Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing Dies at 94

November 18, 2013

Doris Lessing

Doris Lessing, Nobel laureate and author of The Golden Notebook, died peacefully in her London home at the age of 94. In 2007 Ms. Lessing became the eleventh woman and oldest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for literature. The Swedish Academy called Lessing “that epicist of the female experience, who with skepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilization to scrutiny.” Always a controversial figure, Ms. Lessing said about winning the Nobel, “I could care less.” Her body of work, including over fifty novels, short stories, poems, plays, and biographies, tackles complex subject matter such as relationships between the sexes, racial injustices, and the social inadequacies of her time. Her biographer, friend, and executor, Michael Holroyd said her work was “Universal and international. [Her themes] ranged from the problems of post-colonial Africa to the politics of nuclear power, the emergence of a new woman's voice and the spiritual dimensions of 20th-century civilization. Few writers have as broad a range of subject and sympathy. She is one of those rare writers whose work crosses frontiers, and her impressively large output constitutes a chronicle of our time. She has enlarged the territory both of the novel and of our consciousness."

Her first novel, published in 1950, The Grass Is Singing was set in Zimbabwe and adapted into a screenplay, released in 1981 as the movie Killing Heat. The Golden Notebook, her best-known work, was released in 1962 and explored the inner workings of women unfettered by marriage, delving into their relationships with concepts such as motherhood, profession, and sex. There are also undercurrents of political themes regarding communism and anti-war sentiments. The book’s structure consists of a conventional novel and a series of color-coded journals kept by the protagonist, Anna Wulf, an author struggling with writer’s block. Ms. Lessing also branched out into science fiction with her Canopus in Argus series, which was received with mixed reviews. Her last novel, Alfred and Emily, published in 2008, served as part fiction and part memoir, recounting the lives of her parents in Southern Rhodesia and the impact World War I had on their family.

Born Doris May Taylor on October 22, 1919 in Iran, she moved to Zimbabwe with her family at a young age. She went to a catholic school until the age of 14. At 15 she left home, from which time she was self-educated. The majority of her life was spent in England. She had two children, John and Jean, with her first husband Frank Wisdom. She had one son, Peter, with her second husband Gottfried Lessing. After her divorce from Lessing, she did not remarry. As is reflected in her work, she traversed many spiritual and political beliefs ranging from Catholicism to Atheism, including at times Sufism and Communism. Survived by her daughter, Jean Cowen, and two grand daughters, her son John Wisdom died in 1992.  Her other son Peter reportedly died three weeks ago. Charlie Redmayne, chief executive of her UK publisher said, "Doris Lessing was one of the great writers of our age. She was a compelling storyteller with a fierce intellect and a warm heart who was not afraid to fight for what she believed in.”

Go here for a compilation of some of Lessing’s best and most inspiring quotes, including: “Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.”

Sources: The Guardian & The New York Times

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