have to pay—and may it long remain that way" (I.35).
Faced with dishonesty and philandering—two characteristics all males in the play possess—a woman just can't win. Marriage, by its very nature, makes women dull, which in turn causes male unfaithfulness and the end of meaningful choice for women. It does not matter what kind of individual a woman is—she is likely to suffer at the hands of men. The philandering males cause pain to their housewifely wives, but they are even more destructive to women who have independence, intelligence, and integrity. Bored by stupid and dull women, they nevertheless are also unfaithful to women who could understand them and with whom they could have real intimacy. Janet Stevens, the pregnant young American woman who is so severely limited in insight she can only talk in awkward slogans, rather than Anna, gets Dave. Janet's values are much inferior to Anna's, who passionately wants an honest relationship with a man, and if she cannot have that, would rather be alone than compromise and accept the kind of self-deception and bitterness her parents had. Janet's values are also different from and inferior to the values of openness and sensitivity held by Dave and explicitly endorsed by the play as a whole.
The bitterest irony is that although men may verbally subscribe to advanced ideas about women, they nevertheless choose the limited and stupid ones. Dave recognizes Janet's limitations perfectly, and he has also repeatedly lectured to Anna that women should be independent; yet he concedes that "some of the time" he can't take women who live without "dishonest female ruses" (III.78-79). Anna is bitterly aware that although she and Dave share the same ethical concerns, he will choose Janet. Women, on the other hand, have more integrity in making their choices. As Anna remarks early in the play, "Perhaps she [Mary] prefers to be sex-starved than to [sic] marry an idiot. Which is more than can be said about most men" (I.23). Anna herself does not get what she wants: "Any man I have stays with me, voluntarily, because he wants to, without ties" (II.48). She suffers, but she does retain her integrity.
Dave, however, in spite of his bitter and convincing understanding of the shortcomings of conventional life generally and Janet specifically, does the most conventional of things: he does right by the girl he has gotten pregnant. While one could expect predictable reactions from Tom and Harry (i.e., every Tom, Dick, and Harry) Dave is clearly meant to be exceptional. All the values of this play and all of Dave's angry insights are violated by his decision to marry Janet. Furthermore, this decision makes Play with a Tiger extremely one-sided. In it, males use clichés or accept stereotypes about women when it is to their advantage to do so, even though their preconceptions are clearly wrong. On the other hand, although women, too, believe a number of trite things about men, these beliefs do not wound men, in spite of the fact that the structure of the play establishes that the female views are an accurate way of seeing reality.
Lessing's excessive reliance on the stereotype of men as dishonest and faithless makes the play disunified and limited. The first and simplest problem is the discrepancy in Dave's characterization, which is related to the question of how one is to regard the thematic values endorsed in the play. Dave's decision to marry Janet is unbelievable on a realistic level. He has slept with women and left them before. He has not reflected, as Anna insists that he should, what happens to those women and what his responsibility is. He has been unquestionably courageous politically. He is aware of the meaninglessness of conventional life and of marriage to a stupid woman. Such a man, realistically, would not suddenly marry a silly young pregnant woman from Philadelphia just because she happens to cry on the phone—especially since he has not had other powerful forces of society marshalled against him. No rich daddy has appeared with threats or bribes, no dispassionate advocate has convinced him that responsibility to an individual woman is part of responsibility to the whole human race or that his failure to do his duty would make his statements about society hypocritical. His abrupt decision is totally unmotivated.
That in itself would not matter so much, if it did not raise a more serious problem. Are we to regard Dave as a hypocrite, a label that fits perfectly the other two men who behave like him? That implied answer provides an easy way out of the discrepancy in characterization, yet it does not work. Dave so obviously means it when he says society stinks and that he doesn't want to be part of it. He has not been spouting advanced social ideas while secretly longing for the safety of marriage. But how seriously can one take his ideas, or his tormented longing for personal goodness, if the only real decision he has to make shows that he behaves according to the fact that he is male—in Lessing's definition here—rather than human? In other words, she has developed a character who is interesting from an aesthetic, philosophical, and sociological point of view, but the resolution of the play either oversimplifies him or undercuts the concepts he represents. It also trivializes the symbol of the tiger. Dave, like the tiger, is caught, and like him he is responsible for Anna's being covered with scars. But one would hope to see the keepers of the cage. The resolution of the play suggests that they are nothing more than a young woman from Philadelphia.
Lessing herself has sensed the one-sidedness of the play, but has blamed it on mistaken casting and unfair cutting of lines. In a postscript written in 1972, she has noted that "some Women's Liberation groups" have cast Dave "as a fool, a stud, or a nothing man, making it 'a woman's play'…a self-righteous aria for the female voice."14 She goes on to observe that unless Dave is "cast and acted so that he has every bit as much weight as Anna, then the play goes to pieces."15 But even without indiscriminate cutting, the resolution of the play makes its vision of female-male relationships one-sided.
Other problems in the play can also be seen by reference to the stereotype of the dishonest philandering male. A recurring theme is that the conventional beliefs of society are ridiculous and narrow. Both Anna and Dave are satiric toward them. And yet, Anna holds a highly traditional view of male sexuality and is shown to be right in holding it. The belief that men need more sexual outlets than one woman is not so different from the belief that society needs stable marriages. Both of these views are the basis of the double standard. But the men in the play, somewhat boringly, enact a cliché. Anna's and Lessing's irony does not extend to an examination of all assumptions of society. Instead, the irony is directed only against male beliefs and behavior. It is not all-encompassing.
The play is also narrow in its human sympathies. It is Anna's play: what hurts her is treated seriously, while parallel situations are dismissed, forgotten, or handled satirically. For example, Anna's suffering is real and terrible when she loses Dave. On the other hand, Tom Lattimer, who loves her and whom she rejects, is shown to be pompous, hypocritical, and cruel. That he could suffer equally as a victim of the sex war is not a consideration. In the same way, Harry's actions are shown to cause his wife pain, but his own anguish about the marriage of his mistress is not treated seriously. He dramatizes his problems, and he selfishly demands sympathy and sexual satisfaction. Unlike Anna, he is not covered with scars and never will be.
The most interesting case of a character whose suffering is not taken seriously and whose situation is not related to a thematic motif is Janet Stevens. Pregnant, young, desperate, and uninteresting, she is about to marry Dave. She is clearly getting no prize. While she is not likely to suffer as intensely as Anna, she will suffer long, consistently, and fully according to her capacity. Harry's wife, mentioned early in the play, probably foreshadows Janet's future. Dave will not be responsible for turning Janet into "just another boring housewife"—she already is that—but he is likely to be a terrible husband. Yet this connection is never made. Anna is sorry that it's not her baby and she sarcastically says that she wasn't as intelligent as Janet. But Janet is so stupid as to be almost a comic figure. The sympathy for all women as victims, which would follow logically from the assumption of male unfairness, is forgotten. Anna only, not Janet, is to be regarded as an object of sympathy. The kind of elementary sister-hood, so well treated by Lessing elsewhere, is not developed. Men are harder on intelligent women, but at least the housewifely women get the men. And, the play implies, that is a victory of sorts rather than the victimization that other motifs would lead one to expect. Anna keeps her integrity and suffers. She is superior to other women and all the men, but it is hard to accept her as an ideal in feelings or insights. She just happens to be right about female-male relationships because of abrupt elements in the plot and in spite of the fact that her view does not include all the complex situations touched on in the play.
And yet, Play with a Tiger cannot and should not be dismissed because of its flaws. Its value lies not only in its relationship to The Golden Notebook, but also in its anger. Lessing dramatizes the problems, not the victories of an intelligent and independent woman, and it is as unfair to expect calm impartiality from a play produced in 1962 as it is today. Certainly, a generation that elevated the idiosyncratic Jimmy Porter of Look Back in Anger into a profound critic of society, needs to consider Anna Freeman as seriously.16 Probably more so.
Each His Own Wilderness has been warmly though not widely praised. T. C. Worsley called it "the most exciting new play to turn up in London since Look Back in Anger," and discussed its relationship to the Angry Young Men.17 "Tony is yet another specimen of the furiously articulate young men of today. And a very brilliant specimen Miss Lessing has made him. For the first time, too, since the specimen was exhibited to us, we get some understanding of what has caused the fury" (p. 405). According to Worsley, the cause of the young man's fury and the major theme of the play is "do-gooding." Myra, his mother, has sold the house he loves. "All she meant, poor woman, was to do him good; all she did was to destroy his world."18 However, Worsley himself is a bit uneasy with his analysis of the theme of Each His Own Wilderness, although he attributes the fault to Lessing. "I think Miss Lessing's play would have been clearer if she had got on to this theme earlier, 'prepared' it a little more thoroughly and brought it more into the centre. As it is, the play suffers slightly from a plethora of events and people, which there is not time or space to develop."19
George Wellwarth also discusses Each His Own Wilderness in the context of the Angry Young Men. He finds Lessing "more objective and realistic than Osborne," and praises her for creating a hero far more typical than Osborne's.20 Like Worsley, he sees Tony as the protagonist and the most interesting character: Tony is "the real representative of the younger generation … the anti-angry young man—the angry young cocoon.…His only anger is directed against those who would draw him out of his cocoon of safe conventionality" (pp. 289-90).
Because both critics were concerned with the concept of the Angry Young Men and with showing that Doris Lessing is a better man than many, they assumed that Tony was the main character and missed a way of seeing the play that is equally or even more valid. Instead of Tony, Myra Bolton is the protagonist. Her appearances are certainly more flamboyant and more "dramatic" than Tony's. Lessing has also listed her first in the "Characters of the Play," even though Tony is the first to appear on the stage. More importantly, all other characters have a direct relationship to Myra, but only indirectly to Tony. Worsley's difficulty with the "plethora of events and people" obscuring the theme disappears if one accepts Myra as the protagonist rather than only a cause for Tony's fury. In addition, Myra has roughly the same number of lines and scenes as Tony. The final, forceful long speech is Myra's, and the values espoused in it are not undercut by irony or humor.
Each His Own Wilderness presents about twenty-four hours in the life of Myra Bolton. During this time, her son Tony returns from the army to find Myra busy with anti-war activities. Sandy, the son of Myra's close friend Milly, is living with Myra and helping with her political activities. Philip, the man whom Myra has loved, brings his young fiancée Rosemary to stay with Myra so he can get out of marrying her. Milly, Myra's friend, returns from a women's delegation to China. Myra finds it difficult to get along with Tony, but she is sure she has been right in selling the house they live in so that Tony can have money to be free. Various complications develop. Myra breaks off her affair with Milly's son, Sandy; she promises to marry her old friend Mike, but changes her mind; she breaks off her long friendship with Philip. Meanwhile, Milly has slept with Myra's son Tony, and the relationship between Philip and his fiancée Rosemary has broken up. At the end of the play, Myra finally tells Tony she has sold the house, only to discover the house is the only thing Tony has wanted and that he finds her disgusting. She leaves Tony and Rosemary to comfort each other and sets off for a new life.
If we consider Myra Bolton as the protagonist, Each His Own Wilderness becomes a contemporary A Doll's House: a play about the oppression and liberation of women. As such, it is much more interesting and radical than Clare Booth Luce's conscious attempt to update Ibsen in A Doll's House, 1970. Lessing's play, too, has some obvious parallels to Ibsen's, which does not mean, however, that Lessing necessarily had Ibsen in mind. Both plays are written in a realistic style, both employ a central metaphor of a house which represents the heroine's illusions about her relationship to others, both show the loss of those illusions, and both end by the heroine leaving her house and her previous life in order to find a new, more honest existence. In order to be a valuable human being capable of bringing up children, Nora in A Doll's House left her husband and the confining hypocrisies of marriage. Each His Own Wilderness exposes some similar hypocrisies in affairs rather than marriage. However, it goes a great deal further than Ibsen's play: it examines and rejects the final tyranny over modern women—the tyranny of the children they have brought up by themselves in the modern, post-stable-marriage era. Instead of leaving her husband as Nora did, Myra leaves her son Tony.
In this play, as in several other works by Lessing, there are paired complementary characters who function to suggest that the experiences presented have a wide rather than only unique significance and who make the thesis of the work convincing. Myra's son Tony and her ex-lover's fiancée Rosemary are paired: they are similar in appearance and opinions; they are the grown children whose values are rejected in the play. Myra, too, has a complementary character: her friend Milly. The two women have been friends for years, have lived without the protection and comfort of husbands, and have sons whom they have brought up by themselves but who have not turned out the way they have wished. The two women understand each other perfectly. The presence of Milly shows that Myra's experiences are not unique; at the same time, it helps to establish the validity of Myra's rebellion.
Both Myra and Milly are free in a sense Nora never envisioned. They have chosen to live without the respectability and hypocrisy of marriage, and they are prepared to accept the consequences. Freedom here as elsewhere in Lessing's work is not treated sentimentally. It involves plenty of suffering and injustice. Most strikingly, Myra and Milly are free sexually to a point that would shock Nora and her contemporaries. Not only do they discuss affairs with men of their own generation, but each of them also has a sexual involvement with the other's son. Since the two women are almost like sisters, these sexual encounters with each other's children may seem vaguely incestuous. However, probably the prejudice that there is something predatory and unnatural about a woman sleeping with a considerably younger man (but not about a man sleeping with a younger woman) is partially responsible for seeing both Myra and Milly as liberated sexually.
As an implicitly feminist work, Each His Own Wilderness develops two major ideas. In dealing with the relationships of women and men, the play demonstrates that men are often shockingly dishonest to women, while women understand and regard these dishonesties with irony. In this respect, as well as some others, women are better than men. The second idea, which is both more original and more modern, is that children interfere with women's freedom and integrity. Since both Myra and Milly are mothers of sons, the two types of relationships examined—that is, between women and men, and women and children—are closely related.
The dishonesty of men towards women is so obvious and prevalent in the play that only a few examples will suffice. Philip has been and still is dishonest to Myra. In the past, he has put her into such a position that she has had to break off with him while he ironically has maintained the sentimental fiction he was the rejected one. He proposes and pretends to be rejected in the course of the play as well. He has also used his wife and uses Myra to protect himself from marriage. Philip's behavior is ironically mirrored by Milly's son, Sandy. When Myra tells him she is finished with him, he says he is sure he has done the right thing in breaking off the affair.
Even when not trying to get rid of women, men are dishonest. Milly details the hypocritical and obtuse concern for appearances which has caused her to walk out on the man she was about to marry (II.i.133-34). Myra recognizes Milly's experience as something that might have happened to herself, as a pattern that is perfectly normal in male behavior. In this scene, as elsewhere in the play, the agreement and understanding of the paired complementary characters help to establish an individual experience as common or universal. Dishonesty is almost a condition of being male in the world of the play.
Women are far more honest than men. Both Milly and Myra choose integrity rather than love. Women are also better than men in other ways. While Myra is often careless and tactless, she is also generous, warm, kind, and sympathetic. She is never vindictive, jealous, or petty. Without Myra's impulsiveness, Milly is perhaps an even better person. Both women also differ from almost all the male characters by their unselfish concern for humankind. They unquestioningly sacrifice time and personal safety for political causes, and they expect no personal recognition. They are clearly not radicals with ego problems, nor are they naively unaware of past horrors and present injustices, yet they continue political action.
The dishonesty and selfishness of men as contrasted to women is closely related to a second and more important theme, the exposure and rejection of the tyranny of children. Both mothers are disappointed in their sons, in part because they are from a generation which refuses unselfish political involvement. In this lack of social conscience, Rosemary (the young fiancée of Myra's ex-lover Philip) shares as well, which helps to establish the thesis that such selfishness is typical of the younger generation.
It is interesting, however, that the children of Myra and Milly are sons rather than daughters. That fact unifies the two themes. The sons are as dishonest and unfair as other men to their mothers. This common male dishonesty is all the more striking since the two sons are completely different from each other. Ambitious, aggressive, and opportunistic, Sandy holds his mother accountable for his less admirable traits and uses her to impress his posh friends. Apathetic, insecure, and self-pitying, Tony does not analyze his dislike of his mother's messiness, political activism, and sociability.
In several of Tony's objections to Myra a strong undercurrent of sexual jealousy can be discerned: he is bitterly ironic about Philip and the other "uncles" he has had; he is angry Sandy is staying in his room; he is sickened by sexual activity which includes his mother. That some of Tony's objections are based on a female-male conflict is underlined in two ways. There is a strong ironic parallel between Tony's and Philip's objections to Myra's openness to people. Even similar language is used by both to state their objections. Second, Tony does not like women anyway. Like drinking and smoking, they bore him (I.i.101). He tells Milly, "I simply don't like women" (II.ii.149). Furthermore, Tony frequently lumps Myra and Milly together as a particular type of woman he can't stand: the "dilettante daughters of the revolution" (I.i.101) and "women who haven't succeeded in getting or staying married" (I.i.105). He feels overpowered by them: "It's their utterly appalling vitality. They exhaust me" (I.i.107).
Myra is also occasionally antagonistic to Tony because he is male and once includes him in a blanket condemnation of all men (I.ii.115). But she has a score of more emphatic objections to Tony. She is disappointed the young are leaving political action to her generation. She is irritated by his snobbishness, neatness, and lack of humor. She is hurt by his unkindness. She cannot accept his values of quiet and security. She is puzzled by his failure to live as she considers normal: she feels a young man should want to be free and rebel against parents rather than docilely stay with them.
The play raises the most basic question about the relationship of mothers and children. Myra asks this question explicitly: "Aren't our children our fault?" (II.ii.135). Several answers are suggested. Milly tells Myra she should consider the basic integrity of their whole lives before making harsh judgements, that the way their children have turned out cannot be viewed in isolation: "… we've neither of us given in to anything.… What's the use of living the way we have, what's the use of us never settling for any of the little cosy corners or the little cages or the second-rate men if we simply get tired now?" (II.ii.135). In other words, their lives have included far more than motherhood.
Another answer is also implied by Milly: "We've committed the basic and unforgivable crime of giving you birth—but we had no choice, after all …" (II.ii.150). A third answer is also implied when Milly sarcastically accepts responsibility for Sandy's tactless actions: "Of course, it's my fault. I'm your mother—that's what I'm for" (II.ii.157). Indirectly the whole question of responsibility is briefly reduced to absurdity. If children so clearly refuse responsibility for their actions, the facile assigning of blame to mothers is fallacious as well.
But the most emphatic answer to the question of responsibility is provided by the structure of the play: the complementary characters of the mothers and the obvious contrasts but basic similarities between the two sons. Taken together, these clearly establish that there is no causal relationship between the characters of mothers and children and that the whole question of responsibility is irrelevant. Unselfish Milly and Myra have almost identical values which have not carried over to their sons. Sandy and Tony are selfish opposites of their mothers. Myra sums up the differences perfectly: "My God, the irony of it—that we should have given birth to a generation of little office boys and clerks and … little people who count their pensions before they're out of school … little petty bourgeois" (II.ii.166).
The resolution of the conflict between Myra and Tony also answers the question of responsibility. Myra's attitudes are diametrically opposed to Tony's, but they are also the attitudes endorsed by the play. Myra's final speech, neither answered nor balanced by Tony's, reaffirms her values as the values of the play. It proposes a woman's individual freedom is the highest good and that this freedom surpasses the responsibility toward children which is a problematical value anyway. After Myra tells Tony she has sold the house and he has said he can't stand her, she announces she is leaving. In a powerful and vivid scene too long to quote here, Myra announces she is free for the first time in twenty-two years: previously her life has been governed by Tony's needs. She tentatively accepts the possibility a mother may be defined by her success in bringing up a child, but she asserts such a failure does not need to encompass her life and it need not control her forever. She may have failed with Tony since neither in her own nor society's terms is he a tangible justification for the way she has lived. However, she is still alive and ready for varied and meaningful experience. Her speech is basically an affirmation of life in opposition to the rigid, limiting, and sterile notions of responsibility, respectability, and dignity. It is also a rejection of the sentimental and cruel notion that a woman's whole life has to be or can be defined through her children.
Myra's values are clearly the values of the play. In fairness to her characters, Lessing has included earlier a long speech by Tony in which he explains the horror he felt when his father was killed and he and his mother were buried under rubble during a bombing attack. In this speech, the reasons for Tony's wish for quiet and security are made clear. Significantly, he has been molded more by large impersonal forces such as war than by his mother's influence. However, while we may understand Tony, judged by an absolute standard, his values are childish. Compared to Myra, who has also experienced the horrors of war, Tony seems petulant, self-pitying, and childish. While Lessing has made him quite understandable, she has not made him admirable.
Finally, Myra's values are shown to be valid by the structure of the play itself. Myra's speech is neither answered nor negated by Tony, yet that speech condemns everything he is or wants. After Myra has left, the triviality, uncertainty, and pathos of Tony and Rosemary contrast with Myra's strength and courage:
TONY: Rosemary, do you know that not one word of what she said made any sense to me at all … slogans, slogans, slogans.…
ROSEMARY: What's the matter with being safe—and ordinary? What's wrong with being ordinary—and safe?
TONY: Rosemary, listen—never in the whole history of the world have people made a battle-cry out of being ordinary. Never. Supposing we all said to the politicians—we refuse to be heroic. We refuse to be brave. We are bored with all the noble gestures—what then, Rosemary?
ROSEMARY: Yes, Ordinary and safe.
TONY: Leave us alone, we'll say. Leave us alone to live. Just leave us alone …
Tony's insistence that Myra has been speaking in senseless slogans is undercut. Her speech makes sense to the reader, so that Tony's assertion constitutes dramatic irony. Her similes are homely and far removed from the style of political slogans, but they judge Tony and Rosemary nevertheless (e.g., "I don't propose to keep my life clutched in my hand like small change," and "I don't have to shelter under a heap of old bricks—like a frightened mouse," II.ii.166). Furthermore, while Myra's speech is positive, Tony and Rosemary can only question and repeat. And the answers to their questions have been developed previously. Throughout the play it is made abundantly clear that it is impossible for human beings to be "ordinary and safe": wars come, love affairs end, people hurt each other. A play which opens with the sounds of an H-bomb explosion and machine-gun fire on a tape recorder and in which the second act starts with Tony "making machine-gun noises like a small boy" (p. 127) does not allow the reader or viewer to see Tony's wish to be left "alone to live" as a viable alternative. Likewise, the references to political horrors show Tony's wistful supposition about telling the politicians how they feel to be painfully naive.
Thus, Each His Own Wilderness as a whole endorses Myra's values and her wish for freedom. It exposes the unjustifiable demands of children. It suggests, though does not absolutely insist on, the superiority of women by showing men—with the exception of Mike—as basically dishonest and unfair. It questions several clichés about women: in this play women are not selfishly concerned with their families while the minds of men are on more significant issues; they are not defined as creatures whose primary duty is to their children; they are not useless, troublesome, possessive, and pathetic once their child-raising years are over. Each His Own Wilderness insists on the right of women to live as they wish. Their freedom is an individual necessity, but also a hope for human-kind. Like Play with a Tiger it raises feminist issues but does so in a totally convincing and powerful way. Lessing's complementary characters, Myra and Milly, are interesting in their own right, parallel the common female pairs in her fiction, and tell us what middle-aged women are and should be. Each His Own Wilderness, like much that Lessing has written, can give us insight and inspiration in the crises of our own life.
- While no critical study or article has been entirely devoted to Lessing's short stories, interesting references to them may be found in other contexts. For example, see Dorothy Brewster, Doris Lessing (N. Y.: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1965) or Selma R. Burkom, "'Only Connect': Form and Content in the Works of Doris Lessing," Critique, 11, No. 1 (1969), 51-68.
- With the exception of "The Other Woman," contained in Lessing's Five: Short Novels (London: Michael Joseph, 1953), all of her fiction has been available either in hardback or in paperback reprints. For a listing of her fiction, see Agate Nesaule Krouse, "A Doris Lessing Checklist," Contemporary Literature, 14, No. 4 (Fall 1973), 592-93.
- For a brief discussion of "Mr. Dolinger," see John Russell Taylor, The Angry Theater: New British Drama, rev. ed. (N. Y.: Hill & Wang, 1969), p. 145. See also Myron Matlaw, Modern World Drama: An Encyclopedia (N. Y.: E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc., 1972), p. 456. For "The Truth About Billy Newton," see review by A. Alvarez, New Statesman, 59 (23 January 1960), 100-01. Also see Allardyce Nicoll, "Somewhat in a New Dimension," in Stratford-Upon-Avon-Studies 4, Contemporary Theater (London: Edward Arnold Publishers Ltd., 1968), pp. 82-83, 92. Ms. Lessing's entire comment is, "As regards 'Mr. Dolinger' and 'The Truth About Billy Newton,' are both, as far as I am concerned, dead ducks. They are dated, and when plays are that, in my view they should simply be forgotten" (letter to Agate N. Krouse, 27 July 1974).
- Each His Own Wilderness was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre, London, on 23 March 1958. It was published in New English Dramatists: Three Plays, ed. Elliot M. Browne (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1959), pp. 11-95. Play with a Tiger was first performed at the Comedy Theater, London, on 22 March 1962. It was published as Play with a Tiger: A Play in Three Acts (London: Michael Joseph, 1962). Subsequent page references to the play are to this edition.
- Each His Own Wilderness is included in Willis Hall, The Long and the Short and The Tall, et. al. (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1962). The cover title is Three Plays. All subsequent page references are to this edition. Play with a Tiger is included in Plays of the Sixties, Vol. I, ed. J. M. Charlton (London: Pan Books Ltd., 1966). This edition includes a postscript by Lessing, added in 1972, p. . Play with a Tiger is also included in Plays By and About Women, eds. Victoria Sullivan and James Hatch (Vintage Books of Random House, c. 1973), pp. 201-73.
- See, for example, "A Talk with Doris Lessing," interview by Florence Howe, The Nation, 204 (6 March 1967), p. 312. Also, Doris Lessing, "Introduction" The Golden Notebook (1962; rpt. N. Y.: Bantam Books, Inc., 1973), pp. viii-ix. Subsequent page references are to this edition.
- Doris Lessing, A Proper Marriage, Children of Violence, II (N. Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1964), 322.
- The Golden Notebook, pp. 614-16; Play with a Tiger, pp. 61-62.
- The Golden Notebook, p. 616.
- Play with a Tiger, I, p. 35.
- (N. Y.: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971), pp. 42-43.
- "Introduction," The Golden Notebook, p. viii.
- For a full discussion of Lessing's use of stereotypes, see my dissertation, "The Feminism of Doris Lessing," Univ. of Wisc., 1972.
- Plays of the Sixties, I, .
- For a convincing argument Jimmy Porter is an unusual and unrepresentative young man, see George Well-warth, "John Osborne: 'Angry Young Man?,'" The Theater of Protest and Paradox: Development in the Avant Garde Drama, rev. ed. (N. Y. U. Press, 1971), pp. 254-69.
- "The Do-Gooders," New Statesman, 55 (29 March 1958), 405.
- The Theater of Protest and Paradox, p. 289.
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The Grass Is Singing (novel) 1950
* Martha Quest (novel) 1952
This Was the Old Chief's Country (short stories) 1952
Before the Deluge (drama) 1953
Five: Short Novels (novellas) 1953
* A Proper Marriage (novel) 1954
A Retreat to Innocence (novel) 1956
Going Home (essays) 1957
The Habit of Loving (short stories) 1957
Each His Own Wilderness (drama) 1958
Mr. Dollinger (drama) 1958
* A Ripple from the Storm (novel) 1958
Fourteen Poems (poetry) 1959
In Pursuit of the English: A Documentary (documentary) 1960
The Golden Notebook (novel) 1962
Play with a Tiger (drama) 1962
A Man and Two Women (short stories) 1963
African Stories (short stories) 1964
* Landlocked (novel) 1965
The Storm [adaptor; from a drama by Alexander Ostrovsky] (drama) 1966
Winter in July (short stories) 1966
Particularly Cats (autobiographical essay) 1967
Nine African Stories 1968
The Four-Gated City (novel) 1969
Briefing for a Descent into Hell (novel) 1971
The Story of a Non-Marrying Man and Other Stories [also published as The Temptation of Jack Orkney and Other Stories] (short stories) 1972
The Singing Door (drama) 1973
The Summer Before the Dark (novel) 1973
The Memoirs of a Survivor (novel) 1974
A Small Personal Voice: Essays, Reviews, and Interviews (essays, reviews, and interviews) 1974
Collected Stories. 2 vols. [also published as Stories] (short stories) 1978
† Shikasta (novel) 1979
† The Marriages between Zones Three, Four, and Five (novel) 1980
† The Sirian Experiments (novel) 1981
† The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 (novel) 1982
The Diary of a Good Neighbour [as Jane Somers] (novel) 1983
† Documents Relating to the Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire (novel) 1983
‡ The Diaries of Jane Somers (novel) 1984
If the Old Could … [as Jane Somers] (novel) 1984
The Good Terrorist (novel) 1985
Prisons We Choose To Live Inside (essays) 1987
The Wind Blows Away Our Words (nonfiction) 1987
The Fifth Child (novel) 1988
African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe (nonfiction) 1992
The Real Thing (short stories and sketches) 1992
Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949 (autobiography) 1994
Playing the Game (graphic novel) 1995
Love, Again (novel) 1996
Walking in the Shade: Volume Two of My Autobiography, 1949-1962 (autobiography) 1997
Mara and Dann: An Adventure (novel) 1999
Ben, in the World: The Sequel to The Fifth Child (novel) 2000
The Sweetest Dream (novel) 2001
The Grandmothers: Four Short Novels (novellas) 2004
* These novels are collectively referred to as the Children of Violence series and the "Martha Quest" novels.
† These novels are collectively referred to as the "Canopus in Argos: Archives" series.
‡ The work comprises two earlier novels, The Diary of a Good Neighbour and If the Old Could, that Lessing published under the pseudonym Jane Somers.
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SOURCE: Lessing, Doris. "Preface to The Golden Notebook." In A Small Personal Voice, edited by Paul Schlueter, pp. 23-43. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974.
In the following excerpt from the preface to The Golden Notebook, Lessing discusses the mixed reaction of women to the novel, the novel's original intent and central themes, and her support for the women's rights movement.
The shape of this novel is as follows:
There is a skeleton, or frame, called Free Women, which is a conventional short novel, about 60,000 words long, and which could stand by itself. But it is divided into five sections and separated by stages of the four Notebooks, Black, Red, Yellow, and Blue. The Notebooks are kept by Anna Wulf, a central character of Free Women. She keeps four and not one because, as she recognises, she has to separate things off from each other, out of fear of chaos, of formlessness—of breakdown. Pressures, inner and outer, end the Notebooks; a heavy black line is drawn across the page of one after another. But now that they are finished, from their fragments can come something new, The Golden Notebook.
Throughout the Notebooks people have discussed, theorised, dogmatised, labelled, compartmented—sometimes in voices so general and representative of the time that they are anonymous, you could put names to them like those in the old Morality Plays, Mr. Dogma and Mr. I-Am-Free-Because-I-Belong-Nowhere, Miss I-Must-Have-Love-and-Happiness and Mrs. I-Have-to-Be-Good-at-Everything-I-Do, Mr. Where-Is-a-Real-Woman? and Miss Where-Is-a-Real-Man?, Mr. I'm-Mad-Because-They-Say-I-Am, and Miss Life-Through-Experiencing-Everything, Mr. I-Make-Revolution-and-Therefore-I-Am, and Mr. and Mrs. If-We-Deal-Very-Well-with-This-Small-Problem-Then-Perhaps-We-Can-Forget-We-Daren't-Lookat-the-Big-Ones. But they have also reflected each other, been aspects of each other, given birth to each other's thoughts and behaviour—are each other, form wholes. In the inner Golden Notebook, things have come together, the divisions have broken down, there is formlessness with the end of fragmentation—the triumph of the second theme, which is that of unity. Anna and Saul Green the American "break down." They are crazy, lunatic, mad—what you will. They "break down" into each other, into other people, break through the false patterns they have made of their pasts, the patterns and formulas they have made to shore up themselves and each other, dissolve. They hear each other's thoughts, recognise each other in themselves. Saul Green, the man who has been envious and destructive of Anna, now supports her, advises her, gives her the theme for her next book, Free Women—an ironical title, which begins: "The two women were alone in the London flat." And Anna, who has been jealous of Saul to the point of insanity, possessive and demanding, gives Saul the pretty new notebook, The Golden Notebook, which she has previously refused to do, gives him the theme for his next book, writing in it the first sentence: "On a dry hillside in Algeria a soldier watched the moonlight glinting on his rifle." In the inner Golden Notebook, which is written by both of them, you can no longer distinguish between what is Saul and what is Anna, and between them and the other people in the book.
This theme of "breakdown," that sometimes when people "crack up" it is a way of self-healing, of the inner self's dismissing false dichotomies and divisions, has of course been written about by other people, as well as by me, since then. But this is where, apart from the odd short story, I first wrote about it. Here it is rougher, more close to experience, before experience has shaped itself into thought and pattern—more valuable perhaps because it is rawer material.
But nobody so much as noticed this central theme, because the book was instantly belittled, by friendly reviewers as well as by hostile ones, as being about the sex war, or was claimed by women as a useful weapon in the sex war.
I have been in a false position ever since, for the last thing I have wanted to do was to refuse to support women.
To get the subject of Women's Liberation over with—I support it, of course, because women are second-class citizens, as they are saying energetically and competently in many countries. It can be said that they are succeeding, if only to the extent they are being seriously listened to. All kinds of people previously hostile or indifferent say: "I support their aims but I don't like their shrill voices and their nasty ill-mannered ways." This is an inevitable and easily recognisable stage in every revolutionary movement: reformers must expect to be disowned by those who are only too happy to enjoy what has been won for them. I don't think that Women's Liberation will change much, though—not because there is anything wrong with their aims but because it is already clear that the whole world is being shaken into a new pattern by the cataclysms we are living through; probably by the time we are through, if we do get through at all, the aims of Women's Liberation will look very small and quaint.
But this novel was not a trumpet for Women's Liberation. It described many female emotions of aggression, hostility, resentment. It put them into print. Apparently what many women were thinking, feeling, experiencing, came as a great surprise. Instantly a lot of very ancient weapons were unleashed, the main ones, as usual, being on the theme of "She is unfeminine," "She is a man-hater." This particular reflex seems indestructible. Men—and many women—said that the suffragettes were defeminised, masculine, brutalised. There is no record I have read of any society anywhere when women demanded more than nature offers them that does not also describe this reaction from men—and some women. A lot of women were angry about The Golden Notebook. What women will say to other women, grumbling in their kitchens and complaining and gossiping or what they make clear in their masochism, is often the last thing they will say aloud—a man may overhear. Women are the cowards they are because they have been semi-slaves for so long. The number of women prepared to stand up for what they really think, feel, experience with a man they are in love with is still small. Most women will still run like little dogs with stones thrown at them when a man says: You are unfemi-nine, aggressive, you are unmanning me. It is my belief that any woman who marries or takes seriously in any way at all, a man who uses this threat, deserves everything she gets. For such a man is a bully, does not know anything about the world he lives in, or about its history—men and women have taken infinite numbers of roles in the past, and do now, in different societies. So he is ignorant, or fearful about being out of step—a coward.… I write all these remarks with exactly the same feeling as if I were writing a letter to post into the distant past: I am so sure that everything we now take for granted is going to be utterly swept away in the next decade.
(So why write novels? Indeed, why! I suppose we have to go on living as if.…)
Some books are not read in the right way because they have skipped a stage of opinion, assume a crystallisation of information in society which has not yet taken place. This book was written as if the attitudes that have been created by the Women's Liberation movements already existed. It came out first ten years ago, in 1962. If it were coming out now for the first time it might be read, and not merely reacted to: things have changed very fast. Certain hypocrisies have gone. For instance, ten, or even five years ago—it has been a sexually contumacious time—novels and plays were being plentifully written by men furiously critical of women—particularly from the States but also in this country—portrayed as bullies and betrayers, but particularly as underminers and sappers. But these attitudes in male writers were taken for granted, accepted as sound philosophical bases, as quite normal, certainly not as woman-hating, aggressive, or neurotic. It still goes on, of course, but things are better, there is no doubt of it.
I was so immersed in writing this book that I didn't think about how it might be received. I was involved not merely because it was hard to write—keeping the plan of it in my head I wrote it from start to end, consecutively, and it was difficult—but because of what I was learning as I wrote. Perhaps giving oneself a tight structure, making limitations for oneself, squeezes out new substance where you least expect it. All sorts of ideas and experiences I didn't recognise as mine emerged when writing. The actual time of writing, then, and not only the experiences that had gone into the writing, was really traumatic: it changed me. Emerging from this crystallising process, handing the manuscript to publisher and friends, I learned that I had written a tract about the sex war, and fast discovered that nothing I said then could change that diagnosis.
Yet the essence of the book, the organisation of it, everything in it, says implicitly and explicitly, that we must not divide things off, must not compartmentalise.
"Bound. Free. Good. Bad. Yes. No. Capitalism. Socialism. Sex. Love.…" says Anna, in Free Women, stating a theme—shouting it, announcing a motif with drums and fanfares … or so I imagined. Just as I believed that in a book called The Golden Notebook the inner section called the Golden Notebook might be presumed to be a central point, to carry the weight of the thing, to make a statement.
Other themes went into the making of this book, which was a crucial time for me: thoughts and themes I had been holding in my mind for years came together.
One was that it was not possible to find a novel which described the intellectual and moral climate of a hundred years ago, in the middle of the last century, in Britain, in the way Tolstoy did it for Russia, Stendhal for France. (At this point it is necessary to make the obligatory disclaimers.) To read The Red and the Black and Lucien Leuwen is to know that France as if one were living there, to read Anna Karenina is to know that Russia. But a very useful Victorian novel never got itself written. Hardy tells us what it was like to be poor, to have an imagination larger than the possibilities of a very narrow time, to be a victim. George Eliot is good as far as she goes. But I think the penalty she paid for being a Victorian woman was that she had to be shown to be a good woman even when she wasn't according to the hypocrisies of the time—there is a great deal she does not understand because she is moral. Meredith, that astonishingly underrated writer, is perhaps nearest. Trollope tried the subject but lacked the scope. There isn't one novel that has the vigour and conflict of ideas in action that is in a good biography of William Morris.
Of course this attempt on my part assumed that that filter which is a woman's way of looking at life has the same validity as the filter which is a man's way. Setting that problem aside, or rather, not even considering it, I decided that to give the ideological "feel" of our mid-century, it would have to be set among socialists and marxists, because it has been inside the various chapters of socialism that the great debates of our time have gone on; the movements, the wars, the revolutions, have been seen by their participants as movements of various kinds of socialism, or Marxism, in advance, containment, or retreat. (I think we should at least concede the possibility that people looking back on our time may see it not at all as we do—just as we, looking back on the English, the French, or even the Russian Revolutions see them differently from the people living then.) But "Marxism" and its various offshoots, has fermented ideas everywhere, and so fast and energetically that, once "way out" it has already been absorbed, has become part of ordinary thinking. Ideas that were confined to the far left thirty or forty years ago had pervaded the left generally twenty years ago, and have provided the commonplaces of conventional social thought from right to left for the last ten years. Something so thoroughly absorbed is finished as a force—but it was dominant, and in a novel of the sort I was trying to do had to be central.
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ELLEN W. BROOKS (ESSAY DATE 1973)
SOURCE: Brooks, Ellen W. "The Image of Woman in Lessing's The Golden Notebook." Critique 15, no. 1 (1973): 101-09.
In the following essay, Brooks studies Anna, the protagonist of The Golden Notebook, as she struggles to transcend her divided self and archetypal female roles in order to emerge as a more aware, liberated woman.
Doris Lessing is one of the most wide-ranging and comprehensive of contemporary novelists. Her strong, straightforward prose has embraced a number of modern social, political, and psychological questions. However, the immense appeal of Lessing's fiction rests largely on her treatment of woman in modern life, the most thorough and accurate of any in literature. Her achievement is all the more significant in that so few writers have presented women with whom one can identify—complex, intelligent, questioning women who are not content with the status quo, who rebel against the established order.
The female protagonists in Lessing's major work are complex human beings, their personalities the embodiment of that fragmentation and chaos which the novelist sees as a fundamental feature of modern life. Profound biological and emotional needs, as well as established conventions and attitudes, mold the woman into patterns of behavior which her intellect and desire for self-determination reject. A sense of an implacable destiny as a woman runs counter to a longing for bold self-assertion as an individual. Her women frequently appear as helpless onlookers, sensitive to conditions around them, longing to act, to take control, yet compelled by their dependent natures and narrowly defined social roles to remain passive observers. Their dilemma may fill them with rage and resentment, stoic resignation, or coldness and apathy. Compromises and adjustments are frequently made, always with a sense of loss. The drive to overcome inner divisions may lead them to madness, to withdrawal, or toward greater involvement with life through intense personal relations, artistic or political activity, or deep self-analysis. The strongest of Lessing's women move toward integration through fully experiencing their psychic divisions, achieving "breakthrough" through "breakdown."1 The supreme example of the divided woman—fragmented between her emotional needs and her intellect—is Anna Wulf, the protagonist of Lessing's most psychologically complex novel, The Golden Notebook. Highly intelligent and sensitive, she is deeply involved with the modern world and very responsive to its atmosphere of violence and personal betrayals. She is in her thirties, divorced, living in the London of the early 1950's with her young daughter, Janet. A former Communist and a writer with one successful novel to her credit, she is attempting to overcome a "writer's block," stemming from her ethical objections to spreading her disgust with the world. Having been discarded by a man with whom she was deeply in love, she conceals her pain beneath a jaunty, tightly controlled, slightly sardonic social mask.
The intricately structured novel moves into the past to explore the events which lead to Anna's psychic impasse, through the medium of four notebooks, a paradigm of her divided self, in which she records her experiences and outlines the plots of stories based on those problems too harrowing for her to confront directly. The action also moves forward in the present, to chart the working out of her psychological deadlock through the breakdown of her tight mental defenses, symbolized by her fusing all of her experience in one notebook, a golden one. Through being discarded by one man, Michael, she recognizes the extent of her vulnerability and weakness as a woman; her relationship with another man, Saul Green, enables her to overcome her inner divisions and regain a degree of strength and independence.
Although Anna calls herself a "free" woman, her freedom is more of an aspiration than a reality. She allows herself considerable sexual independence, yet she is bound by a deep emotional need for "being with one man, love, all that,"2 which she attributes to her generalized condition as woman. During the course of her sessions with a Jungian therapist, nicknamed "Mother Sugar," Anna has learned to distinguish that part of herself which she shares with other women, her collective aspects. Identifying her "woman's emotions" as impersonal, as separate from her unique, individual self, she thus robs them of the power to overwhelm her.
Anna realizes that "women's emotions are still fitted for a kind of society that no longer exists," for a woman's deep need for love cannot be satisfied in the "careful, non-committal affairs" of modern life (314). Her frustration generates feelings of betrayal, of resentment against men:
For there is no doubt of the new note women strike, the note of being betrayed. It's in the books they write, in how they speak, everywhere, all the time. It is a solemn, self-pitying organ note. It is in me, Anna betrayed, Anna unloved, Anna whose happiness is denied, and who says, not: Why do you deny me, but why do you deny life?
She recognizes such emotion as "the disease of women in our time … resentment against injustice, an impersonal one" (333).
Anna is deeply divided by the split between two distinct aspects of her personality: these collective, non-personal elements, and her intelligence, her will to independence and freedom. She knows that many of these "woman's emotions" are both anachronistic and irrational, and she fights to avoid self-pity or resentment, knowing how easily she could fall into the trap of the "man-hating spinster." Her struggles to overcome these emotions, to break out of her embittered role as "Anna betrayed," form the dynamics of the novel. The conflict between the various aspects of her fragmented personality drives her deeper into the chaotic underworld of her inner self. Her restless, probing, analyzing spirit gradually brings her to an awareness of the inner equivalent of outer violence. Not until she gives vent to these dormant, repressed parts of her self, the various manifestations of the woman's emotion, in her relationship with Saul Green is she able to gain a sense of control, of ability to direct her life.
However, Anna recognizes that her generalized nature as a woman, generating a cold hostility, a fierce anger that cuts her off from life and robs her of her potential, has also a positive aspect, enabling her to empathize with others, particularly women, whose problems affect her immediately and deeply, for they are her own. The "woman's emotion" is linked with the creative imagination, giving Anna a faith in growth and change that enables her to see life in terms of phases, certain stages lived through and then transcended.
Anna's receptivity, her openness to the prevailing moods of society, is part of the vulnerability of her generalized condition as woman. Observing that she is cold and detached with men who are also cold and detached, she realizes: "Of course it's him, not me. For men create these things. They create us," although her characteristic desire to transcend her limitations makes her wonder "Why should this be true?" (501). The fact that "the man's desire creates a woman's desire" (456) implies emotional dependency, a curtailing of personal freedom, lack of initiative. In general, the "woman's emotion" warps the relationship between the sexes, putting women into placating, mothering, essentially submissive roles to "build up a man as a man" (484), an expression of compassion but also of masochism, inviting rejection from men and robbing women of their will:
No, what terrifies me is my willingness. It is what Mother Sugar would call the "negative side" of the woman's need to placate, to submit. Now I am not Anna. I have no will, I can't move out of a situation once it has started, I just go along with it.
Although Anna is gifted with a keen analytic mind and independent judgment, her non-rational self is directed by her relations with men, rather than by her intellect. She recognizes that her happiness is centered in a man: "The truth is I don't care a damn about politics or philosophy or anything else, all I care about is that Michael should turn in the dark and put his face against my breasts" (229).
The breakup with Michael drastically alters her life. She realizes that "being rejected by Michael … had changed … my whole personality" (476). Deprived of his support, her assurance and immunity to outside pressure collapse—her fears threaten to engulf her. A hostile, critical defensiveness develops in her manner. However, Anna expresses the softer aspects of her collective self as woman in her writing, in their embodiment in Ella, the heroine of a sketch for a novel. She is a gentler, less devastating version of the "woman in love" that Anna becomes in her relationship with Saul Green. Thus, Anna transmutes her suffering in the act of creation. In her writing she expresses "an intuition of some kind; a kind of intelligence … that is much too painful to use in ordinary life" (572). In fact, Anna admits that "my changing everything into fiction is simply a means of concealing something from myself" (229).
Ella lives out Anna's feelings, suffering the extremes of emotion while Anna remains her "thin, spiky self," the facade rarely cracking to show the turbulence beneath. While Ella experiences the elation of falling in love and the despair of being discarded, Anna is seeking treatment for the inability to feel: "I've had experiences which should have touched me and they haven't" (232). Through Ella's experience with Paul Tanner, Anna anticipates the end of her love affair with Michael, preparing herself for it unconsciously.
In the sketch for a novel, Ella is instantly attracted to Paul, "her real self open to him" (182). Trusting him, she makes love to him. Yet, after their lovemaking, he treats her with malice and suspicion, becoming for a time a hostile stranger. She calls this side of his nature his "negative personality" and chooses to ignore it. In order to respond fully to him, she must submit totally, suppressing the "knowing, doubting, sophisticated" self that would have shielded her against his "negative personality."
After writing this sketch, Anna recognizes her own naivete with Michael, an aspect of herself she does not acknowledge until she sees it in the full scope of her novel about Ella. Both Anna and Ella, her creation, exhibit a fragmented consciousness in their ignoring those traits of their respective lovers that do not fit into their vision of perfection, and thus each woman submits to an almost inevitable pattern of victimization.
By sacrificing her independent judgment and will in her love for a man, the woman becomes radically transformed, losing her sense of identity as a single individual and depending on him as a sole source of happiness and security. The irony is that what is most important to her, her love, becomes ultimately destructive, involving her in a web of self-deception and robbing her of emotional strength. However, a life without love is untenable. Not only does Anna feel worthless without love, but her idea of love is tied up with a sense of meaning and value in life, a bulwark against the underlying threat of nothingness, the dead end of not caring whether one is mad or sane.
In Lessing's view, men and women do not really confront each other, for they define each other according to vastly different needs, shaping reality to fit the pattern of their desires. Women, depending on men for happiness, deny their men's deficiencies. Men, in contrast, do not spare their women, using them as sexual scapegoats and viewing them as threatening, dominating mother figures, separating them into categories of conventional wife or sexual playmate, playing one off against the other. The "free" woman is an escape from the "dull tied wife," limited by her confinement to domestic routine. The high level of intelligence demonstrated by the men in The Golden Notebook is sharply at odds with their emotional insecurity, their need to enforce submission, their aggressive cruelty in the face of frustration. Frequently, they perceive women not as particular individuals, but as types of generalized woman. Some are capable of great sensitivity toward women, but at times their rationality vanishes under the force of a need to abuse and destroy, a kind of unmotivated spite, the "joy in malice" that Anna senses at the root of life. In short, both men and women share in the violence of the modern world by playing their opposing roles of oppressor and oppressed.
The ultimate expression of these archetypal roles is the relationship between Anna and Saul Green, the ex-Communist who moves in with her for several weeks, whose personality is even more dislocated and divided than her own. The relationship is the culmination of all the previous patterns of Anna's life—the desperate reaching out for love met by the cold evasiveness of the man, the pleasure of giving and receiving pain, the rapid shifting in and out of roles. She, attracted to the magnetic field of conflict, is galvanized by Saul, almost helplessly thrust into opposing roles. Their complementary needs bind them tightly in a parasitic relationship, a revolving cycle of aggression and cruelty arousing jealousy and guilt, giving way to tenderness and passion. As Anna begins to understand the process, the inevitable sequence of behavior, she senses that "something has to be played out, some pattern has to be worked through" (583).
Initially, both are trapped in the mechanisms of roles which serve as an outlet for their rage at an unsatisfactory world, she as the "woman betrayed," he as the "sardonic rake," a callous womanizer. Her deep need for happiness with a man renders her vulnerable and helpless; upon being rejected, she converts her pain into bitterness and resentment. He has fastened on women as "the jailors, the consciences, the voice of society" (630), authority figures whom he must outwit. Yet, he is caught in the process—he must first charm them and win them over, so that he can lash back at them for attempting to claim him.
By releasing her pent-up emotions, her long repressed destructive urges, Anna lets go of her tight mental control. No longer questioning and criticizing her hostile feelings, she releases her suppressed anger as the "woman betrayed," feeling jealousy drive "through every vein of my body like poison" (586). Through participating in Saul's many shifts of identity and mood, she recognizes the full potential of her being, her capacity to experience a whole spectrum of emotions and selves. She does not block off parts of her awareness, expressing her intuitions through a fictional surrogate, as she had in her previous affair. Although she again becomes helplessly submerged in another's personality—the rhythm of her moods dependent on his, she is able to simultaneously stand aloof from her experience and analyze it. She plays a dual role as observer and observed, watching herself as though she were a character in a novel.
The interaction of both aspects of her self, a synthesis of opposites, provides the forward thrust, the movement into deeper levels of self-knowledge. Gradually, Anna becomes less personally pained and disturbed by Saul and more deeply involved with him, using his madness as a catalyst for her own inward journey. Thus, she comes to acknowledge her part in shaping her life and is able to transcend the role of victim, freeing herself from the sense of "doom, fate, inevitability" that has oppressed her. Viewing her experience with a degree of objectivity and holding on to her belief in growth and change, she is released from the tight grip of the present and views herself from the perspective of the future. Her awareness that she is in the middle of a "period," she realizes, will move her on to a new stage of development.
In resisting the "betrayal" of pity for Saul and ultimately refusing to play the "mother role," in breaking out of the clinging dependency of the "woman's emotion," Anna "twists" the pattern of her life. She is able to let him go, because she realizes their ultimate fusion. Together they have stretched themselves to the limit, testing the belief that "anything is possible" (566). Playing "every man-woman role imaginable," they overcome the isolation of the fragmented consciousness. They transcend the man-woman dichotomy, realizing their human bi-sexuality. Hurling themselves into the experience, they feel the extremes of terror and happiness, living out Anna's belief: "Better anything than the shrewd, the calculated, the non-committal, the refusal of giving for fear of the consequence" (546).
Ultimately, the "woman's emotion"—empathy and concern for another, firmly guided by a strong intelligence—enables Anna to extend the limits of her being. Thus, the man-woman relationship in Doris Lessing's fiction, although destructive in its conventional forms, can serve as a vehicle for self-knowledge, for overcoming one's divisions, and enabling one to live as fully as possible. Paradoxically, Anna, through becoming tightly bound to another, becomes liberated. Her expanded consciousness, however, is achieved only by moving beyond the established values, roles, and institutions, for these are the means by which humanity is fragmented and separated. Considerable courage is required, involving great risk—the chance of total disintegration through experiencing the full extent of one's inner chaos and that of another.
- R.D. Laing, The Politics of Experience (New York: Ballantine Books, 1968), p. 133.
- Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook (New York: Ballantine Books, 1968), p. 625. Subsequent references are to this edition.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 665
Seligman, Dee. Doris Lessing: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1981, 139 p.
Comprehensive bibliography of criticism on Lessing's canon through 1978.
Brewster, Dorothy. Doris Lessing. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1965, 173 p.
Biography that traces major plots and themes in Less-ing's early fiction.
Klein, Carol. Doris Lessing: A Biography. London: Duckworth, 2000, 283 p.
Provides a biography of Lessing.
Fishburn, Katherine. "The Nightmare Repetition: The Mother-Daughter Conflict in Doris Lessing's Children of Violence." In The Lost Tradition: Mothers and Daughters in Literature, edited by Cathy N. Davidson and E. M. Broner, pp. 207-16. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1980.
Examines the mother-daughter relationship in Lessing's Children of Violence series.
Gardiner, Judith Kegan. "Gender, Values and Lessing's Cats." In Feminist Issues in Literary Scholarship, edited by Shari Benstock, pp. 110-23. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.
Explores Lessing's contradictory attitude toward motherhood through a survey of her fiction that features cats.
Greene, Gayle. Doris Lessing: The Poetics of Change. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994, 295 p.
Full-length critical study of Lessing's work.
Kaplan, Carey and Ellen Cronan Rose, eds. Doris Lessing: The Alchemy of Survival. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1988, 187 p.
Collection of critical essays by Elizabeth Abel, Victoria Middleton, Eve Bertelsen, and others.
Labovitz, Esther Kleinbord. "Doris Lessing: Children of Violence." In The Myth of the Heroine: The Female Bildungsroman in the Twentieth Century: Dorothy Richardson, Simone de Beauvoir, Doris Lessing, Christa Wolf, pp. 145-200. New York: Peter Lang, 1986.
Contends that "the five volumes of Children of Violence through which Doris Lessing follows the growth process of a single protagonist is a rich source for the evolution of the twentieth-century female Bildungsroman."
Libby, Marion Vlastos. "Sex and the New Woman in The Golden Notebook." The Iowa Review 5, no. 4 (fall 1974): 106-20.
Considers Lessing's portrayal of sexuality and sexual relations within the sociopolitical context in The Golden Notebook.
Miller, Jane. "Doris Lessing and the Millennium." Raritan 18, no. 1 (summer 1998): 133-45.
Examines the autobiographies Under My Skin and Walking in the Shade within the framework of Lessing's life and writings.
Perrakis, Phyllis Sternberg, ed. Spiritual Exploration in the Works of Doris Lessing. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999, 150 p.
Examines the fiction of Lessing and provides a bibliographic index.
Rowe, Margaret Moan. Doris Lessing. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1994, 137 p.
Elucidates the major themes of Lessing's oeuvre, highlighting the feminist concerns of her fiction.
Spencer, Sharon. "'Femininity' and the Woman Writer: Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook and the Diary of Anais Nin." Women's Studies 1, no. 3 (1973): 247-58.
Explores parallels between The Golden Notebook and Anais Nin's Diary.
Sprague, Claire and Virginia Tiger, eds. Critical Essays on Doris Lessing. Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1986, 237 p.
Collection of critical essays on aspects of Lessing's work, including several that focus on her feminist themes.
Waxman, Barbara Frey. "Beginning the Journey to Selfhood in Middle Age." In From the Hearth to the Open Road: A Feminist Study of Aging in Contemporary Literature, pp. 45-74. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.
Discusses the middle-aged heroines in The Summer before Dark and The Diaries of Jane Somers.
OTHER SOURCES FROM GALE:
Additional coverage of Lessing's life and career is contained in the following sources published by the Gale Group: African Writers; British Writers Supplement, Vol. 1; Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, 1960 to Present; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12R; Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series, Vol. 14; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vols. 33, 54, 76, 122; Contemporary British Dramatists; Contemporary Dramatists, Ed. 5; Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vols. 1, 2, 3, 6, 10, 15, 22, 40, 94, 170; Contemporary Novelists, Ed. 7; Contemporary Women Dramatists; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 15, 139; Dictionary of Literary Biography Yearbook, 1985; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British Edition; DISCovering Authors: Canadian Edition; DISCovering Authors Modules: Most-studied Authors and Novelists; DISCovering Authors 3.0; Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century, Ed. 3; Exploring Short Stories; Feminist Writers; Literature and Its Times, Vol. 4; Literature Resource Center; Major 20th-Century Writers, Eds. 1, 2; Reference Guide to English Literature, Ed. 2; Reference Guide to Short Fiction, Ed. 2; St. James Guide to Science Fiction Writers, Ed. 4; Short Stories for Students, Vols. 1, 12; Short Story Criticism, Vols. 6, 61; Twayne's English Authors; World Literature and Its Times, Vols. 2, 4; World Literature Criticism Supplement.