Doris Lessing's Mara and Dann

The World and I, May 1999 | Go to article overview
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Doris Lessing's Mara and Dann


Editor's Introduction

Doris May Taylor was born in 1919 to a British couple in what was then Kermanshah, Persia. Six years later the family moved to the British colony of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to farm maize on a thousand acres of bush. There young Doris attended a convent school and later an all-girls high school. Dropping out at age 13, she never returned to formal education, becoming instead a self-educated intellectual, as did several other southern African writers, including Olive Schreiner and Nadine Gordimer. Parcels of books from London, especially novels, provided routes of imaginative escape from the unhappy reality of colonial life. She began writing and publishing stories and took a job as a telephone operator in Salisbury. At age nineteen she married Frank Wisdom and had two children; feeling trapped a few years later, she left her family. Shortly thereafter she joined the Left Book Club, a group of communists that included the man who would become her second husband, Gottfried Lessing. In 1949, she moved to London with her son by Lessing and published her first novel, The Grass Is Singing, in 1950. After World War II she became increasingly disillusioned with communism, abandoning it entirely in 1954.

Stories Lessing wrote and published during the fifties and early sixties protested the dispossession of black Africans by white colonists and criticized the transplanted white culture in southern Africa. In response, both South Africa and Rhodesia declared the writer a prohibited alien in 1956, a ban that lasted until 1995. Lessing's deeply autobiographical fiction emerges from her early experiences in Africa, her years of engagement with social and political issues, her concern for moral and psychological attitudes, and the role of women in modern society.

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