Doris Lessing’s best-known novel is often seen as a feminist manifesto. Is that perception accurate?
Author profiles in the American media tend to be glorified press releases. They rarely tell you anything that would help you understand a book beyond the basics of its plot or factual content. Instead they focus on such questions as: How old – or young – is the author? How big was his or her advance? Has Robert De Niro bought the film rights yet? And – of course – how does the author write? In the morning or evening? In longhand or on a computer? In a semi-starved state or fortified by Wheat Thins?
A stellar exception was the recent Wall Street Journal profile of Doris Lessing, who has finished a book about her parents, Alfred and Emily, that will come out in the U.S. in August. Emily Parker begins by talking about Lessing’s age (she’s 88 and finds being old “boring”) but quickly goes on to show that she’s unafraid to deal with the complex issues raised by the work of the most recent Nobel laureate in literature. A portion of the article deals with Lessing’s best-known novel, The Golden Notebook, first published in 1962:
“Ms. Lessing was briefly a member of the Communist Party before becoming thoroughly disillusioned. This loss of faith seems to have helped define her belief in the danger of dogmas and group-think. It also shaped The Golden Notebook.”
Lessing reminded Parker that the second comment in The Golden Notebook was “as far as I can see, everything’s cracking up”:
“’This is what The Golden Notebook is about, the crack-up of the 1950s,’ Ms. Lessing says. Or more specficially, the ‘crack up’ of the left after Nikita Khrushchev’s 20th Congress speech in 1956, in which he admitted that Joseph Stalin had been less than a perfect leader.”
Doris Lessing as quoted by Emily Parker in “Provocateur” in the Weekend Interview with Doris Lessing, the Wall Street Journal, March 15-16, 2008.
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.