Doris Lessing Q&A: five facts about Nobel winning author

Nov 18, 2013

The author of 'feminist bible' The Golden Notebook dies at 94, leaving rich literary legacy


DORIS LESSING, the Nobel Prize-winning author, has died at the age of 94. The author of books including The Golden Notebook, Memoirs of a Survivor and The Summer Before the Dark "passed away peacefully" at her north London home, her publisher, Harper Collins, said. Here are five things you might not know about a writer who was, at various stages of her life, a communist, socialist, feminist, atheist and finally a Sufi:

She was born in Iran

Lessing was born in Iran and brought up in the African bush in what is now Zimbabwe. She once observed that her British expatriate parents had been "done in" by the First World War. Her father was "nearly killed" by shrapnel in 1917 and lost a leg, says Deutsche Welle. Her mother, a nurse, met Lessing's father at the hospital in London where he was recovering from the amputation.

She returned to England with her first book and found success

Lessing was 30 when she travelled from Africa to London with a manuscript of her first book, The Grass is Singing. The tale of a relationship between a white farmer's wife and her black servant was an "immediate best-seller in Britain, Europe and America", says Reuters.

Her best-known book, The Golden Notebook alarmed some women

Today, it's hailed as a "feminist bible", a book that stretched the boundaries of realist fiction and discussed a new kind of woman. Time voted it one of the 100 greatest books of all time. But Lessing was apparently surprised when her 1962 account of a novelist, Anna Wulf, working her way through writer's block, was "hailed as a trumpet blast for women's liberation", says the Daily Telegraph. The author has said that she found many of her female friends avoiding her in case they were thought "man-hating".

She was one of the most underwhelmed Nobel Prize laureates ever

A video shot in 2007 shows excited reporters circling a London taxi eager to inform its passenger - Lessing - that she had just become the oldest person to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. "Oh Christ," says the author as she manhandles her shopping out of the back seat. "I'm sure you'd like some uplifting remarks of some kind." The Daily Telegraph's Gaby Wood observes: "Bids for popularity were not Doris Lessing's thing. Of course, in many ways that made her more appealing."

She never shied away from controversy

Lessing was not afraid to stir the pot both with her writing and her public proclamations. In 2007, she sparked outrage by suggesting that the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York were not "that terrible" compared to the campaign of terror waged by the IRA in Northern Ireland and mainland Britain. Lessing told El Pais: "September 11 was terrible, but if one goes back over the history of the IRA, what happened to the Americans wasn't that terrible. Some Americans will think I'm crazy. Many people died, two prominent buildings fell, but it was neither as terrible nor as extraordinary as they think. They're a very naive people, or they pretend to be."

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For many of us, she was our number one female novelist of the 20th century. Many newcomers, to her work, will continue to be enthralled.
Was amused by her observation of Americans; 'They're a very naive people, or they pretend to be'. - classic Lessing.

Lessing also had a broad and healthy opinion about crucial issues - unlike "feminists" she did not become a fanatic men hater (Taslima Nasreen for instance)~

" What the feminists want of me is something they haven't examined because it comes from religion. They want me to bear witness. What they would really like me to say is, 'Ha, sisters, I stand with you side by side in your struggle toward the golden dawn where all those beastly men are no more.' Do they really want people to make oversimplified statements about men and women? In fact, they do. I've come with great regret to this conclusion."
—Doris Lessing, The New York Times, 25 July 1982