Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook was published in 1962. Over the next several years, feminism became a significant movement in the United States, the United Kingdom, and much of the world. The Golden Notebook was seen by many feminists of the 1960s as an influential work that revealed the experience of women in society.
Notebooks of a Woman's Life
The Golden Notebook tells the story of Anna Wulf and her four notebooks of different colors that narrate aspects of her life. The notebook of the title is a fifth, gold-colored notebook in which Anna's sanity is questioned as she weaves together the other four notebooks. Anna's dreams and diary entries appear throughout the novel.
The Golden Notebook has autobiographical layers: the character Anna reflects elements of author Doris Lessing's own life, while Anna writes an autobiographical novel about her imagined Ella, who writes autobiographical stories. The structure of The Golden Notebook also intertwines the political conflicts and emotional conflicts in the characters' lives.
Feminism and feminist theory often rejected traditional form and structure in art and literature. The Feminist Art Movement considered rigid form to be a representation of patriarchal society, a male-dominated hierarchy. Feminism and postmodernism often overlap; both theoretical viewpoints can be seen in analysis of The Golden Notebook.
A Consciousness-Raising Novel
Feminists also responded to the consciousness-raising aspect of The Golden Notebook. Each of Anna's four notebooks reflects a different area of her life, and her experiences lead to a larger statement about flawed society as a whole.
The idea behind consciousness-raising is that the personal experiences of women should not be separated from the political movement of feminism. In fact, the personal experiences of women reflect the political state of society.
Hearing Women's Voices
The Golden Notebook was both groundbreaking and controversial. It dealt with women's sexuality and questioned assumptions about their relationships with men. Doris Lessing has often stated that the thoughts expressed in The Golden Notebook should not have come as a surprise to anyone. Women had obviously been saying these things, she said, but had anyone been listening?
Is The Golden Notebook a Feminist Novel?
Although The Golden Notebook is often hailed by feminists as an important consciousness-raising novel, Doris Lessing has notably downplayed a feminist interpretation of her work. While she may not have set out to write a political novel, her work does illustrate ideas that were relevant to the feminist movement, particularly in the sense that the personal is political.
Several years after The Golden Notebook was published, Doris Lessing said that she was a feminist because women were second-class citizens. Her rejection of a feminist reading of The Golden Notebook is not the same as rejecting feminism. She also expressed surprise that while women had long been saying these things, it made all the difference in the world that someone wrote them down.
The Golden Notebook was listed as one of the hundred best novels in English by Time magazine. Doris Lessing was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature.