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The Golden Notebook As A “Feminist Bible”

I’m a fan of Doris Lessing.

I’ve never read her work before The Golden Notebook—and I have to say that the book isn’t too bad—but I’m enjoying learning about her even more than reading her book.

She’s a fiery, independent spirit (as is obvious in her thoughts about how to select books to read). The characters in The Golden Notebook—mostly women—reflect that same spirit, and that’s why the book is a feminist favorite.

But Lessing wouldn’t really be independent if she attached herself to a movement or a group of people—isn’t that the antithesis of independence? And maybe that’s why Lessing has shrunk away from calling herself a feminist, or from labeling The Golden Notebook a “feminist Bible.”

This woman is awesome.

She had this to say about the subject in an article she wrote for The Guardian in 2007:

When I wrote The Golden Notebook it never occurred to me I was writing “a feminist bible”. The 60s feminists were not the first in the arena. “The Woman Question” dated from the 15th century. In communist circles in the 40s and 50s feminist issues were much discussed. But the second sentence of The Golden Notebook is: “‘The point is,’ said Anna, ‘as far as I can see, everything is cracking up.'” This is what I thought The Golden Notebook was about, as its “structure” said. Everything was cracking up, and by now it is easily seen that we live in a fast-fragmenting culture.

So I became “a feminist icon”. But what had I said in The Golden Notebook? That any kind of singlemindedness, narrowness, obsession, was bound to lead to mental disorder, if not madness.

That last sentence is thought-provoking, isn’t it?

“Any kind of singlemindedness, narrowness, obsessions was bound to lead to mental disorder, if not madness.”

I might be speaking too soon here, as I haven’t finished The Golden Notebook, but it seems to me that Doris Lessing is proposing a more balanced approach.

She illustrates what she views as the positive aspects of feminism, but she also warns against obsessing over it and approaching it, or anything, from a very narrow-minded viewpoint. That’s strong.

And what about this idea of The Golden Notebook as a feminist novel? Lessing pretty much disputes that point. In my preview of the book, Calum Campbell wrote in the comments that it’s a novel about the process of writing a novel, and that’s what I’m discovering more. It’s a fascinating book that really covers a lot of subjects–not in a Snow Crash kind of way, though–so I’m not sure why it’s considered such a feminist novel.

Anyway, I love this Doris Lessing. She’s 94 these days and living in London. Wonder if she’d do an interview?

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10 Comments Post a comment
  1. I would argue that feminism IS a more balanced approach, especially considering the domination of one sex for centuries. I guess that is just my brand of feminism, though. There are extremes in anything, but including half of the world’s population in public life seems pretty balanced to me. 🙂

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    March 12, 2013
  2. Perhaps Ms. Lessing wanted to be characterized as an author first? Any woman writing about any issue to do with women at the time was labeled feminist as a way to be dismissed by the larger male dominated society, You are a feminist first and an author second. So the corporate spin machine could say, “Well she is writing about that feminist stuff, so why should I read it, buy it?”

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    March 12, 2013
    • So true. If women write anything about issues that concern women they are labeled – feminist, girly, gender studies… Men write about issues that concern all of man kind.

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      March 13, 2013
    • Couldn’t have put it better myself. The subtle discrimination that comes from being considered a woman first and then an author is what she might have been trying to run from.

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      March 14, 2013
  3. Doris Lessing is quite amazing, and yes, her life is just as fascinating as her fiction – and, in my opinion, it provides a unique and valuable insight into what she writes. She’s been one of my long-standing favourite authors, one I return to invariably with the same pleasure. She wrote about being a woman, but both her outlook and her insight are much broader and not that easy to peg (or being dismissed) as ‘just another feminist playing at being a writer’. Have you read The Four Gated City? What about her (more openly) ‘science fiction’? The thing with Lessing is that her understanding and analyses of the world surrounding her are, at times, almost ‘prophetic’, and sometimes quite disconcerting…
    (p.s. Have you read Margaret Drabble?)

    Like

    March 12, 2013
  4. The Fifth Child was stunning, hard hitting. She has something to say about a wide range of social issues, but can bring them to the fore by engaging her audience with a superb writing style. I have been a fan for a long time.

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    March 12, 2013
    • I’ll have to look into that. Love her style.

      Like

      March 13, 2013
  5. Robert, I really enjoy the fact that you are not just reviewing individual books but delving into the lives of authors as well. You have illuminated Lessing for me, and I will pull her work off my bookshelves and give them higher priority. Thanks!

    Like

    March 17, 2013

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