(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.)


(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.)