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Doris Lessing 1919-2013

November 19, 2013
Doris Lessing, Cologne, 2006

Doris Lessing, Cologne, 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Acclaimed author Doris Lessing died yesterday (17 November 2013), aged 94. Lessing published more than 50 novels, short stories and non-fiction works, and won many awards including the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature. Her most well-known novel is arguably ‘The Golden Notebook’ (1962), with the theme of mental breakdowns as a means of healing and freeing one’s self from illusions. There is even a Doris Lessing Society which is dedicated to supporting the scholarly study of Lessing’s work.

Born in Iran to British subjects, but mostly raised in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Doris left school aged 14 and started work as a nursemaid. Encouraged to read works on politics and sociology by her employer, she began writing stories for magazines shortly thereafter.

Doris married in 1937 and had two children with Frank Wisdom, before divorcing in 1943.  She later married Gottfried Lessing and they had a child before divorcing in 1949.   Because of her campaigning against nuclear arms and apartheid, Lessing was banned from South Africa and Rhodesia for many years and moved to London, leaving two of her three children with their father in South Africa, and taking the third with her.  “For a long time I felt I had done a very brave thing. There is nothing more boring for an intelligent woman than to spend endless amounts of time with small children. I felt I wasn’t the best person to bring them up. I would have ended up an alcoholic or a frustrated intellectual like my mother,” she said.

Unsentimental Lessing never bowed to convention or expectation. The novelist, playwright, poet, biographer, librettist and essayist was first and foremost a storyteller. “I don’t know why I have to write,” Lessing once said. “It’s just something I have to do. If I don’t write for any length of time, I get very irritable. If I had to stop, I would probably start wandering the streets, telling myself stories out loud.” In death, Doris Lessing will remain  a formidable, multifaceted and provocative teller of stories for generations of readers to come.


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