Doris Lessing: Reluctant Feminist

The Golden Notebook Project, Kenyon Review, 2008

The Golden Notebook Project, Kenyon Review, 2008

Posted on the web: “Goodbye to Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook wouldn’t be the same without you.” The posting by the Golden Notebook bookstore in Woodstock included a link to the obituary published by the N.Y. Times:

Doris Lessing, the uninhibited and outspoken novelist who won the 2007 Nobel Prize for a lifetime of writing that shattered convention, both social and artistic, died on Sunday at her home in London. She was 94.
— Helen T. Verongos, N.Y. Times, November 17, 2013

Many consider The Golden Notebook to be Doris Lessing’s finest novel. Originally published in 1962, the novel went through several printing and continued to generate many reader comments. Lessing acknowledged the reader feedback, and when the novel was republished in 1993, she wrote a new first-person introduction:

“Yes, I do get a lot of feedback, and I am always interested, particularly when it is unexpected. In Vermont there is a bookstore called The Golden Notebook …”
— Introduction: 1993, The Golden Notebook.
Note: The bookstore mentioned is actually in Woodstock, N.Y. (An understandable error since there is also a town named Woodstock in Vermont.)

Lessing obviously considered a bookstore named after her novel a fitting tribute.

The Golden Notebook Bookstore, Woodstock, NY

The Golden Notebook Bookstore, Woodstock, NY

Boosted by the author’s receipt of the Nobel Prize in 2007, the Golden Notebook had a well-deserved resurgence in reader interest. In 2008, the Golden Notebook Project went online: the complete text was published online and made available to all by agreement with Doris Lessing and her publisher. For a 6-week period, six noted authors read and annotated the text in an experiment in close-reading. The novel and the annotations are available at:

Winning the Nobel, however, altered the course of the remaining years of Lessing’s life, wrote in Lessing’s obituary:

“She titled her Nobel Lecture On Not Winning the Nobel Prize and used it to draw attention to global inequality of opportunity, and to explore changing attitudes to storytelling and literature. The lecture was later published in a limited edition to raise money for children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS.

In a 2008 interview for the BBC’s Front Row, she stated that increased media interest after the award had left her without time or energy for writing. Her final book, Alfred and Emily, appeared in 2008.
Variety, 2013

When Lessing gave her Nobel Lecture in Sweden , she recalled her life in Zimbabwe (a key location in The Golden Notebook):

“I am standing in a doorway looking through clouds of blowing dust to where I am told there is still uncut forest. Yesterday I drove through miles of stumps, and charred remains of fires where, in ’56, there was the most wonderful forest I have ever seen, all now destroyed. People have to eat. They have to get fuel for fires.
—Doris Lessing, On not winning the Nobel Prize, 2007

She used the Nobel Lecture to further her thoughts on equality and justice; No solemn occasion  could temper her outspoken nature, in memoriam: Doris Lessing (22 Oct, 1919 – 17 Nov, 2013).


About carto

Retired software engineer who grew up in Montana, went to Montana State College in Bozeman, and moved to California to work at Stanford Research Institute (SRI). Carto's Logbook is about photography, travel and adventure; Mt. Maurice Times is tall tales mostly biographical; Carto's Library is about books I've read and liked.
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