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Doris Lessing (The Nobel Prize in Literature 2007)

Doris Lessing
 The Nobel Prize in Literature 2007 was awarded to Doris Lessing "that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny".

Doris Lessing   Biography

Any human anywhere will blossom in a hundred unexpected talents and capacities simply by being given the opportunity to do so."

Doris Lessing was born Doris May Tayler in Persia (now Iran) on October 22, n. Both of her parents were British: her father, who had been crippled in World War I, was a clerk in the Imperial Bank of Persia; her mother had been a nurse. In 1925, lured by the promise of getting rich through maize farming, the family moved to the British colony in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Doris's mother adapted to the rough life in the settlement, energetically trying to reproduce what was, in her view, a civilized, Edwardian life among savages; but her father did not, and the thousand-odd acres of bush he had bought failed to yield the promised wealth

This world is run by people who know how to do things. They know how things work. They are equipped. Up there, there's a layer of people who run everything. But we - we're just peasants. We don't understand what's going on, and we can't do anything.
Doris Lessing

Lessing has described her childhood as an uneven mix of some pleasure and much pain. The natural world, which she explored with her brother, Harry, was one retreat from an otherwise miserable existence. Her mother, obsessed with raising a proper daughter, enforced a rigid system of rules and hygiene at home, then installed Doris in a convent school, where nuns terrified their charges with stories of hell and damnation. Lessing was later sent to an all-girls high school in the capital of Salisbury, from which she soon dropped out. She was thirteen; and it was the end of her formal education.
But like other women writers from southern African who did not graduate from high school (such as Olive Schreiner and Nadine Gordimer), Lessing made herself into a self-educated intellectual. She recently commented that unhappy childhoods seem to produce fiction writers. "Yes, I think that is true. Though it wasn't apparent to me then. Of course, I wasn't thinking in terms of being a writer then - I was just thinking about how to escape, all the time." The parcels of books ordered from London fed her imagination, laying out other worlds to escape into. Lessing's early reading included Dickens, Scott, Stevenson, Kipling; later she discovered D.H. Lawrence, Stendhal, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky. Bedtime stories also nurtured her youth: her mother told them to the children and Doris herself kept her younger brother awake, spinning out tales. Doris's early years were also spent absorbing her fathers bitter memories of World War I, taking them in as a kind of "poison." "We are all of us made by war," Lessing has written, "twisted and warped by war, but we seem to forget it."
In flight from her mother, Lessing left home when she was fifteen and took a job as a nursemaid. Her employer gave her books on politics and sociology to read, while his brother-in-law crept into her bed at night and gave her inept kisses. During that time she was, Lessing has written, "in a fever of erotic longing." Frustrated by her backward suitor, she indulged in elaborate romantic fantasies. She was also writing stories, and sold two to magazines in South Africa.
Lessing's life has been a challenge to her belief that people cannot resist the currents of their time, as she fought against the biological and cultural imperatives that fated her to sink without a murmur into marriage and motherhood. "There is a whole generation of women," she has said, speaking of her mother's era, "and it was as if their lives came to a stop when they had children. Most of them got pretty neurotic - because, I think, of the contrast between what they were taught at school they were capable of being and what actually happened to them." Lessing believes that she was freer than most people because she became a writer. For her, writing is a process of "setting at a distance," taking the "raw, the individual, the uncriticized, the unexamined, into the realm of the general."
In 1937 she moved to Salisbury, where she worked as a telephone operator for a year. At nineteen, she married Frank Wisdom, and had two children. A few years later, feeling trapped in a persona that she feared would destroy her, she left her family, remaining in Salisbury. Soon she was drawn to the like-minded members of the Left Book Club, a group of Communists "who read everything, and who did not think it remarkable to read." Gottfried Lessing was a central member of the group; shortly after she joined, they married and had a son.
During the postwar years, Lessing became increasingly disillusioned with the Communist movement, which she left altogether in 1954. By 1949, Lessing had moved to London with her young son. That year, she also published her first novel, The Grass Is Singing, and began her career as a professional writer.
Lessing's fiction is deeply autobiographical, much of it emerging out of her experiences in Africa. Drawing upon her childhood memories and her serious engagement with politics and social concerns, Lessing has written about the clash of cultures, the gross injustices of racial inequality, the struggle among opposing elements within an individuals own personality, and the conflict between the individual conscience and the collective good. Her stories and novellas set in Africa, published during the fifties and early sixties, decry the dispossession of black Africans by white colonials, and expose the sterility of the white culture in southern Africa. In 1956, in response to Lessing's courageous outspokenness, she was declared a prohibited alien in both Southern Rhodesia and South Africa.
Over the years, Lessing has attempted to accommodate what she admires in the novels of the nineteenth century - their "climate of ethical judgement" - to the demands of twentieth-century ideas about consciousness and time. After writing the Children of Violence series (1951-1959), a formally conventional bildungsroman (novel of education) about the growth in consciousness of her heroine, Martha Quest, Lessing broke new ground with The Golden Notebook (1962), a daring narrative experiment, in which the multiple selves of a contemporary woman are rendered in astonishing depth and detail. Anna Wulf, like Lessing herself, strives for ruthless honesty as she aims to free herself from the chaos, emotional numbness, and hypocrisy afflicting her generation.
Attacked for being "unfeminine" in her depiction of female anger and aggression, Lessing responded, "Apparently what many women were thinking, feeling, experiencing came as a great surprise." As at least one early critic noticed, Anna Wulf "tries to live with the freedom of a man" - a point Lessing seems to confirm: "These attitudes in male writers were taken for granted, accepted as sound philosophical bases, as quite normal, certainly not as woman-hating, aggressive, or neurotic 
In the 1970s and 1980s, Lessing began to explore more fully the quasi-mystical insight Anna Wulf seems to reach by the end of The Golden Notebook. Her "inner-space fiction" deals with cosmic fantasies (Briefing for a Descent into Hell, 1971), dreamscapes and other dimensions (Memoirs of a Survivor, 1974), and science fiction probings of higher planes of existence (Canopus in Argos: Archives, 1979-1983). These reflect Lessing's interest, since the 1960s, in Idries Shah, whose writings on Sufi mysticism stress the evolution of consciousness and the belief that individual liberation can come about only if people understand the link between their own fates and the fate of society.
Lessing's other novels include The Good Terrorist (1985) and The Fifth Child (1988); she also published two novels under the pseudonym Jane Somers (The Diary of a Good Neighbour, 1983 and If the Old Could..., 1984). In addition, she has written several nonfiction works, including books about cats, a love since childhood. Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949 appeared in 1995 and received the James Tait Black Prize for best biography.
Addenda (by Jan Hanford)
In June 1995 she received an Honorary Degree from Harvard University. Also in 1995, she visited South Africa to see her daughter and grandchildren, and to promote her autobiography. It was her first visit since being forcibly removed in 1956 for her political views. Ironically, she is welcomed now as a writer acclaimed for the very topics for which she was banished 40 years ago.
She collaborated with illustrator Charlie Adlard to create the unique and unusual graphic novel, Playing the Game. After being out of print in the U.S. for more than 30 years, Going Home and In Pursuit of the English were republished by HarperCollins in 1996. These two fascinating and important books give rare insight into Mrs. Lessing's personality, life and views.
I don't know much about creative writing programs. But they're not telling the truth if they don't teach, one, that writing is hard work, and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer.
Doris Lessing

In 1996, her first novel in 7 years, Love Again, was published by HarperCollins. She did not make any personal appearances to promote the book. In an interview she describes the frustration she felt during a 14-week worldwide tour to promote her autobiography: "I told my publishers it would be far more useful for everyone if I stayed at home, writing another book. But they wouldn't listen. This time round I stamped my little foot and said I would not move from my house and would do only one interview." And the honors keep on coming: she was on the list of nominees for the Nobel Prize for Literature and Britain's Writer's Guild Award for Fiction in 1996.
Late in the year, HarperCollins published Play with A Tiger and Other Plays, a compilation of 3 of her plays: Play with a Tiger, The Singing Door and Each His Own Wilderness. In an unexplained move, HarperCollins only published this volume in the U.K. and it is not available in the U.S., to the disappointment of her North American readers.
In 1997 she collaborated with Philip Glass for the second time, providing the libretto for the opera "The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five" which premiered in Heidelberg, Germany in May. Walking in the Shade, the anxiously awaited second volume of her autobiography, was published in October and was nominated for the 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award in the biography/autobiography category. This volume documents her arrival in England in 1949 and takes us up to the publication of The Golden Notebook. This is the final volume of her autobiography, she will not be writing a third volume.

" If birds still cried on the shore,
If there were horses galloping all night,
Love, I could turn to you and say
Make up the bed,
Put fire to the lamp.
All night long we would lie and hear
The waves beat in, beat in
If there were still birds on the dunes,
If horses still ran wild along the shore"
Her new novel, titled "Mara and Dann", was been published in the U.S in January 1999 and in the U.K. in April 1999. In an interview in the London Daily Telegraph she said, "I adore writing it. I'll be so sad when it's finished. It's freed my mind." 1999 also saw her first experience on-line, with a chat at Barnes & Noble (transcript). In May 1999 she will be presented with the XI Annual International Catalunya Award, an award by the government of Catalunya.
December 31 1999: In the U.K.'s last Honours List before the new Millennium, Doris Lessing was appointed a Companion of Honour, an exclusive order for those who have done "conspicuous national service." She revealed she had turned down the offer of becoming a Dame of the British Empire because there is no British Empire. Being a Companion of Honour, she explained, means "you're not called anything - and it's not demanding. I like that". Being a Dame was "a bit pantomimey". The list was selected by the Labor Party government to honor people in all walks of life for their contributions to their professions and to charity. It was officially bestowed by Queen Elizabeth II.
In January, 2000 the National Portrait Gallery in London unveiled Leonard McComb's portrait of Doris Lessing.
Ben, in the World, the sequel to The Fifth Child was published in Spring 2000 (U.K.) and Summer 2000 (U.S.).
In 2001 she was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize in Literature, one of Spain's most important distinctions, for her brilliant literary works in defense of freedom and Third World causes. She also received the David Cohen British Literature Prize.
The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven't changed in seventy or eighty years. Your body changes, but you don't change at all. And that, of course, causes great confusion.
Doris Lessing
She was on the shortlist for the first Man Booker International Prize in 2005. In 2007 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Her most recent novel is Alfred and Emily. She has announced it is her final book.
Doris Lessing  Books
•  1950
•           The Grass is Singing.
•  1951
•           This Was the Old Chief's Country.
•  1952
•           Martha Quest Children of Violence.
•  1953
•           Five.
•  1954
•           A Proper Marriage.
•  1957
•           Going Home.
•           The Habit of Loving.
•  1958
•           A Ripple from the Storm.
•  1959
•           Fourteen Poems.
•           Each His Own Wilderness.
•  1960
•           In Pursuit of the English.
•  1961
•           The Golden Notebook.
•           Play with a Tiger.
•  1963
•           A Man and Two Women.
•  1964
•           African Stories.
•  1965
•           Landlocked Children of Violence.
•  1966
•           The Black Madonna.
•           Winter in July.
•  1967
•           Particularly Cats.
•  1969
•           The Four-Gated City Children of Violence.
•  1971
•           Briefing for a Descent into Hell.
•  1972
•           The Story of a Non-Marrying Man.
•  1973
•           This Was the Old Chief's Country Collected African Stories-Volume One.
•           The Sun Between Their Feet Collected African Stories-Volume Two.
•           The Summer Before the Dark.
•  1974
•           The Memoirs of A Survivor.
•  1978
•           To Room Nineteen Collected Stories Volume One.
•           The Temptation of Jack Orkney Collected Stories Volume Two.
•  1979
•           Shikasta Re: Colonised Planet 5 - Canopus In Argos: Archives.
•  1980
•           The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five Canopus in Argos: Archives.
•  1980
•           The Sirian Experiments Canopus in Argos: Archives.
•  1982
•           The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 Canopus in Argos: Archives.
•  1983
•           The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire Canopus in Argos: Archives.
•           The Diary of a Good Neighbour by Jane Somers.
•  1984
•           If the Old Could by Jane Somers.
•           The Diaries of Jane Somers.
•  1985
•           The Good Terrorist.
•  1987
•           Prisons We Choose to Live Inside.
•           The Wind Blows Away Our Words.
•  1988
•           The Fifth Child.
•  1989
•           The Doris Lessing Reader.
•           Particularly Cats and More Cats.
•  1992
•           London Observed.
•           African Laughter four visits to Zimbabwe.
•  1993
•           Particularly Cats and Rufus the Survivor.
•  1994
•           Shadows on the Wall of the Cave.
•           A Small Personal Voice - Essays, Reviews, Interviews.
•           Under My Skin Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949.
•  1995
•           Spies I Have Known and other stories.
•           Playing the Game Illustrated by Charlie Adlard.
•  1996
•           Love, Again.
•           Putting the Questions Differently edited by Earl G. Ingersoll.
•           The Pit.
•           Play with a Tiger and Other Plays.
•  1997
•           Walking in the Shade.
•  1999
•           Mara and Dann.
•           Problems, Myths and Stories.
•  2000
•           Ben, in the World.
•           The Old Age of El Magnifico.
•  2001
•           The Sweetest Dream.
•  2002
•           The Wolf People - INPOPA Anthology 2002.
•           On Cats.
•  2003
•           The Grandmothers.
•  2004
•           Time Bites.
•  2005
•           The Story of General Dann.
•  2007
•           The Cleft.
•  2008
•           Alfred and Emily.

Doris Lessing Awards
* 2007 The Nobel Prize for Literature.
•           2005 Shortlisted on the first Man Booker International Prize
•           2001 Awarded the 2001 Prince of Asturias Prize in Literature, one of Spain's most important distinctions, for her brilliant literary works in defense of freedom and Third World causes.
2001 Received Companion of Honour from the Royal Society of Literature
•           2001 Received the David Cohen British Literature Prize.
•           2000 Mara and Dann nominated for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
•           1999 Presented with the XI Annual International Catalunya Award, an award
•           1999 Appointed a Companion of Honour by Queen Elizabeth II.
•           1998 Nominated for the 1997 National Book Critics Circle Award in the biography/autobiography category for Walking in the Shade.
•           by the government of Catalunya.
•           1995 Received James Tait Black Prize for best biography for Under My Skin
•           1995 Received Honorary Degree from Harvard University.
•           1995 Under My Skin also received a Los Angeles Times Book Prize
•           1988 The Fifth Child received the Grinzane Cavour Prize in Italy and was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Award.
•           1987 The Palmero Prize and the Premio Internazionale Mondello.
•           1985 Shortlisted for the Booker Prize for The Good Terrorist.
•           1985 The W.H. Smith Literary Award and the Mondello Prize in Italy for The Good Terrorist
•           1982 German Federal Republic Shakespear Prize.
•           1982 Austrian State Prize for European Literature.
•           1981 Shortlisted for the Booker Prize for The Sirian Experiments.
•           1976 French Prix Medicis for Foreigners for The Golden Notebook
•           1971 Shortlisted for the Booker Prize for Briefing for a Descent into Hell.
•           1954 Somerset Maugham Award of the Society of Authors for Five: Short Novels

Doris Lessing Quotes

A simple grateful thought turned heavenwards is the most perfect prayer.

Doris Lessing

Any human anywhere will blossom in a hundred unexpected talents and capacities simply by being given the opportunity to do so.
Doris Lessing

Borrowing is not much better than begging; just as lending with interest is not much better than stealing.
Doris Lessing

For the last third of life there remains only work. It alone is always stimulating, rejuvenating, exciting and satisfying.
Doris Lessing

I don't know much about creative writing programs. But they're not telling the truth if they don't teach, one, that writing is hard work, and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer.
Doris Lessing

If a fish is the movement of water embodied, given shape, then cat is a diagram and pattern of subtle air.
Doris Lessing

In the writing process, the more a story cooks, the better.
Doris Lessing

In university they don't tell you that the greater part of the law is learning to tolerate fools.
Doris Lessing

It is terrible to destroy a person's picture of himself in the interests of truth or some other abstraction.
Doris Lessing

It is the mark of great people to treat trifles as trifles and important matters as important.
Doris Lessing

Literature is analysis after the event.
Doris Lessing

Man, who is he? Too bad, to be the work of God: Too good for the work of chance!
Doris Lessing

Pearls mean tears.
Doris Lessing

Pleasure resorts are like film stars and royalty... embarrassed by the figures they cut in the fantasies of people who have never met them.
Doris Lessing

Small things amuse small minds.
Doris Lessing

Some people obtain fame, others deserve it.
Doris Lessing

Space or science fiction has become a dialect for our time.
Doris Lessing

That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you've understood all your life, but in a new way.
Doris Lessing

There is only one real sin and that is to persuade oneself that the second best is anything but second best.
Doris Lessing

Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself.
Doris Lessing

Trust no friend without faults, and love a woman, but no angel.
Doris Lessing

We use our parents like recurring dreams, to be entered into when needed.
Doris Lessing

What is a hero without love for mankind.
Doris Lessing

What's terrible is to pretend that second-rate is first-rate. To pretend that you don't need love when you do; or you like your work when you know quite well you're capable of better.
Doris Lessing

With a library you are free, not confined by temporary political climates. It is the most democratic of institutions because no one - but no one at all - can tell you what to read and when and how.
Doris Lessing

You can't be a Red if you're married to a civil servant.
Doris Lessing
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