Doris Lessing Obituary 10/22/1919 - 11/17/2013 | Visit Guest Book. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/nov/17/doris-lessing-dies-94 A Reparation of Her Choosing: Among the Sufis. Some critics have called her style “plodding” and “flat-footed” and her space fiction was often dismissed out of hand. It was something that Peter never had. Like many of the impressive publishers to emerge after the Second World War, Tom Maschler was a Jewish émigré from Europe. Was it just carelessness, a desperation to get back to her typewriter, or did she know perfectly well the anguish she would cause these former fans or relatives? Or maybe ‘sensible’ is one of those words that mean different things to different people. That man with the suitcase of stockings or murder weapons didn’t exist, as far as I know, and won’t be given another thought, although in a different format he might become a very Satan. I suppose it would have been possible to write, a white woman living in Africa (as it was for Nadine Gordimer), nearer to her two first children, but it would have meant giving up a world of experience denied to her in postwar Salisbury (not having rid itself of apartheid), with its frozen middle-class attitudes to women – what they could do, and how they could do it. I don’t know what, if any, precautions she took; essentially I think she thought she could manage without them.
I know that I was, even if I was not directly responsible. But I knew that others were. I heard no gossip to speak of, but it is a little strange, actually, that no tabloid story emerged at any point. I don’t know. The several other people in the room hushed their conversation. To the end of her life, she remained immensely pleased with her lack of education. The child is always noted, but in these mini-biographies or profiles, left to tag along. Inspired by the Harrods’ bombing, it described the posturing politics of demonstrations and riots and the unhappy Alice Mellings, who becomes caught up in that world. Doris wrote to John and Jean, and they came to London to visit as children a few times. The visitors were wondering why on earth the woman didn’t just up and leave. A year after the divorce, she married Gottfried Anton Nicholas Lessing.
The best among her short story collections, for example, The Habit of Loving (1957) and To Room Nineteen (1978), are tantalising glimpses into the hearts and lives of many different kinds of people, described with a vision accentuated by the demands of brevity.
I applaud the escape to freedom of a woman living her own life at such a time and in such a place, and her determination to fulfil her passion, to experience the power of her need to write. While growing up, she was depressed by its loneliness. He and I didn’t like each other from the start, but even though we didn’t have a good relationship, we were engaged in each other’s lives for much of our own. Or he was hoping to deflect something onto me.
I’d have to be much further up the tree of fame than I intended to climb to become interesting. If she had written nothing else, The Golden Notebook (1962) would have secured Doris Lessing a place in the hall of fame. "And for other readers, Lessing was a writer willing to explore 'interior worlds', the mysterious life of the spiritual self. She even borrowed her second husband’s middle name, Anton, for her heroine’s second spouse. Then she did go back to Zimbabwe, though only occasionally, and saw John and Jean, by then in their thirties and forties. Her younger son, Peter, whom she cared for through years of illness, died three weeks ago. By the end of her thinking life she got very angry at the suggestion that she was a feminist icon.
He was born in … ‘Well, it’s a good thing, Jenny, that there are some people still left who, unlike you, take sex seriously.’ Again, Doris hoisted herself up from the carpet in mid-sentence, and went to fetch another plate of biscuits. London Review of Books In 1949 Doris Lessing left Rhodesia for England.
There wasn’t much chance of his understanding how dangerous or painful this was for him to do. To annoy her mother, she left school at 14.
She spoke publicly of the tedium of motherhood: ‘No one can write with a child around,’ she once pronounced (‘pronounced’ is a word I try to avoid in introducing recorded speech, but here and with other quotes from Doris it is apt). So I just replied: ‘If she says so.’. As I recall, although the subject had been broached by interviewers, at lunches, dinners, in telephone calls, and Doris was asked about how she felt now about having left her two oldest children (ten and eight), no battle raged between the pro and anti-factions when it came to the matter of Doris ‘walking out’ on her children. Doris took a moment in the kitchen preparing the pudding and rearranging her furious expression. Have a cup of tea. Absolute veracity is not what I’m after.
I was a gesture, a question, a conversation he wasn’t able to start with Doris. Peter had perhaps despaired of Doris giving him what he needed, even if he didn’t know exactly what that was.
That’s not to say that things didn’t sometimes happen to Peter, at least in those youthful days when generosity, solemnity and thoughtlessness could go hand in hand.
There is self-justification that can make some sense to one’s own conscience. He smiled, knowing about print-innocent sprats like me. The Good Terrorist followed in 1985. How much he knew of how the world saw him is another mystery. Outbursts of this kind (not all of them shouted) were generally known to those of us who were close to her as ‘being told off by Doris’.
But I didn’t deny it, and I didn’t ask Doris why she was saying these things to journalists at parties. Like many enthusiasts, she displayed a canny ability to adopt selectively any new theories or beliefs. And really no one cares much about books. She continued to defend it and claimed: “I’ll be damned if I can see any difference between some parts of The Grass Is Singing, my first novel, and some parts of Shikasta” (her worst novel). Doris used her femininity where it was useful or enjoyable, but had no interest at all in the actual politics of feminism, or in changing the economic and social position of women except for the particular purpose of giving women the choice to leave their families. As if taking one child would make up for leaving two? Thus she could find spiritual satisfaction in Sufism, an aspect of Islam, while at the same time calling Islam itself one of “these bloody, bloody religions”. Some of my recollections may be tainted by time or others’ slanted tellings or photographs, and my memories are no more and no less likely to be precisely accurate than yours or hers. Lessing's last novel, although several earlier books have since been re-released as e-books, was Albert and Emily, published in 2008.
For many, Lessing was a revolutionary feminist voice in 20th-century literature – though she resisted such categorisation, quite vehemently. Like a mascot? In 1939 she married Frank Charles Wisdom. To any questions (not many, I’d got the message) about leaving the children, it was clear that living alone in London with three children under ten was all but impossible. A generous, open minded character, she was, at various stages of her life, a communist, socialist, feminist, atheist, Laingian and finally a Sufi. Asked what I thought about her novel Love, Again, I said I found it improbable, given that it was posing as a realistic novel, that the man and woman who had fallen in love in middle age refused to have sex with each other because each had a husband or wife they didn’t love but who needed them in some way. Nothing like the fuss, say, about Martin Amis’s teeth.
She was simply unable to understand it.
In Martha Quest (1952), she drew a fascinating picture of a similar girl, restless, dissatisfied, bored, “tired of the future before it comes”. Pearson, her editor at the time, recalled the doorstep moment vividly: "That was what she was like. His funeral gave those of us choosing its form a problem. All who knew Beverly were touched by her love of life and her spirit of joy. I’ve been much happier unmarried than married.”. I mention these two puffs of fantasy to emphasise that I’m not attempting anything like a biography of Doris or Peter Lessing, still less my own autobiography: I’m writing a memoir, a form that in my mind plays hide and seek with the truth.
A situation which would have pleased Doris very much.
Though it is perhaps a predictable choice, my favourite of her many novels is The Golden Notebook. Was that slur against women, against Doris, the heartless, ‘unnatural woman’, what the journalist feared as the news of her death turned into a week or so of obituaries, certainly praising but never leaving out the two abandoned children a continent away? That was vintage Doris.
Women’s crimes or even misdemeanours go to the very spot where the meaning and value of ‘woman’ balances the murderous testosterone of masculinity and rescues the world from chaos. Was love in its degrees to be recognised? With The Fifth Child (1988) she resurrected the myth of the changeling to paint a merciless picture of ruined family life.
I’m really not sure.
Oh, over there, the mullah says, indicating a spot a good distance away. Her voice, harsh, barely controlled, told you she had now lost patience with you and your ignorance.
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