Monday, November 18, 2013

The World Loses Doris Lessing

I heard today that Doris Lessing passed away aged 94.  What a great age to reach for such a brilliant author; especially one of who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007.  However, not a lot of people know about her life.  So, I thought to find a site where there's a proper lot of information and write a tribute to her.

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' upbringing was a mix of 'some pleasure and much pain' as she and her brother explored their world around them in Africa.  Her mother was obsessed with raising a proper daughter and so enforced rigid rules and regulations of higiene at home; then enrolled her in a convent where the nuns terrified their charges with stories of hell and damnation.  Lessing was later sent to and all-girls high school; where she dropped out of aged 13 and become a self-educated intellectual.  And she has believed that unhappy childhoods seem to produce fiction writers: 

'Yes, I think that is true. Though it wasn't apparent to me then. Of course, I wasn't thinking in terms of being a writer then - I was just thinking about how to escape, all the time.'

Parcels of books ordered from London arrived to feed her imagination and laying out worlds for her to escape into from her life of where she was living. Her early reading lists included authors such as:   Dickens, Scott, Stevenson, Kipling; later she discovered D.H. Lawrence, Stendhal, Tolstoy, DostoevskyAnd she also kept her brother awake at night spinning tales of her own as well.

At age 15, Doris left home in flight from her mother and took up a job as a nursemaid.  Her employer gave her books on sociology and politics to read; and all the while his son was sneaking into her room at night.

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, Lessing moved to Salisbury and worked as a telephone operator for a year; and at 19, got married to Frank Wisdom and had two children to him.  However, their marriage didn't last long, with her leaving the family; feeling trapped in a persona that would destroy her if she had stayed.  She stayed in Salisbury and found the Left Book Club where she met Gottfried Lessing.  He was a central member of the group, which was a Communist group; and soon after they met, they were married and she had a son to him.  
By 1949, Lessing had left the communist group and moved to London with her son and published her first book 'The Grass Is Singing' and began her professional career as a writer.

After writing the 'Children of Violence' series (1951 - 1959), a formally buldungsroman (novel of education) about the growth in consciousness of her heroine, Martha Quest, Lessing broke new ground with 'The Golden Notebook' (1962) a daring narrative experiment, in which the multiple selves of a contemporary woman are rendered in astonishing depth and detail. 
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."

Over her long and very interesting life, Doris Lessing has written around 60 books.  She has been a major influence on many people across the world and has left a huge mark on our world.  Her legacy of literature will leave not leave us for generations to come. 
I found all this information on her official website - and took about 3 paragraphs fully from it to paste here as there was so much information there.  And because of this, I'll leave the link for you to read it all here and you can have a look at it... and I'll also put it onto the side bar as well for future reference.  Rest In Peace, Doris Lessing.  


  1. Thanks Lynda for this very thought provoking tribute to Doris Lessing ... who broke ground on so many levels ... Karen :)

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. I've got a copy of one of books and will be reading it over Christmas as a tribute to her... I can't wait to get to the coast and read it... I've heard so many good things about it.

      If you look at the 'Tribute' label on the sidebar, you'll find I've written a few tributes to authors who have left us over the last few years.