Lessing Learned

Doris Lessing The Golden Notebook Literature Writing Books Reading

Doris Lessing, one of recent history’s most surprising recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature, died yesterday at age 94. She was a woman who earnestly adopted and then abandoned every “ism.”  This painful process of belief abandonment is at the center of her most famous novel, The Golden Notebook.

The book’s main character is Anna Wulf, a sexually liberated single woman who wrote a successful novel about the time she spent in Africa as part of a Communist movement. Now Anna is older, has writer’s block, feels alienated from her friends and lovers, and Stalin’s crimes killed Communism. All this no doubt is a rough self-portrait of Ms. Lessing.

I must admit to my serious personal problem with long novels before I say that I would have edited out some hundred and fifty pages from The Golden Notebook. I can only take so much emotional whining before I start plowing through in search of quotation marks. But I even feel this way about The Bible.

Nevertheless, it’s a book that must be read, especially if you are a girl. I for one take for granted how much more difficult it was to be born a woman just fifty years ago, and it’s good to be reminded. And be made grateful.

Lessing’s novel also reminds me how lucky young generations are that Communism failed. We were saved from having to choose between drastically different, and life-defining, systems of beliefs at an impressionable age. Pretty much, we get to pick between Democrat or Republican, Labour or Conservative, Liberal or Conservador. But we don’t have to worry about catching cholera in Cuba.

Sure, there are new things to worry about, but those are just part of, in Lessing’s words, the “old and cyclic, the recurring history, the myth…”

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