To Room Nineteen by Doris Lessing

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Critical Overview

(Short Stories for Students)

“To Room Nineteen” was first published in A Man and Two Women, a collection of Lessing’s short stories that helped cement her reputation as an important short story writer. Most reviewers praised Lessing for her literary artistry. Paul Pickrel in Harper wrote that the “best of her work [in the collection] is equal to the best short stories now being written in English.”

Dorothy Brewster, in her article on the author in Twayne’s English Authors Series Online, applauds Lessing’s focus on human relationships “with no particular significance in themselves, but successful in suggesting the flow of life around us” and her questioning “about what people mean to each other.” A review in the Times Literary Supplement finds the stories in “this most notable collection” to be “intensely imagined.” Peter Deane in Book Week concurs, arguing that the stories “all evidence a sound intelligence and often a very acute, intuitive insight. They are written with exacting care.” Deane, however, finds the lack of “a personal tone” in the stories, “a sense of something necessitous or deeply felt.”

A Newsweek reviewer determined that “To Room Nineteen” is the best in the collection. Critical response to the story has been consistently strong. Linda H. Halisky, in her article for Studies in Short Fiction praises Lessing’s ability to bring her readers “to the brink of potentially healing new insights” about the relationships between men and women. Maria Elena Raymond, in Feminist Writers argues that the story is “on a par with the works of Poe, and reminiscent of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’.”