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Nobel author Doris Lessing dies at 94

First Published Nov 17 2013 10:38AM      Last Updated Nov 17 2013 06:05 pm
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Strong-willed from the start, she read works by Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling by age 10 and lived by the motto, "I will not." Educated at a Roman Catholic girls school in Salisbury (now Harare), she left before finishing high school.

At 19, she married her first husband, Frank Wisdom, with whom she had a son and a daughter. She left that family in her early 20s and became drawn into the Left Book Club, a group of literary communists and socialists headed by Gottfried Lessing, the man who would become her second husband and father her third child.

But Lessing became disillusioned with the communist movement and in 1949, at 30, left her second husband to move to Britain. Along with her young son, Peter, she packed the manuscript of her first novel, "The Grass is Singing." The novel, which used the story of a woman trapped in a loveless marriage to portray poverty and racism in Southern Rhodesia, was published in 1950 to great success in Europe and the United States.



Lessing then embarked on the first of five deeply autobiographical novels — from "Martha Quest" to "The Four-Gated City" — works that became her "Children of Violence" series.

Her nonfiction work ranged from "Going Home" in 1957, about her return to Southern Rhodesia, to "Particularly Cats," a book about her pets, published in 1967.

In the 1950s, Lessing became an honorary member of a writers’ group known as the Angry Young Men who were seen as injecting a radical new energy into British culture. Her home in London became a center not only for novelists, playwrights and critics but also for drifters and loners.

Lessing herself denied being a feminist and said she was not conscious of writing anything particularly inflammatory when she produced "The Golden Notebook."

Lessing’s early novels decried the dispossession of black Africans by white colonials and criticized South Africa’s apartheid system, prompting the governments of Southern Rhodesia and South Africa to bar her in 1956.

Later governments overturned that order. In June 1995, the same year that she received an honorary degree from Harvard University, she returned to South Africa to see her daughter and grandchildren.

In Britain, Lessing won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1954, and was made a Companion of Honor in 1999. That honor came after she turned down the chance to become a Dame of the British Empire — on the ground that there was no such thing as the British Empire at the time.

Lessing often presented women — herself included — as vain and territorial, and insisted in the introduction for a 1993 reissue that "The Golden Notebook" was not a "trumpet for women’s liberation."

"I think a lot of romanticizing has gone on with the women’s movement," she told The Associated Press in a 2006 interview. "Whatever type of behavior women are coming up with, it’s claimed as a victory for feminism — doesn’t matter how bad it is. We don’t seem to go in very much for self-criticism."

But what about that day with the press camped on her door — a video of which was copied and widely displayed by Twitter followers noting her passing in sadness. Was she really dismissive of the Nobel? Her editor, Pearson, said her reaction corresponded with her personality.

"That was typical Doris. She took things in their stride," he said. "I think she was delighted."

She is survived by her daughter Jean and granddaughters Anna and Susannah.

 

 

 

 

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