A Nobel Element

She was not impressed.

After all, this Nobel Element is NOT a real Noble Element.  Even though this medal is of that metal.

Gold is a Noble Element


Oh Christ!… I couldn’t care less.”

It was the first reaction to when a reporter told her that she had won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

I’m 88 years old and they can’t give the Nobel to someone who’s dead, so I think they were probably thinking they’d probably better give it to me now before I’ve popped off.”

Small things amuse small minds.
–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 with books

In Memoriam

Doris May Lessing, Healer Idealist, (née Tayler); born, 22nd October 1919 – and died, 17th November 2013.

A  novelist, poet, playwright, librettist, biographer and short story writer. Her novels included The Grass is Singing (1950), the sequence of five novels collectively called Children of Violence (1952–69), The Golden Notebook (1962), The Good Terrorist (1985), and five novels collectively known as Canopus in Argos: Archives (1979–1983).

In awarding Lessing the 2007 the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Swedish Academy described her as “that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny”.

doris at window

“Do you know what people really want? Everyone, I mean. Everybody in the world is thinking: I wish there was just one other person I could really talk to, who could really understand me, who’d be kind to me. That’s what people really want, if they’re telling the truth.”    
―     [Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook.   

Doris Lessing was born in Iran to British parents and grew up in Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

doris family

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 home life was one intent of raising a ‘proper daughter’, an enforced  rigid system of rules and hygiene, with Doris eventually sent to a  convent school, where the children were terrified  with stories of hell and damnation.  Lessing was later then enrolled at 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.

“It may be that Healers seek unity within themselves, and between themselves and others, because of a feeling of alienation which comes from their often unhappy childhood. Healers live a fantasy-filled childhood, which, sadly, is discouraged or even punished by many parents.”

[David Keirsey,  Please Understand Me II]

doris and cat

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.    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.” With that unhappy child, Lessing would run away from time to time, and became paranoid about her weight, deciding to eat nothing but a diet of peanut butter and tomatoes. Doris finally left home for good at fifteen, finding work where she could, all the time continuing her reading and learning, devouring books from politics to sociology.

doris sitting on stepand hands

Healers have a profound sense of idealism that comes from a strong personal sense of right and wrong. They conceive of the world as an ethical, honorable place, full of wondrous possibilities and potential goods. In fact, to understand Healers, we must understand that their deep commitment to the positive and the good is almost boundless and selfless, inspiring them to make extraordinary sacrifices for someone or something they believe in. Set off from the rest of humanity by their privacy and scarcity, Healers can often feel even more isolated in the purity of their idealism. [Please Understand Me II]

doris quote any human anywhere

“Lessing disliked being pigeon-holed like this, insisting it was the whole of the human condition not just a part that fired her imagination.”

doris quote learning

During that time also Doris began to write, “in a fever of erotic longing,” indulging in elaborate romantic fantasies, she would write the stories, and eventually sold two to magazines in South Africa.

Lessing was determined to fight the 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.”

doris book under my skin

By 1937 Doris, now 19, was living in Salisbury and working as a telephone operator for a year.  Meeting Frank Wisdom, a civil servant 10 years her senior  she married him with two children following quickly.  Just a few years later, feeling trapped in a persona that she feared would destroy her, (she called, the ‘Himalayas of tedium’ of young motherhood) she left her family, but remained in Salisbury.  Becoming 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.

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.

doris sitting on step

Healers find it difficult to believe in themselves and to trust themselves. Deeply committed to the positive and the good, yet taught to believe there is evil in them, they can come to develop a certain fascination with the problem of good and evil, sacred and profane. They are drawn toward purity, but can become engrossed with sin, continuously on the lookout for the wickedness that lurks within them. Then, when they believe they have yielded to an impure temptation, they may be given to acts of self-sacrifice in atonement. Others seldom detect this inner turmoil, however, for the struggle between good and evil is within the Healer, who does not feel compelled to make the issue public.

[David Keirsey,  Please Understand Me II]

doris thoughtful

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.”

doris TGN

The Golden Notebook as well as the couple books that followed it, enters the realm what has called Lessing’s “inner space fiction.”  Her work that explores mental and societal breakdown. The book contains a powerful anti-war and anti-Stalinist message, an extended analysis of communism and the Communist Party in England from the 1930s to the 1950s, and a famed examination of the budding sexual and women’s liberation movements. Lessing explores the inner life of Anna Wulf, and what   it means to be intelligent, frustrated and female. It starts from the   assumption that the lives of women are intimately connected to the accounts   of themselves that society allows them to give. This insight moulds the form  of the novel itself, with Anna’s life being divided into different-coloured   notebooks: black for writing, red for politics, blue for the everyday, and   yellow for her feelings. The ‘golden notebook’ represents what Anna aspires   to – the moment that will bring all her diverse selves into one whole.

During the postwar years, Lessing became increasingly disillusioned with the Communist movement, which she left altogether around 1956 — the year of Khrushchev’s speech to the 20th Congress, the one in which he denounced Stalin, and the Soviet Union invaded Hungary. Communists, she now believes, are ‘murderers with a clear conscience’. But it took her a long time to get there. ‘Yes I called Marxism “the sweetest dream” in one of my books. Then I discovered it was all a load of old socks. It seems incredible now that quite intelligent people believed in it all. What doubts there were were expressed in sly jokes. The jokes contradicted everything we believed in. We used to joke about how we were wrong about everything.’

Her younger son, Peter, whom she cared for through years of illness, died three weeks ago.

The biographer Michael Holroyd, her friend and executor, said her contribution to literature was “outstandingly rich and innovative”. He called her themes “universal and international … They 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 civilisation. 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.”

The American author Joyce Carol Oates said: “It might be said of Doris Lessing, as Walt Whitman boasted of himself: I am vast, I contain multitudes. For many, Lessing was a revolutionary feminist voice in 20th-century literature – though she resisted such categorisation, quite vehemently…..

From Carl Roger’s, ‘On Becoming a Person’, he describes the Idealist’s search for Self with remarkable insight:

Becoming a Person means that the individual moves toward being, knowingly and acceptingly, the process which he inwardly and actually is. He moves away from being what he is not, from being a façade. He is not trying to be more than he is, with the attendant feelings of insecurity or bombastic defensiveness. He is not trying to be less than he is, with the attendant feelings of guilt or self-depreciation. He is increasingly listening to the deepest recesses of his psychological and emotional being, and finds himself increasingly willing to be, with greater accuracy and depth, that self which he most truly is.

[Keirsey, David  Please Understand Me II ]


openquoteThink wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself.closedquote — Doris Lessing

openquoteThings are not quite so simple always as black and white.closedquote — Doris Lessing

4 thoughts on “A Nobel Element

  1. auguries8 November 18, 2013 / 10:59 am

    Reblogged this on auguries14 and commented:
    A Nobel Element-Keirsey Blog, Doris Lessing. writer and Idealist.


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