Doris May Lessing
Born: 22 October 1919, Kermanshah, Persia (now Bakhtaran, Iran)
Died: 17 November 2013, London, England, UK
Born Doris May Tayler, her father was bank clerk at Teheran for a couple of years, the family ten traveled through Russia and back to England for the 1924 British Empire Exhibition. Here her father was convinced that he could make good money growing maize (what Americans call sweet corn) in South Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). He bought a thousand acres there and the family moved in 1925. Doris went to the Dominican Convent High School at Salisbury (now Harare) through age 14, one day she was upset by the quality of the teaching and simply walked away. She worked as a nursemaid and telephone operator before her first marriage. She was involved in leftist politics, after having two kids and a divorce she joined a Communist book club and met her second husband, Gottfried Lessing. (Herr Lessing was later East German ambassador to Uganda and was murdered during the 1973 revolt against Idi Amin Dada.) By 1949 she had another child, another divorce, and her opposition to apartheid and nuclear arms led to her being banned from both Rhodesia and South Africa. She decamped for London and the start of her writing career in 1949. She wrote seventeen novels, a five-volume science fiction series, four books about cats, and quite a bit more. She had received all of the European awards for writing before she went to the grocers one day in October 2007, when she returned she found her porch surrounded by reporters looking for her comments on winning the Nobel Prize in Literature. She was more gracious later, but that day she said, “I can’t say I’m overwhelmed with surprise. I’m 88 years old and they can’t give the Nobel to someone who’s dead, so I think they were probably thinking they’d probably better give it to me now before I’ve popped off.” Lessing had a stroke in 1990 and stopped traveling, she died at her London home, no cause of death was released.
Doris Lessing quotes:
The Golden Notebook for some reason surprised people but it was no more than you would hear women say in their kitchens every day in any country…. I was really astounded that some people were shocked.
A foolhardy lot, we accepted it all, as we always do, never asked: “What is going to happen to us now, with this invention of print?” In the same way, we never thought to ask, “How will our lives, our way of thinking, be changed by the internet, which has seduced a whole generation with its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that, once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging etc?”
A simple grateful thought turned heavenwards is the most perfect prayer.
A woman without a man cannot meet a man, any man, of any age, without thinking, even if it’s for a half-second, ‘Perhaps this is THE man.’
All one’s life as a young woman one is on show, a focus of attention, people notice you. You set yourself up to be noticed and admired. And then, not expecting it, you become middle-aged and anonymous. No one notices you. You achieve a wonderful freedom. It’s a positive thing. You can move about unnoticed and invisible.
All political movements are like this — we are in the right, everyone else is in the wrong. The people on our own side who disagree with us are heretics, and they start becoming enemies. With it comes an absolute conviction of your own moral superiority. There’s oversimplification in everything, and a terror of flexibility.
Doris Lessing – “A Notorious Life” interview with Dwight Garner at Salon (11 November 1997)
All sanity depends on this: that it should be a delight to feel heat strike the skin, a delight to stand upright, knowing the bones moving easily under the flesh.
Any human anywhere will blossom in a hundred unexpected talents and capacities simply by being given the opportunity to do so.
As you get older, you don’t get wiser. You get irritable.
Borrowing is not much better than begging; just as lending with interest is not much better than stealing.
But there is no doubt that to attempt a novel of ideas is to give oneself a handicap: the parochialism of our culture is intense. For instance, decade after decade bright young men and women emerge from their universities able to say proudly: ‘Of course I know nothing about German literature.’ It is the mode. The Victorians knew everything about German literature, but were able with a clear conscience not to know much about the French.
Don’t read a book out of its right time for you.
Doris Lessing – Introduction to 1971 edition of The Golden Notebook (1962)
For my father, who used to sit, hour after hour, night after night, outside our house in Africa, watching the stars “Well,” he would say, “if we blow ourselves up, there’s plenty more where we came from!”
Doris Lessing – Shikasta (1979)
For she was of that generation who, having found nothing in religion, had formed themselves through literature.
Doris Lessing – A Proper Marriage (1954)
For the last third of life there remains only work. It alone is always stimulating, rejuvenating, exciting and satisfying.