HER GOLDEN NOTEBOOKS
A sizeable proportion of Doris Lessing’s(b.1919) devotees embraced her 1962 classic The Golden Notebook as their bible. This book has become her most famous and influential work, the story of a writer's divided selves: political, literary and sexual; an account of the breakdown of tradition and the importance of socialism and, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, of voting labour. "Everything's cracking up,” she wrote. The book sold millions of copies and anticipated the social shifts of the sixties. Her fans still look to her as some banner-waving outrider for the feminist cause with some words of wisdom on every issue under the sun.
But Lessing has grown very contrary in her late adulthood and old age, making statements and writing novels that have confounded her fanbase. Lessing says she plays with ideas in her books. “People are always asking writers for definitive answers,” she states, “but that's not our job." When asked questions she uses mischievous evasion tactics and iconoclastic stylings, signs of a mind that is restless, but not wandering, wrote one critic.
Lessing states that in the late 1950s there was an enormous energy in society. In those years communism began to shred before the eyes of its committed adherents. Her book The Golden Notebook was about this shredding and about feminism. She says that her overriding concern when she writes is to get to the heart of some matter. "Books have been my life,” she states simply and with emphasis, “I was educated on them.'' She is not one of those writers who sits around worrying about posthumous fame. Much of her work has aspects that are autobiographical and she has written two volumes of straight autobiography, Under My Skin and Walking in the Shade.--Ron Price with thanks to “More is Lessing,” The Daily Telegraph, September 25, 2004.
The first world you remember
in the twenties and thirties has
disappeared as you say; even
socialism and liberalism, as
C.Wright Mills added back
in ’59,1 have lost their power
to be the centre and to hold
the fort for a beleaguered
humanity doing battle with
the phantoms of a profoundly,
wrongly informed imagination
and sinking deeper into a slough
of desponding gloom & doom.
And me, a child of that first 7 Year Plan
and the dawning of the Second Baha’i
Century—as you were marrying again,
finding communism and that new hope
for the world which would last only 15
years—one of your many abandoned
hopes which seems to still spring eternal
in your breast—as if through some
fortuitous conjunction of circumstances
we the people would be able to bend the
conditions of human life into conformity
with our prevailing human desires.
Sadly, I feel the foundations of your
confidence are frail containing some
desperation to believe, but not really
understanding the meaning and the
magnitude of the great turning point
of history we have passed and are
passing through. But, as you say, Doris,
writers do not really have answers, and
it is high time people stopped looking to
them for their oft’ illusory prescriptions.
1 C. W. Mills, The Sociological Imagination, 1959.
18 October 2007