The best known of Doris Lessing's short stories, "The Habit of Loving," still serves to introduce both her authentic virtues and her very severe limitations as a writer of fiction. George Talbot, a London theatrical personage (sometime actor, occasional producer, sporadic reviewer), is gently but firmly jilted by "the love of his life," who has been in Australia during the years of the Second World War. A youngish sixty, he grieves, fails to win back his divorced wife, catches severe influenza, and is nursed back to health by a song-and-dance performer, "a small, thin, dark girl," named Bobby Tippett. George and Bobby marry; at thirty-five, she seems childlike to him. But to herself, and to her youthful lover of twenty, she seems already past fulfillment. Two passages between George and Bobby are wholly representative of Lessing's strength and weakness, early and late. The first turns upon the fine phrase of the title, "The Habit of Loving":
In the morning she looked at him oddly, with an odd sad little
respect, and said, "You know what, George? You've just got into
the habit of loving."
"What do you mean, dear?"
She rolled out of bed and stood beside it, a waif in her white
pyjamas, her black hair ruffled. She slid her eyes at him and
smiled. "You just want something in your arms, that's all. What
do you do when you're alone? Wrap yourself around a pillow?"
He said nothing; he was cut to the heart.
"My husband was the same," she remarked gaily. "Funny thing
is, he didn't care anything about me." She stood considering him,
smiling mockingly. "Strainge, ain't it?" she commented and went