Doris Lessing

When I was at university I fell in love with my English professor.

He was teaching The Twentieth Century novel, in particular the novels of D.H. Lawrence.

My classes were in the morning and in the afternoon I would lie on my bed in the dorm and read Sons and Lovers, The Rainbow and Women in Love.

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My room-mates, who were studying the sciences would pass by and ask me what I was doing.

“Studying,” I would say.

In reality I was dreaming of love.

Mr. O’Hara, my English professor, looked nothing like D.H. Lawrence yet I melded him with Lawrence and the romance of his novels.

Doris Lessing had great admiration for Lawrence as writer: “Pick up a Lawrence tale and the old magic begins working”. For her Sons and Lovers and The Rainbow were unassailable. (Time Bites)

Just look at the acknowledgements in her novel love, again:

D. H. Lawrence, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Shakespeare, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Edward Thomas, Publilius Syrus, Byron, Browning, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Louis MacNeice, Plautus, George Eliot, Charles Dickens, Ecclesiastes, T. S. Eliot, Sappho, Bob Dylan, Francois Villon, John Vanbrugh, Aphra Behn, John Dryden, Andrew Marvell, Cecil Spring Rice, Archbishop Whately of Dublin, Harry Graham.

And now I am again reading about love.

Love, Againlove, again centers around a 63-year-old woman who falls in love.

Here Stephen tells Sarah “I met this woman. She was an Indian woman. Older than I was. And it was there…we knew each other at once. You have to trust in this kind of thing. If you don’t, you are denying the best part of life. You and I have something of the kind –well, we know that. It has nothing to do with age, or sex, or colour, or anything of that sort.” Of course, Lessing’s novels were not just about love. She was known for her novels about her social and political struggles, psychological thrillers and science fiction.

Lessing was born in Iran to English parents and raised in Southern Rhodesia. 

In her essay A book that changed me, Lessing wrote:

I do not believe that one can be changed by a book (or by a person unless there is already something present, latent or in embryo, ready to be changed…So I have settled for The Sufis by Idries Shah, as the book that had an immediate impact…I continue to find the book full of information, revelation, a  mine of thoughts and ideas. I reread it from time to time and always find something new, which can only be said about ‘real’ books.

The notion of ‘real’ book was important to Lessing as again she wrote in the essay titled ‘What novel or novels prompted your own political awakening?‘ 

Few novels written to a formula have any life. That is because real novels are written from the solar plexus.

Perhaps it was because of her adherence to  Sufism that

“As she climbed slowly out of the taxi with her shopping, her grey bun coming down as usual, Doris Lessing noticed that the front garden was full of photographers. They told her she had won the 2007 Nobel Prize for literature. She said, “Oh, Christ.” (The Economist)

 

Photographer: Martin Argles

Is there a book that had a great influence in your life? 

30 thoughts on “Doris Lessing

    • Yes, by then she’d won so many awards that it was probably just something to tire her out. Yet, if you look at photos of her with the Nobel Prize in her hands she looks very happy. Who wouldn’t be?

  1. Oh, there’s been so many! Although I do not have a favorite book, the ones that come to mind are Marguerite Duras’ The Lover, Octavia Butler’s Kindred, Flander’s Point by Jacquie Gordon, as well as the Harry Potter novels.

    • I loved The Lover! One of my characters in The Dating Club (still in progress) goes to Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) because of that book and makes references to it throughout the novel.
      I haven’t read the other books you mentioned. (except for The Harry Potter books although I’m not a fan) I’ll have to check them out.
      Thank you for reading and for commenting. I truly appreciate it. 🙂

      • Really?! I just love it when a book mentions another within it. It’s such a beautiful story with such beautiful writing.

  2. My favorite book is for whom the bell tolls by Hemingway. Reading the last chapter in that book made me want to be a better person. We have to make sacrifices for the people and things that we love, Hemingway wrapped this truth up in one hell of a story.

  3. There used to be a novel that influenced my life but, as life is determined to do, mine changed. Although I still think the story is brilliant, it doesn’t do what it used to do for me. The book? God Game by Andrew Greeley

  4. The writers whose works did have a great influence on me since highschool years have been: Camus, St-Exupéry, Hemingway and Steinbeck – all read in original, not translated… 🙂
    * * *
    HL=huge like for your post… what an extraordinary LADY… have you watched this movie?
    http://myvirtualplayground.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/perfect-mothers-robin-naomi-perfect-actresses/
    * * *
    I think of her French “equivalent” Margueritte Yourcenar or Duras?… 🙂

    • Okay. Camus…One of my favorite. James M. Cain also one of my favorites. He was influenced by Camus.

      Margarite Duras “The Lover”. I created a character in one of my novels (in progress) around this book.

      I also LOVE your blog. I envy you going to all these wonderful places. But thank you for sharing. I am travelling vicariously with you. 🙂

      I haven’t seen this movie but by the trailer it sounds a lot like love, again where an older woman falls in love with a younger man. Ah, love. 🙂
      Thank you for reading and commenting. It pleases me tremendously that you like my blog.

  5. You have definitely made me curious about her, Carol. I’ve heard of her before, of course, but what you shared makes me want to know more. I didn’t realize she was a third culture kid, too, which I am.

    • Now, you’ve made me curious about you being a third culture kid. I don’t understand what you mean by third culture kid. Can you please explain.

      I’m happy that my post made you curious. Keep me posted, Diahanne, on what you find out. 🙂

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      • A third culture kid is someone who grew up in a different culture other than their parents’ native ones and there can be multiples. I was born in the Philippines to Filipino parents but lived in 5 other countries too growing up.

        I love finding out about other writers who have a similar background. I will definitely keep you posted.

      • That’s amazing. You have such a rich background to draw from. I’m presently doing research on V.S. Naipaul, which I’ll post on Friday. He also is a third culture kid and he wrote intensively about the countries he lived in. One of his favorite countries was Indonesia.
        I also love reading stories that are set in (to me) exotic places and where i get to learn about the culture and habits of the people. Setting in such novels is as important as the characters or the plot.
        Thank you for clarifying what third culture kid is. 🙂

      • I look forward to reading that post! I lived in Indonesia too 🙂 Yes-place is important for grounding a story. I’m curious to hear what you both have to say about this.

  6. Lovely post, and what an honest comment at the end — oh, Christ. There are so many books I can go back to. Gone with the Wind, George Orwell’s work, Shakespeare, Tolstoy. I can still paraphrase the quote form Anna Karenina — my heart is not a vase that if broken can be put back together. Or something like that.

    • Nice quote. Yes, it was an honest comment. I think she was tired from all the interviews and so forth. Although it did mean a lot to her she might have felt then that she didn’t have the energy to go through it all. In fact, she couldn’t attend the ceremony in Stockholm so the Nobel Prize Committee held it in London. .

  7. Another wonderful share here. I’d love to get lost in your great library of books you have read Carol. I just keep adding them to my TBR list, waiting for the time I can devour them with my eyes and imagination. 🙂

    • This is really what struck me and focused me on my post.
      Most writers acknowledge their agent or editor or writing group. But hers was an acknowledgment of writers and artists who had influenced her.
      I also think it would be really cool to acknowledge the musicians one listened to while writing their books.
      Thanks so much for reading, Hilary.

  8. Your choices are wonderful, Carol! I adored, T.H. White’s book, “The Once and Future King,” even went so far as taking a college course in knights, chivalry and King Arthur. I also have loved the recent books, I wrote a post about, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” and “Mama’s Bank Account.” I had a grandfather, from Sweden, meet my grandmother, from Germany, on a street corner in New York City. It is an interesting and real fairy tale. I have tried to record love stories of all kinds, mainly one ‘meet’ at a time! When I meet people, I ask them about their own personal love stories. This takes time to build rapport sometimes, and other times, like at a Cleveland Indian’s baseball game, I met a young man who willingly shared his story, while we stood side by side watching the game! Smiles, Robin

      • I think that you are very interesting and already have enough on your plate without adding another book! I once read a short story written by Doris Lessing in a high school literature book. I think short stories are so challenging to capture the whole picture in just so many words! I liked Doris Lessings’ list of choices for her ‘muses!” Great post, Carol!

      • Thanks, Robin. Interestingly enough while researching a future post I serendipitously came across A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. When that kind of thing happens I tend to sit up and pay attention.
        Good short stories are difficult to write and there seems to be a resurgence of them. I guess, we’re all so pressed for time and this is a good compromise. There is also Flash Fiction which is gaining popularity.
        Yes, Doris Lessing’s choices for her muses was unexpected. You mainly see in acknowledgements names of editors, writers group, agents, mom and dad.
        But really, what influences a writer the most are the books she’s read. It somehow gets integrated in our brains and we process it and it comes out in our writing.
        Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. 🙂

  9. Hi Carol;

    Doris Lessing was an amazing writer. I have read “Singing the grass” by her and loved it.
    Her wrtiting is evocative and highly poetic..

    As to the books that I cherish I would name these ones here:

    “The Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger. “Death in the Afternoon” by Ernest Hemingway. “The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis by José Saramago. “Snow” by Orham Pamuk. “A hundred years of Solitude” by Gabriel Garcá Márquez. “Hopscotch” by Julio Cortázar. “Persuasion” by Jane Austen . “Norwegian Wood” by Haruki Murakami “Swann´s way” by Marcel Proust “. “In Cold Blood” by Truman Capote
    Well is is a long list…

    But all those books were truly meaningful to me… Somehow they all helped me understand life in a better way

    Best wishes and Happy Easter to you and yours, Aquileana 😛

    • Hi Aquileana-
      Thanks so much for reading and posting a comment.
      I really liked Doris’ Lessing’s acknowedgements for her novel Love, Again.
      We are touched by so much…in literature, in art, in music, in just the every days of life.
      I like what you said how these books were truly meaningful for you because they helped you understand life in a better way.
      Made me think, that as a writer, that’s what I’d like to accomplish.
      HAPPY EASTER 🙂

  10. Sorry, but I never read Doris Lessing. I wish I would have so I could share my thoughts about her and winning the Nobel Prize, But I have it on my list of authors to read. Hugs and hope you had a great time out this past week-end.

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