Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)

Molly’s house

Molly’s house. London home of Molly Jacobs, in which most of the novel’s action is set. Molly’s house and Anna’s apartment are interior spaces that function as containers for the heroines’ emotional lives. Although the two friends refer to themselves as “free women,” they recognize the confines that their culture and their own thinking about gender relationships place on their actions and emotions. They are as enclosed by cultural conventions as they are by the spaces they inhabit.

When Anna and Molly are living together in the house, Molly’s house provides a space for their growing friendship. They pursue their careers and relationships with men as they please. After Molly’s son blinds himself in a suicide attempt, he spends most of his time at home and moves into the main room, making it impossible for Molly even to make a private phone call. At the end of the novel, Molly plans to marry and move to her new husband’s house; the change in residence signifies a new phase in her emotional life.

Anna’s apartment

Anna’s apartment. Anna rents an apartment for herself and her daughter after her long affair with Michael ends. She wants to get away from the place in which she has spent so much time with him but also wants a space for the notebooks she begins to keep. The author of a successful novel, Frontiers of War, Anna lives off the royalties while trying to decide what to write next. In her four notebooks, she records parts of her life. Experiencing her life as fragmented, she can find no single truth to record. At the end of the novel, she decides to...

(The entire section is 677 words.)

Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Golden Notebook is divided into six sections that interlock and interact with one another to form a complex meaning. The first section, called “Free Women,” is a conventional novel telling the story of Anna Wulf’s and Molly Jacobs’ lives in 1957 London. Anna and Molly are old friends who come together to talk about their experiences with men, politics, and life as “free women,” women who are not living with a man. Anna is becoming bored with their talks and begins to suspect that their complaints about how they are treated by men contribute in some way to the continuation of these types of relationships. She wishes “to be done with it all, finished with the men vs. women business.” Indeed, this is what she accomplishes by the end of the book.

In “Free Women,” Molly’s son, Tommy, goes through an identity crisis. His business tycoon father, Richard, offers him a job which he scorns as morally corrupt, but neither can he embrace his mother’s socialism. He attempts suicide, is blinded, and then takes on Marion, Richard’s alcoholic wife, as a protégé. Marion eventually leaves Richard and opens a dress shop. Molly marries a progressive businessman, Tommy follows in his father’s footsteps, and Anna explores the meaning of life in her notebooks, then has a breakdown in her relationship with Saul Green. At the end of the novel, she goes to work as a marriage counselor with a man with whom she has worked at a magazine.

Every section of “Free Women” is followed by entries from each of Anna Wulf’s notebooks....

(The entire section is 641 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The Golden Notebook was hailed as a feminist manifesto of sorts when it was first published, but Lessing was as dismayed by this simplistic reception of the novel as she was by the equally simplistic reaction against women speaking their minds that followed. Lessing makes it clear in her preface that, while she supports the aims of the women’s movement, she is interested in a larger, although related, issue: the disintegration of Western society. She took the centrality of women’s consciousness and problems for granted when she wrote the novel: “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.” Yet this novel is important to women’s literature. In writing this book, Lessing was interested in capturing the cultural milieu of mid-twentieth century Great Britain and, in so doing, chooses a female narrator. Not only is Anna Wulf the narrator, but also her life and problems, the very structure of her psyche, serve as the vehicle for exploring Western culture at this point in time. For a woman’s consciousness to serve as the center of a work of such scope was unusual even by the 1960’s, although Lessing’s Children of Violence series revolves around a similar female character.

The Golden Notebook expressed many women’s experiences in print for the first time. The novel explores issues of intimate...

(The entire section is 463 words.)

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Lessing clearly experiments with the traditional forms of the genre with this novel by offering a somewhat fragmented narrative. Although the...

(The entire section is 320 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The growth of psychology-related professions and theories during the twentieth century have greatly informed and influenced works of...

(The entire section is 222 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although published simultaneously in the United States and Great Britain, The Golden Notebook did not gain wide readership until the...

(The entire section is 834 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Events during and after World War II precipitated individuals, particularly artists, to question the meaning of life that have resulted in...

(The entire section is 247 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The novel's first line, "the two women were alone in the London flat," is a well recognized beginning scene for much of Lessing's fiction....

(The entire section is 133 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Greene, Gayle. Changing the Story: Feminist Fiction and the Tradition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991. Feminist criticism of Lessing, among other writers. Examines how language plays an important role in The Golden Notebook.

Hite, Molly. The Other Side of the Story: Structures and Strategies of Contemporary Feminist Narrative. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989. This work of feminist criticism offers a thorough discussion of Lessing’s experiments with form.

Kaplan, Carey, and Ellen Cronan Rose, eds. Approaches to Teaching Lessing’s “The Golden Notebook.” New...

(The entire section is 232 words.)