(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

A woman writer struggling toward living an authentic life in the modern world is the focus of action for this complex novel. As the novel opens, Anna Freeman Wulf has written a commercially successful novel based on her experiences as a young woman during World War II in South Central Africa, in a country called Southern Rhodesia. Now living in London on the royalties from this novel, Anna cares for her thirteen-year-old daughter, Janet. In her role as mother, Anna finds emotional stability and meaning; some of the best scenes in the book involve Anna and her daughter. Meanwhile, Anna writes continually in her notebooks to explore the larger meaning of her life and of her writing.

Anna keeps four separate notebooks; the entries in these notebooks occupy more than three-quarters of the total novel, and they are responsible for the complex structure of the book. The blue notebook is a diary of the daily events of her life; the red notebook is concerned with politics; the black notebook is concerned with her previous life in Africa and with her professional life as a writer; and the yellow notebook is for initial drafts and ideas for stories. Entries from all four notebooks are interspersed among the sections of ongoing action of the fictional present, the summer of 1957. Those sections by themselves constitute a short novel in which the dramatic interest revolves around Anna’s life and her relationship with her friend, Molly Jacobs. A few years earlier, Anna and her daughter Janet had shared a house with Molly and her son, Tommy; Anna now lives a half mile away, but the two women maintain their close friendship.

The nature of this friendship is one of the central subjects of the novel: Both women are divorced, and both are committed to rearing a child while living a life which is outside the traditional boundaries of society. They are both members of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and both believe in the nonmaterialistic values of a life-style which leaves them open to experiences in the world. Both women sense that their friendship is one of the key factors which enables them to survive in this life-style.

One central event in the “Free Women” sections is the attempted suicide of Tommy, which leaves him blind. In part, Anna and Molly blame themselves for the incident,...

(The entire section is 946 words.)

The Golden Notebook Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Golden Notebook encompasses the years 1950 through 1957. It is divided into five sections called Free Women 1-5. The first four sections contain a part of the main story (the conventional novel) and excerpts from four differently colored notebooks. The fourth section of the novel also contains the golden notebook. The last section is a straightforward ending to the main story, which presents an integrated character who no longer needs to compartmentalize experiences. When the story begins, the central character, Anna Wulf, has already published a single successful book, “Frontiers of War,” set in central Africa, detailing “colour-bar hatreds and cruelties.” This 1951 novel was so successful that Anna has been able to live off the royalties from it for the next six years while she suffers from writer’s block.

The main story line evolves around two women, Anna and Molly, who seem to be extensions of each other politically and responsively. Their common enemy is Molly’s former husband, Richard, a rich business executive who seems a perfect specimen of the British capitalist society. Richard continues to be very intrusive in Molly’s life because they share a son, Tommy. Consequently, Richard assumes a relationship with Anna that is much like his relationship with Molly. Even Richard’s second wife, Marion, becomes a part of the circle, vacillating, in an inebriated state, between Molly and Anna, trying to unburden herself of hurt feelings stemming from her bad marriage.

Once Tommy reaches the age when he should decide upon a career, he is torn between the idealistic world of his mother and Anna and the capitalistic world of tycoons. The “paralysis of the will” that Tommy suffers reaches its highest point...

(The entire section is 718 words.)

The Golden Notebook Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Book One. In the “Free Women” section, Anna visits her old friend Molly, feeling distant and cynical about their personal talks. Richard and Molly fight about their son, his new wife, and his choice of career. Tommy, sarcastic, watches his parents, and Anna goes home, depressed, to write. Beginning as a parody of a novel synopsis, the Black Notebook then continues with Anna’s reminiscences about her experiences with a group of communist intellectuals in World War II Rhodesia. The group had discovered a resort hotel in the veld, and they spent their weekends there drinking and discussing political ideas. An older member of the group, George Hounslow, had an affair and a child with an African woman, the hotel cook’s wife. When the hotel owner discovered this, she dismissed the cook, ruining his family. Anna had a sexual encounter with her lover’s friend, and these two incidents ended the group’s association.

In the Red Notebook, Anna is cynical about the British Communist Party but joins anyway. She decides she did this because she, like others, could not give up hope for a better world. Anna worked for the party canvassing neighborhoods and discovered her real interest was the life of the average housewife, who was home going “quietly mad,” a subject for study not considered serious by the party leaders.

Anna writes the Yellow Notebook as a novel. Ella, a women’s magazine writer, becomes involved with Paul Tanner, a married psychologist with two children. They begin to behave more like the stereotypical man and woman. In a plot sketch of the novel, Ella and Paul are involved for five years. He refuses to leave his wife, then gets a job in Africa to escape Ella. Anna is frustrated that the novel, like her first book, does not capture her actual lived experience.

In the Blue Notebook, a diary, Anna goes to a psychotherapist and immediately begins dreaming. She cuts out articles from the newspapers that examine the violence in the world, trying to understand it. In her dreams, a menacing dwarf who represents chaos appears.

Book Two. In “Free Women,” Tommy visits Anna to tell her he has turned down his father’s job offer and he has read her private notebooks. Marion, Richard’s new wife, arrives, drunk, and in the middle of their conversation, Molly calls to say Tommy has shot himself. In the Black Notebook, Anna has dinner with television agents who want to buy the rights to her novel. Both want to change the novel beyond recognition to be socially acceptable. In the Red Notebook, Anna toys with quitting the Communist Party. In a dream, she sees a tapestry that stretches over the earth. Someone pulls a string and it dissolves into chaos. She attends a writing group in which everyone is afraid to criticize a badly written pamphlet because it is...

(The entire section is 1160 words.)