Wednesday 17 January 2018

Doris Lessing was certainly a ground-breaking writer – but was she a failure as a mother?

There are many reasons to praise that remarkable writer, Doris Lessing, who died recently, aged 94 – who, by the way, smoked heavily for most of her long life. She won the Nobel Prize for literature, and yet she left school at the age of 14 – and she always remained proud about that. She wrote a book which was considered 'a bible for feminists' – 'The Golden Notebook' and she had also been a passionate and committed communist: but she never conformed to any form of political correctness.

Even as a communist, Doris Lessing deplored the fact that, as she wrote in an autobiography: "Stalin's deliberate mass murders are never condemned as Hitler's are, although Stalin's crimes are much more, both in number and in variety." She endorsed feminism but regretted that dogmatic views on "equality", and fears about sexual harassment, had put an end to, or at least greatly diminished, the kind of flirtation that she had much enjoyed as a young woman, back in the 1940s and '50s. She remained on the left, but also always remained pro-Israeli.

Her independence of mind was consistent: offered a Damehood of the British Empire, she rejected it on the grounds that "there is no British Empire", and if there was, she wouldn't approve of it – she had grown up in what was then southern Rhodesia.

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