When I graduated in the seventies from Leicester University, Doris Lessing was the guest speaker. I don’t remember much of what she said, something about how we should make the most of the privelege of our education comes vaguely to mind. Only now do I connect that with the fact that she herself left school at fourteen. I do too that she seemed ill at ease, not a confident speaker.
I see that my copy of The Grass is Singing is inscribed with a date a month before the Degree Congregation, which I guess was what prompted me to read her work. The book is falling apart now: it’s been well read. What a remarkable debut that was. But, as for many other women, I imagine, The Golden Notebook is the novel that has meant the most to me. Looking through it again just now, I am reminded of why it gripped me so much when I read it in my thirties, the same age as Anna in the novel. I flicked through until I found the section that has most stayed in my memory, Anna’s diary entry for the day she decides to leave the Communist Party and realises that a love affair is over. Those events are woven into the details of her everyday life, planning meals, caring for her daughter. Lessing is so brilliant at laying bare the way people deceive themselves both in love and politics, the way it’s possible to both know and not know, the way we can be taken by surprise by our actions and emotions.
Her two volumes of biography, particularly the second, Walking in the Shade, shows how much she drew from her own experience and offers fascinating insights into her life as a writer. I’d recommend it to any woman writer.
Some writers become part of the texture of your life and for me she is one of them.