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Doris Lessing

Interrogating the Times

Edited by Debrah Raschke, Phyllis Sternberg Perrakis, and Sandra Singer

Publication Year: 2010

Doris Lessing: Interrogating the Times wrestles with the ghosts that continue to haunt our most pressing twenty-first-century concerns: how to reconceive imprisoning conceptions of sexuality and gender, how to define terrorism, how to locate the personal, and how to write on race and colonialism in an ever-slippery postmodern world. This collection of essays clearly establishes Lessing’s importance as a unique and necessary voice in contemporary literature and life. In tracing the evolution in Lessing’s representations of controversial subjects, this volume shows how new cultural and political contexts demand new solutions. Focusing on Lessing’s experiments with genre and on the ramifications of narrative itself, the collection asks readers to reformulate some of their most taken-for-granted assumptions about the contemporary world and their relation to it. Contributors to Doris Lessing: Interrogating the Times assess Lessing’s vision of the past and its relevance for the future by revisiting texts from the beginning of her career onward while at the same time probing previous interpretations of these works. These reassessments reveal Lessing’s continued role as a gadfly who, in disrupting rigid constructions of right and wrong and of good and evil, forces her readers to move beyond “you are damned, we are saved” narratives. As rationales such as these continue to permeate global venues, Lessing’s oeuvre becomes increasingly relevant.

Published by: The Ohio State University Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi


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pp. vii-9


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pp. ix-11

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pp. 1-8

In the wake of Lessing’s winning the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature, a flurry of discussion began querying her relevance to the twenty-first century. Most notably, Harold Bloom notoriously told the Associated Press, “although Ms Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities...

Part One. Joining the Centuries: Lessing from the Twentieth to the Twenty-First Century

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pp. 9-21

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1. Notes for Proteus: Doris Lessing Reads the Zeitgeist

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pp. 11-31

In the early 1970s British novelist Margaret Drabble called Doris Lessing “Cassandra in a world under siege” for her uncanny ability to anticipate social and political trends well before they were recognized as part of the Zeitgeist.1 Four decades later, the observation still holds. One example of...

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2. “Anon,” “Free Women,” and the Pleasures of Impersonality

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pp. 32-57

Doris Lessing, in her 1971 introduction to The Golden Notebook, famously resists the ways in which her novel was “belittled, by friendly reviewers as well as by hostile ones, as being about the sex war, or was claimed by women as a useful weapon in the sex war.”1 In the nearly forty years since she made...

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3. House/Mother: Lessing’s Reproduction of Realism in The Sweetest Dream

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pp. 58-74

A 1960s London household is anchored by a wise, empathetic maternal figure, inhabited by an intergenerational affinitive family of intellectuals and misfits, artists and politicos, washed by the successive tides of the Zeitgeist, rocked by revolutions in Africa and Europe. The great house is more than a...

Part Two. Engaging the Postmodern Death of History: Redefining Context and Historical Narrative

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pp. 75-87

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4, “What Is the Function of the Storyteller?”: The Relationship between Why and How Lessing Writes

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pp. 77-91

In an interview with Christopher Bigsby in 1980, Doris Lessing raises a crucial question: “why do we tell stories? What is the function of the storyteller?”1 She admits that it “is a thought that [she] can’t come to terms with.”2 It is a thought that Lessing has, however, tried to come to terms with...

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5. London and Kabul: Assessing the Politics of Terrorist Violence

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pp. 92-112

With the destruction of the Twin Towers, discussions related to terrorism have reverberated on global mass media outlets and moved to the forefront of academic discourse. It is in the context of this debate about contemporary (new-millennial) political violence that it is timely to reread and question...

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6. The Porous Border between Fact and Fiction, Empathy and Identification in Doris Lessing’s The Cleft

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pp. 113-129

As she approaches the end of her ninth decade, Doris Lessing continues to search for new and appropriate forms to express her late-life creativity.1 Very often these forms are experimental and exploratory, involving the crossing of various kinds of boundaries, of genre, gender, and even of species...

Part Three. Destabilized Genre as Social Critique

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pp. 131-143

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7. love, again and The Sweetest Dream: Fiction and Interleaved Fictions

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pp. 133-148

My point of departure in discussion of love, again2 (a novel I have never much liked, much less enjoy) is the plaintive, yet accusatory comment in Doris Lessing’s Walking in the Shade, volume 2 of the autobiography, where she is engaged in her habitual gesture of swatting at critics as though they...

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8. Writing in a Minor Key: Doris Lessing’s Late-Twentieth-Century Fiction

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pp. 149-161

As we travel further into the twenty-first century, the effects of decolonization and globalization are felt in ever more complex and contradictory ways, and debates about “race,” nation, and ethnicity have become increasingly central. In the past (with some notable exceptions) readers and critics have...

Part Four. Reflections on Early, Midlife, and Later-Life Lessing

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pp. 163-175

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9. Domestic Spaces: Huts and Houses in Doris Lessing’s African Stories

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pp. 165-182

Doris Lessing’s African Stories, set in the 1930s, reflect a particular historical moment of colonialism in Zimbabwe. Lessing’s own early life can be seen as a microcosm of the settler life, in particular of the process of relocation and also dislocation that is inherent in colonialism. In this discussion of domestic...

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10. The Challenge of Teaching Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook in the Twenty-First Century

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pp. 183-201

Can one still teach Doris Lessing’s masterpiece, The Golden Notebook, at the beginning of the twenty-first century? Is Lessing’s work politically relevant (and meaningful) to an American student audience for whom the defining moment of adulthood was the tragedy of 9/11/01? And how can contemporary...

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11. Sex after Sixty: love, again and The Sweetest Dream

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pp. 202-210

Old women have always inhabited the fiction of Doris Lessing. They have existed around the edges, in the background, in fiction that portrays them through the eyes of a younger female protagonist to whom even middleaged mothers seem old and to whom the elderly are nearly invisible. Martha...


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pp. 211-223

Notes on Contributors

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pp. 225-227


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pp. 229-240

E-ISBN-13: 9780814270882
E-ISBN-10: 0814270883
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814211366
Print-ISBN-10: 0814211364

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 2 illustrations
Publication Year: 2010