Doris Lessing

Doris Lessing, 1919–2013, British novelist, b. Kermanshah, Persia (now Iran) as Doris May Tayler. Largely self-educated, she was brought up on a farm in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), and in 1949 moved to England, where her first novel, The Grass Is Singing (1950), was published. Widely regarded as one of the major writers of the mid-20th cent. and an influential figure among feminists, Lessing wrote on a wide variety of themes including Rhodesia, women, communism, and global catastrophe. Distinguished for its energy and intelligence, her work is principally concerned with the lives of women—their psychology, sexuality, politics, work, relationship to men and to their children, and their change of vision as they age. In her later books she mainly focused on efforts by individuals to resist society's pressures toward marginalization and acculturation.

Currents of realism and fantasy run through Lessing's works, with one dominant in some novels and both mingled in others. Her fiction includes a series of five novels collectively entitled The Children of Violence, which concern a semiautobiographical character named Martha Quest; the series includes Martha Quest (1952), Ripple from the Storm (1958), and The Four-Gated City (1969). A series of five science-fiction novels is collectively entitled Canopus in Argos: Archives, of which The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 (1982) is best known. Her most influential novel, often regarded as her masterpiece, is The Golden Notebook (1962), a loosely autobiographical and psychologically acute study of the struggles of a woman writer; it served as an inspiration to the feminist movement of the 1960s and 70s, and is now considered a classic of feminist fiction.

Among Lessing's other novels are Briefing for a Descent into Hell (1971); The Summer before the Dark (1973); The Good Terrorist (1985); The Fifth Child (1988) and its sequel, Ben, in the World (2000); The Sweetest Dream (2001), a semiautobiographical tale of the 1960s; and The Grandmothers (2003). To dramatize the plight of unknown novelists, Lessing wrote two novels, The Diary of a Good Neighbour (1983) and If the Old Could (1984), under the pseudonym of Jane Somers; they were ignored by critics until Lessing revealed their true authorship. She is well known for her short stories and also wrote essays, e.g., Time Bites (2005). Lessing was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007.

See her volumes of autobiography, Under My Skin (1994) and Walking in the Shade (1997) and her part-novel, part-memoir Alfred & Emily (2008); biographies by A. Myles (1990) and C. Klein (2000); studies by R. Rubinstein (1979), I. Homquist (1980), M. Knapp (1984), C. Sprague and V. Tiger (1986), J. Pickering (1990), and M. Rowe (1994).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Doris Lessing: The Alchemy of Survival
Carey Kaplan; Ellen Cronan Rose.
Ohio University Press, 1988
Doris Lessing
Harold Bloom.
Chelsea House, 1986
From the Margins of Empire: Christina Stead, Doris Lessing, Nadine Gordimer
Louise Yelin.
Cornell University Press, 1998
The Myth of the Heroine: The Female Bildungsroman in the Twentieth Century: Dorothy Richardson, Simone de Beauvoir, Doris Lessing, Christa Wolf
Esther Kleinbord Labovitz.
Peter Lang, 1988 (2nd edition)
Women Shapeshifters: Transforming the Contemporary Novel
Thelma J. Shinn.
Greenwood Press, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Mapping the Mind: Doris Lessing"
Nuclear Cassandra: Prophecy in Doris Lessing's the Golden Notebook
Henstra, Sarah.
Papers on Language & Literature, Vol. 43, No. 1, Winter 2007
Re-Membering the Future: Doris Lessing's 'Experiment in Autobiography'
Rosenfeld, Aaron S.
Critical Survey, Vol. 17, No. 1, January 2005
"Women's Time": Women, Age, and Intergenerational Relations in Doris Lessing's the Diaries of Jane Somers
Wallace, Diana.
Studies in the Literary Imagination, Vol. 39, No. 2, Fall 2006
"Born out of My Ownself": (Re)claiming the Self in Doris Lessing's under My Skin, Volume 1, 1919-1949
Javangwe, Tasiyana D.
Journal of Literary Studies, Vol. 25, No. 2, June 2009
Sexual-Political Colonialism and Failure of Individuation in Doris Lessing's the Grass Is Singing
Aghazadeh, Sima.
Journal of International Women's Studies, Vol. 12, No. 1, January-February 2011
Our Mothers' Gardens: Doris Lessing's "Among the Roses."
Tyler, Lisa.
Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 31, No. 2, Spring 1994
The Celebration of the Fantastic: Selected Papers from the Tenth Anniversary International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts
Donald E. Morse; Marshall B. Tymn; Csilla Bertha.
Greenwood Press, 1992
Librarian’s tip: "'What Dreams May Come?' Relativity of Perception in Doris Lessing's Briefing for a Descent into Hell" begins on p. 73, and "The Fifth Child: Lessing's Subversion of the Pastoral" begins on p. 123
Engendering the Subject: Gender and Self-Representation in Contemporary Women's Fiction
Sally Robinson.
State University of New York Press, 1991
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 1 "Repetition and Resistance in Doris Lessing's Children of Violence"
The Transcendent Adventure: Studies of Religion in Science Fiction/Fantasy
Robert Reilly.
Greenwood Press, 1985
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "The Evolution of Doris Lessing's Art from a Mystical Moment to Space Fiction"
From the Hearth to the Open Road: A Feminist Study of Aging in Contemporary Literature
Barbara Frey Waxman.
Greenwood Press, 1990
Librarian’s tip: "Doris Lessing's 'The Summer before the Dark' and 'The Diaries of Jane Somers'" begins on p. 46
In Pursuit of the English
Doris Lessing.
Simon & Schuster, 1961
Search for more books and articles on Doris Lessing