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Doris Lessing

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Doris Lessing Facts:

Known for: Doris Lessing has written many novels, short stories, and essays, most about contemporary life, often pointing to social injustices. Her 1962 The Golden Notebook became an iconic novel for the feminist movement for its consciousness-raising theme. Her travels to many places in the British sphere of influence have influenced her writings.
Occupation: writer -- short stories, novels, essays, science fiction
Dates: October 22, 1919 - November 17, 2013
Also known as: Doris May Lessing, Jane Somers, Doris Taylor

Doris Lessing Biography:

Doris Lessing was born in Persia (now Iran), when her father worked for a bank. In 1924, the family moved to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where she grew up, as her father tried to make a living as a farmer. Though she was encouraged to go to college, Doris Lessing dropped out of school at age 14, and took clerical and other jobs in Salisbury, South Rhodesia, until her marriage in 1939 to a civil servant. When she divorced in 1943, her children stayed with their father.

Her second husband was a Communist, whom Doris Lessing met when she also became a Communist, joining what she saw as a more "pure form" of Communism than she saw in the Communist parties in other parts of the world. (Lessing rejected Communism after the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.) She and her second husband divorced in 1949, and he emigrated to East Germany. Later, he was the East German ambassador to Uganda and was killed when Ugandans revolted against Idi Amin.

During her years of activism and married life, Doris Lessing began writing. In 1949, after two failed marriages, Lessing moved to London; her brother, first husband, and two children from her first marriage remained in Africa. In 1950, Lessing's first novel was published: The Grass Is Singing, which dealt with issues of apartheid and interracial relationships in a colonial society. She continued her semi-autobiographical writings in three Children of Violence novels, with Martha Quest as the main character, published in 1952-1958.

Lessing visited her African "homeland" again in 1956, but was then declared a "prohibited immigrant" for political reasons and banned from coming back again. After the country became Zimbabwe in 1980, independent of British and white rule, Doris Lessing returned, first in 1982. She wrote of her visits in African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe, published in 1992.

Having rejected communism in 1956, Lessing became active in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. In the 1960s, she became skeptical of progressive movements and more interested in Sufism and "nonlinear thinking."

In 1962, Doris Lessing's most widely-read novel, The Golden Notebook, was published. This novel, in four sections, explored aspects of the relationship of an independent woman to herself and to men and women, in a time of re-examining sexual and political norms. While the book inspired and fit in with increasing interest in consciousness-raising, Lessing has been somewhat impatient with its identification with feminism.

Beginning in 1979, Doris Lessing published a series of science fiction novels, and in the 80s published several books under the pen name Jane Somers. Politically, in the 1980s she supported the anti-Soviet mujahideen in Afghanistan. She also became interested in issues ecological survival and returned to African themes. Her 1986 The Good Terrorist is a comedic story about a cadre of left-wing militants in London. Her 1988 The Fifth Child deals with change and family life in the 1960s through 1980s.

Lessing's later work continues to deal with people's lives in ways that highlight challenging social issues, though she's denied that her writing is political. In 2007, Doris Lessing was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Background, Family:

  • Father: Alfred Cook Taylor, farmer
  • Mother: Meily Maude McVeagh

Marriage, Children:

  • husbands:
    1. Frank Charles Wisdom (married 1939, dissolved 1943)
    2. Gottfried Anton Nicholas Lessing (married 1945, dissolved 1949)
  • children:
    • first marriage: John, Jean
    • second marriage: Peter
    • adopted informally: Jenny Diski (novelist)

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