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Doris Lessing


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#1 Chris Grieb

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Posted 11 October 2007 - 02:38 PM

Has anyone read her? I found she was a Communist till 1956.(Budapest) My main instinct would be she has nothing worth reading but has anyone actually read her.

#2 Ellen Stuttle

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Posted 11 October 2007 - 02:45 PM

Has anyone read her? I found she was a Communist till 1956.(Budapest) My main instinct would be she has nothing worth reading but has anyone actually read her.


I certainly have, though I haven't kept up with what she's been writing in recent years, haven't had time. I love her work passionately. Yippee-yay if she won the Prize. She's one writer I think deserves it.

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#3 Ellen Stuttle

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Posted 11 October 2007 - 03:06 PM

Addendum: "The archaeologist of the human soul," John Leonard (for many years editor of The New York Times Book Review) called her in one review, I forget of which book, maybe The Four-Gated City, the visionary culmination of her "Martha Quest" series.

The Canopus in Argos series I went into ecstasies over. She is as penetrating as they come, imo.

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Edited by Ellen Stuttle, 11 October 2007 - 03:07 PM.


#4 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 11 October 2007 - 03:55 PM

I only tried to read something by Doris Lessing years ago, Briefing for a Descent into Hell, but I got bored and put it aside. I have stayed away from her ever since, although I have always been intrigued when I have seen her name in bookstores. I know if I read Briefing now, I would have a much different perspective than I had back then, so there is a good chance I would enjoy it or at least find good value in it.

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#5 Ellen Stuttle

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Posted 11 October 2007 - 04:23 PM

I only tried to read something by Doris Lessing years ago, Briefing for a Descent into Hell, but I got bored and put it aside. I have stayed away from her ever since, although I have always been intrigued when I have seen her name in bookstores. I know if I read Briefing now, I would have a much different perspective than I had back then, so there is a good chance I would enjoy it or at least find good value in it.

Michael

I think you'd find a lot of value in it were you to read it today. Its style isn't typical of her; it was an experiment trying to get inside the feeling of a psychotic episode. It isn't easy reading, but I found the effect powerful.

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#6 Chris Grieb

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Posted 11 October 2007 - 05:13 PM

Willie Giest on Tucker Carlson replayed the British reporters informing her of Noble Prize. She seemed underwhelmed. Said something about not being able to get it if she was dead. Talked about all the people who would come out of the woodwork with the money.

#7 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 13 October 2007 - 05:43 AM

She is as penetrating as they come.


You got that right.

I have not gotten to read much fiction in my life, due to the other reading, but I'm sure you are right in this. I got to read the first four of the Children of Violence series. Those are Martha Quest, A Proper Marriage, A Ripple from the Storm, and Landlocked. Fantastic! I sure hope I will someday get to read The Four-Gated City.

Day before yesterday, Walter came and found me to tell me that Lessing had won the Nobel. I was thrilled. I was literally jumping and clapping my hands like a child, saying "Oh, wonderful, wonderful!"

(Surprised and pleased to learn I can still jump up and down too.)

#8 Philip Coates

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Posted 13 October 2007 - 12:30 PM

So far, I'm with Michael in being underwhelmed by Doris.

I am teaching AP Language and Composition this year and so far we have read a series of very short essays by Mark Twain, George Orwell, Langston Hughes, Dylan Thomas, James Thurber and several others. The weakest piece (clear but underwhelming) was by Doris L. The other two weak ones were also by the most recent of the writers (late twentieth century): Maxine Hong Kingston & Maya Angelou.

The anthology I'm using has a mix of 'classic' writers and more modern ones, which is why I chose it. After we do another twenty or thirty of what are considered to be the most acclaimed and important essays, I'll be in a better position to solidify my tentative assessment whether the claim of Ayn Rand and other Oists about the 'steadily shrinking stature' of writers as the twentieth century rolled on is true or not.

Of course, this was an essay and not her fiction. And, in this collection, the particular Twain and Orwell pieces are not as good as many I've read by these two great authors. The one Doris Lessing sample is not enough to draw conclusions about. I cant' process or do anything with the recommendations of Ellen and Stephen because, not being formal or substantive reviews but only statements of opinion, there were no quotes or vivid examples one can sink one's teeth into. Having lots of things I want to read already, I would need much more motivation than a sentence or two to give her another try (and more motivation than the mere fact of the often-heavily politicized or postmodern Nobel prize awards.)

#9 Michael Stuart Kelly

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Posted 13 October 2007 - 12:46 PM

Phil,

That is a great idea about Shakespeare. I have always loved him (especially MacBeth).

Michael

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#10 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 13 October 2007 - 02:15 PM

Phil,

Here is a sample of Lessing, which I posted at the NIF site the day of the Nobel announcement. If you find this stretch moving, keep her fiction from this period on your list for future enjoyment.

She walked more slowly now, not wanting the journey to end; she was savouring freedom: the station far behind, where she was convinced everyone remarked her, commented on her; the house not yet in sight, where the mere existence of her parents was like a reminder that she must be wary, ready to resist. Now there was no one to mark her, not a soul in sight; and she dawdled along the track, skipping from one rut to another, and pulling from their delicate green sheaths the long sweet-tasting grass stems that are as pleasant to chew along a dusty road as sticks of sugar cane. She was happy because she was, for the moment, quite free; she was sad because before long she would reach home; these two emotions deepened together, and it flashed across her mind that this intense, joyful melancholy was a state of mind she had known in the past and— But at once she dismissed the thought; it passed as lightly as the shadow of a wing of bird, for she knew that the experience associated with that emotion was not to be courted. One did not lie in wait for it; it was a visitor who came without warning. On the other hand, even the fact that the delicious but fearful expectation had crossed her mind at all was enough to warn it away; the visitor liked darkness, this Martha knew, and she hastened to think of something else. At the same time, she was thinking that she had associated the experience with what she now, rather scornfully, called her "religious phase"; and becoming an atheist, which she had done from one day to the next, as easily as dropping a glove, had been painful only because she imagined she must pay the price for intellectual honesty by bidding farewell to this other emotion, this fabulous visitor. It seemed, then, that no such price had been asked of her, it seemed that—

Martha caught herself up, already bad-tempered and irritable: she must not analyze, she must not be conscious: and here she was watching the movements of her own mind as if she were observing a machine. She noted, too, that she was walking very fast, quite blind to the beauties of the trees and grass. For it was evening, and very beautiful; a rich watery gold was lighting the dark greens of the foliage, the dark red of the soil, the pale blond of the grass, to the solemn intensity of the sunset hour. . . . She walked more slowly, consciously enjoyed the melancholy; and all at once found herself on a slight rise, where the trees opened across a wide reach of country; and the sight, a new one, caused her to forget everything else. . . . The mealies swayed and whispered, and the light moved over them; a hawk lay motionless on a current of blue air; and the confused and painful delirium stirred in her again, and this time so powerfully she did not fear its passing. The bush lay quiet about her, a bare slope of sunset-tinted grass moving gently with a tiny rustling sound; an invisible violet tree shed gusts of perfume, like a benediction: and she stood quite still, waiting for the moment, which was now inevitable. . . . (50–51)


Martha Quest (1952)
The first of the five novels composing Children of Violence
By Doris Lessing, winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature



#11 Ellen Stuttle

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Posted 13 October 2007 - 06:15 PM

I got to read the first four of the Children of Violence series. Those are Martha Quest, A Proper Marriage, A Ripple from the Storm, and Landlocked. Fantastic! I sure hope I will someday get to read The Four-Gated City.

Stephen,

If you found the first four of the Children of Violence series "Fantastic!"...they are but the prelude to The Four-Gated City. The Four-Gated City enters a far wider dimension of scope, while going ever-deeper. I also much recommend to you The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five. This is the third book of the Canopus in Argos series, but it can be read separately from the rest of that series without loss of context (the others are best read in order starting with Shikasta).

I'm delighted that you, too, are thrilled at her winning the Nobel!

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#12 Philip Coates

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Posted 13 October 2007 - 11:09 PM

Stephen,

The passage you quoted is impressive because of its richness of internal observation. (There are a few inexplicable or confusing parts, but I assume they are more clear in context.) When I dip my toe into the work of a new writer, I often try to start with short stories. Stephen or Ellen are you familar with her "Afican Stories"? Good place to start?

PS, what is the "NIF site"?

#13 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 14 October 2007 - 09:06 AM

On the shelf here are fourteen books by Lessing. They were Jerry's. One is African Stories. It is one I remember him reading again and again. Believe me, that is a serious recommendation.

He had read most of the classic literature of the English language before reaching college, which is where I met him (1966). He never stopped reading more fiction. I had introduced him to Rand's literature when I discovered it in '67. He had very seldom recommended a book for me to put on my list (these, as I recall: Another Country; My Antonia; Absalom, Absalom!; and of course, East of Eden). He had never suggested that I might enjoy Lessing, and when I picked up Martha and was captivated, he was actually a little surprised. He died in 1990, as you may recall.

In the discussion of Lessing's work on The News Hour last Thursday, the Professor praised Lessing's short stories very highly. You can read the transcript of that segment here:

http://www.pbs.org/n...obel_10-11.html

The NIF site is the site for the New Intellectual Forum. To find out how to gain access to this site, and how to participate in it, click on the "Member" button at the top of this page. Search the name Marsha Enright. Send her a note, requesting information.

#14 Ellen Stuttle

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Posted 15 October 2007 - 11:29 AM

I like African Stories a lot, too. They come from scenes of her growing-up years, before she moved to England. A number of them pertain to the experiences of a young person exploring the African landscape. They have an "innocence" of outlook. I think a person could enjoy those stories for the evocation of youthful wonder, and of the sense of African immensity, even if a person didn't form a yen for her societal/psychological later probings.

[Jerry] had very seldom recommended a book for me to put on my list (these, as I recall: Another Country; My Antonia; Absalom, Absalom!; and of course, East of Eden). He had never suggested that I might enjoy Lessing, and when I picked up Martha and was captivated, he was actually a little surprised. He died in 1990, as you may recall.

Yes, I recall the sad news of his death. I haven't read My Antonia. I'm especially interested to see that Absalom, Absalom! is one he recommended. I consider that book extremely fine. I enjoy Faulkner's style, unlike most people I know who respond to Rand. I suspect that most people who are keen on Rand wouldn't be keen on Lessing either, with the possible exceptions of African Stories and her early novels, and maybe The Marriages Bewtween Zones Three, Four, and Five. At any rate I've met only a few persons who like both Rand and Lessing. (I think Lessing is my own all-time favorite novelist. She isn't the stylist Rand was, but her approach to life, her probingness, speaks to me in a strong personal way.)

Ellen

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#15 daunce lynam

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Posted 05 March 2013 - 07:57 PM

Ellen here is someone else who has read both Rand and Lessing. I read Martha Quest,In Pursuit of the English, and the Diary of a Good Neighbour/ The latter had the greatest impact on me, and I read it not knowing the author was Lessing. What a sublime talent, what a unique soul she was. Carol -just stumbled on this old thread

thing y is there anything you won't find on OL ? It's a treasurehouse.



#16 Ellen Stuttle

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 04:23 PM

What a sublime talent, what a unique soul [Lessing] was.




Was?

Has she died? I'm not finding a death date on some sources I googled.

I found a site called "www.dorislessing.org".

Take a look at this photo and this one. Her eyes in the first one remind me of my "Aunt Em"s eyes. (Actually my first cousin once removed.) Aunt Em lived to be well along into her 90s. The other features are different -- Em, whose mother was an AmerIndian, looked a bit like Georgia O'Keefe in features. Stark lines, aquiline nose.

I've been reading Middlemarch in earnest, around some work projects I've been busy with. I'm up through the end of Book II.

I'm wishing I'd read Middlemarch years ago. I've been missing out on delicious pleasures of comparing/contrasting Eliot and Rand.

There's a sense in which I'd describe Eliot as "the Lessing of the Victorian era" -- the probing dissection.

Ellen

#17 daunce lynam

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Posted 07 March 2013 - 04:31 PM


What a sublime talent, what a unique soul [Lessing] was.

Was?

Has she died? I'm not finding a death date on some sources I googled.

I found a site called "www.dorislessing.org".

Take a look at this photo and this one. Her eyes in the first one remind me of my "Aunt Em"s eyes. (Actually my first cousin once removed.) Aunt Em lived to be well along into her 90s. The other features are different -- Em, whose mother was an AmerIndian, looked a bit like Georgia O'Keefe in features. Stark lines, aquiline nose.

I've been reading Middlemarch in earnest, around some work projects I've been busy with. I'm up through the end of Book II.

I'm wishing I'd read Middlemarch years ago. I've been missing out on delicious pleasures of comparing/contrasting Eliot and Rand.

There's a sense in which I'd describe Eliot as "the Lessing of the Victorian era" -- the probing dissection.

Ellen


O Ellen you are so right! Maryann and Doris would have been soulmates. Indeed I do not know if Lessing is still living, I hope so. She has not published lately.

#18 Stephen Boydstun

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Posted 17 November 2013 - 09:35 AM

.

Doris Lessing died today.



#19 Ellen Stuttle

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Posted 17 November 2013 - 11:34 AM

Thank you for posting the news of her death, Stephen.

I tried to find some words, and couldn't, not words which would say how much Lessing's work has meant to me.

link

It is said that a people gets the government it deserves, but I do not think it is true of Zimbabwe. And we must remember that this respect and hunger for books comes, not from Mugabe's regime, but from the one before it, the whites. It is an astonishing phenomenon, this hunger for books, and it can be seen everywhere from Kenya down to the Cape of Good Hope.

This links up improbably with a fact: I was brought up in what was virtually a mud hut, thatched. This house has been built always, everywhere, where there are reeds or grass, suitable mud, poles for walls. Saxon England for example. The one I was brought up in had four rooms, one beside another, not one, and, the point is, it was full of books. Not only did my parents take books from England to Africa, but my mother ordered books from England for her children, books in great brown paper parcels which were the joy of my young life. A mud hut, but full of books.

And sometimes I get letters from people living in a village that might not have electricity or running water (just like our family in our elongated mud hut), "I shall be a writer too, because I've the same kind of house you were in."

But here is the difficulty. No.

Writing, writers, do not come out of houses without books.

There is the gap. There is the difficulty.

I have been looking at the speeches by some of your recent prizewinners. Take the magnificent Pamuk. He said his father had 1 500 books. His talent did not come out of the air, he was connected with the great tradition.

Take V.S. Naipaul. He mentions that the Indian Vedas were close behind the memory of his family. His father encouraged him to write. And when he got to England by right he used the British Library. So he was close to the great tradition.

Let us take John Coetzee. He was not only close to the great tradition, he was the tradition: he taught literature in Cape Town. And how sorry I am that I was never in one of his classes: taught by that wonderfully brave bold mind.

In order to write, in order to make literature, there must be a close connection with libraries, books, the Tradition.


Ellen

#20 Ellen Stuttle

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Posted 17 November 2013 - 11:40 AM

link

Writers are often asked, How do you write? With a processor? an electric typewriter? a quill? longhand? But the essential question is, "Have you found a space, that empty space, which should surround you when you write? Into that space, which is like a form of listening, of attention, will come the words, the words your characters will speak, ideas ) inspiration.

If this writer cannot find this space, then poems and stories may be stillborn.

When writers talk to each other, what they ask each other is always to do with this space, this other time. "Have you found it? Are you holding it fast?"


Ellen




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