Who was Doris Lessing? And why did I want to include her in this month of great women? Well, as I wrote about my mother yesterday I remembered that she loved Doris Lessing because she felt she was the first woman to write openly about real issues of women's struggles, feelings, anatomy, lack of freedom, and more. I'm certainly not expressing this as well as I could but Doris Lessing told women that we could take ourselves seriously and expect to be taken seriously. Men were always permitted the freedom to express their sexual and other appetites but until Doris Lessing, women had not felt free to do this. The Guardian heads their obituary this way: "Visionary, prophet, feminist icon and Nobel prizewinner given to constant literary reinvention." I also read the early works of Ms. Lessing that were centered on her life in Africa. I admit I didn't continue my interest when she moved more towards Sufism and other spiritual pursuits.
"Doris Lessing was born in Persia (present-day Iran) to British parents in 1919.
"Her family moved to Southern Africa where she spent her childhood on her father's farm in what was then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). When her second marriage ended in 1949, she moved to London, where her first novel, The Grass is Singing, was published in 1950. The book explores the complacency and shallowness of white colonial society in Southern Africa and established Lessing as a talented young novelist.
"She is now widely regarded as one of the most important post-war writers in English. Her novels, short stories and essays have focused on a wide range of twentieth-century issues and concerns, from the politics of race that she confronted in her early novels set in Africa, to the politics of gender which lead to her adoption by the feminist movement, to the role of the family and the individual in society, explored in her space fiction of the late 1970s and early 1980s."
"The books in the 'Children of Violence' series (1952-69) are strongly influenced by Lessing's rejection of a domestic family role and her involvement with communism. The novels are autobiographical in many respects, telling the story of Martha Quest, a girl growing up in Africa who marries young despite her desperate desire to avoid the life her mother has led. The second book in the series, A Proper Marriage(1954), describes the unhappiness of the marriage and Martha's eventual rejection of it. The sequel, A Ripple from the Storm (1958), is very much a novel of ideas, exploring Marxism and Martha's increasing political awareness. By the time that this book was written, however, Lessing had become disillusioned with communism and had left the party.
"With the publication of her next novel, The Golden Notebook (1962), Lessing became firmly identified with the feminist movement. The novel concerns Anna Wulf, a writer caught in a personal and artistic crisis, who sees her life compartmentalised into various roles - woman, lover, writer, political activist. Her diaries, written in different coloured notebooks, each correspond to a different part of herself. Anna eventually suffers a mental breakdown and it is only through this disintegration that she is able to discover a new 'wholeness' which she writes about in the final notebook."
Some more about Lessing from the Doris Lessing site:
"Doris Lessing was born Doris May Tayler in Persia (now Iran) on October 22, 1919. Both of her parents were British: her father, who had been crippled in World War I, was a clerk in the Imperial Bank of Persia; her mother had been a nurse. In 1925, lured by the promise of getting rich through maize farming, the family moved to the British colony in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Doris's mother adapted to the rough life in the settlement, energetically trying to reproduce what was, in her view, a civilized, Edwardian life among savages; but her father did not, and the thousand-odd acres of bush he had bought failed to yield the promised wealth.
"Lessing has described her childhood as an uneven mix of some pleasure and much pain. The natural world, which she explored with her brother, Harry, was one retreat from an otherwise miserable existence. Her mother, obsessed with raising a proper daughter, enforced a rigid system of rules and hygiene at home, then installed Doris in a convent school, where nuns terrified their charges with stories of hell and damnation. Lessing was later sent to an all-girls high school in the capital of Salisbury, from which she soon dropped out. She was thirteen; and it was the end of her formal education."
"In flight from her mother, Lessing left home when she was fifteen and took a job as a nursemaid. Her employer gave her books on politics and sociology to read, while his brother-in-law crept into her bed at night and gave her inept kisses. During that time she was, Lessing has written, "in a fever of erotic longing." Frustrated by her backward suitor, she indulged in elaborate romantic fantasies. She was also writing stories, and sold two to magazines in South Africa."
"Lessing's life has been a challenge to her belief that people cannot resist the currents of their time, as she fought against the biological and cultural imperatives that fated her to sink without a murmur into marriage and motherhood. "There is a whole generation of women," she has said, speaking of her mother's era, "and it was as if their lives came to a stop when they had children. Most of them got pretty neurotic - because, I think, of the contrast between what they were taught at school they were capable of being and what actually happened to them." Lessing believes that she was freer than most people because she became a writer. For her, writing is a process of "setting at a distance," taking the "raw, the individual, the uncriticized, the unexamined, into the realm of the general."
"In 1937 she moved to Salisbury, where she worked as a telephone operator for a year. At nineteen, she married Frank Wisdom, and had two children. A few years later, feeling trapped in a persona that she feared would destroy her, she left her family, remaining in Salisbury. Soon she was drawn to the like-minded members of the Left Book Club, a group of Communists "who read everything, and who did not think it remarkable to read." Gottfried Lessing was a central member of the group; shortly after she joined, they married and had a son."
"Lessing's fiction is deeply autobiographical, much of it emerging out of her experiences in Africa. Drawing upon her childhood memories and her serious engagement with politics and social concerns, Lessing has written about the clash of cultures, the gross injustices of racial inequality, the struggle among opposing elements within an individuals own personality, and the conflict between the individual conscience and the collective good. Her stories and novellas set in Africa, published during the fifties and early sixties, decry the dispossession of black Africans by white colonials, and expose the sterility of the white culture in southern Africa. In 1956, in response to Lessing's courageous outspokenness, she was declared a prohibited alien in both Southern Rhodesia and South Africa."
"Attacked for being "unfeminine" in her depiction of female anger and aggression, Lessing responded, "Apparently what many women were thinking, feeling, experiencing came as a great surprise." As at least one early critic noticed, Anna Wulf "tries to live with the freedom of a man" - a point Lessing seems to confirm: "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."
"In the 1970s and 1980s, Lessing began to explore more fully the quasi-mystical insight Anna Wulf seems to reach by the end of The Golden Notebook. Her "inner-space fiction" deals with cosmic fantasies (Briefing for a Descent into Hell, 1971), dreamscapes and other dimensions (Memoirs of a Survivor, 1974), and science fiction probings of higher planes of existence (Canopus in Argos: Archives, 1979-1983). These reflect Lessing's interest, since the 1960s, in Idries Shah, whose writings on Sufi mysticism stress the evolution of consciousness and the belief that individual liberation can come about only if people understand the link between their own fates and the fate of society.
"Lessing's other novels include The Good Terrorist (1985) and The Fifth Child (1988); she also published two novels under the pseudonym Jane Somers (The Diary of a Good Neighbour, 1983 and If the Old Could..., 1984). In addition, she has written several nonfiction works, including books about cats, a love since childhood. Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949 appeared in 1995 and received the James Tait Black Prize for best biography."
Many more honors and works to list - but you can check it out at the dorislessing.org site. Just to name the last:
"In January, 2000 the National Portrait Gallery in London unveiled Leonard McComb's portrait of Doris Lessing.
Ben, in the World, the sequel to The Fifth Child was published in Spring 2000 (U.K.) and Summer 2000 (U.S.).
In 2001 she was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize in Literature, one of Spain's most important distinctions, for her brilliant literary works in defense of freedom and Third World causes. She also received the David Cohen British Literature Prize.
She was on the shortlist for the first Man Booker International Prize in 2005.
In 2007 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Her final novel was Alfred and Emily.
She died on November 17, 2013."
A retrospective - http://www.dorislessing.org
Biography - http://www.dorislessing.org/biography.html
Biography.com -- http://www.biography.com/people/doris-lessing-9380070
New York Times obituary - http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/18/books/doris-lessing-novelist-who-won-2007-nobel-is-dead-at-94.html?rref=collection%2Ftimestopic%2FLessing%2C%20Doris&action=click&contentCollection=timestopics®ion=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=1&pgtype=collection&_r=0
Obituary NY Times - http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/18/books/doris-lessing-novelist-who-won-2007-nobel-is-dead-at-94.html
Paris Review - http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/2537/the-art-of-fiction-no-102-doris-lessing
The Guardian -- MI5 followed Doris Lessing for years! http://www.theguardian.com/books/dorislessing
Obituary The Guardian - http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/nov/17/doris-lessing
The New Yorker -- http://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/on-doris-lessing-and-not-saying-thank-you
British Council -- https://literature.britishcouncil.org/writer/doris-lessing