Doris Lessing (Doris May Lessing), née Tayler) Biography
(1919– ), (Doris May Lessing), née Tayler), The Grass is Singing, Martha Quest, A Proper Marriage
British novelist and short-story writer, born in Persia of British parents who moved when she was five to a farm in Southern Rhodesia. She left school at 15 and worked as a nursemaid, then as a shorthand typist and telephone operator in Salisbury. After the break-up of her first marriage she became involved in radical politics. She remarried in 1945, but in 1949 left for England with her youngest child; soon afterwards she was declared a Prohibited Immigrant, and Barred from Rhodesia until the advent of black majority rule in 1980. Her first published novel, The Grass is Singing (1950), is the story of a white farmer's wife and her black servant, and the violent conclusion of their relationship; the novel presages Lessing's continuing fascination with misfits and madness and shows the psychological insight of her later work. Her quintet ‘Children of Violence’ (Martha Quest, 1952; A Proper Marriage, 1954; A Ripple in the Storm, 1958; Landlocked, 1965; and The Four-Gated City, 1969), traces the history of Martha Quest from her childhood in Rhodesia, through post-war Britain, to an apocalyptic ending in ad 2000. The Golden Notebook (1962), a lengthy and ambitious novel, was hailed as a landmark by the Women's Movement. In the 1970s Lessing experimented with science or ‘space fiction’, intrigued by the possibilities that genre affords for ‘seeing ourselves as others see us’. Briefing for a Descent into Hell (1971) features a classics professor confined to a psychiatric hospital, embarked on a visionary voyage to planet Earth. The Memoirs of a Survivor (1975) explores the breakdown of society after ‘it’, an unmentionable, catastrophic war. With the five volumes of Canopus in Argos: Archives (Re: Colonised Planet 5, Shikasta, 1979; The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five, 1980; The Sirian Experiments, 1981; The Making of a Representative for Planet 8, 1982; Documents Relating to the Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire, 1983), Lessing invents a whole universe. She returned to traditional realism with The Diary of a Good Neighbour (1983), which was submitted to her usual British publishers under the pseudonym Jane Somers, and rejected. When the novel was reissued with its sequel, If the Old Could (1984), in one volume bearing Lessing's own name (The Diaries of Jane Somers, 1984), both books were praised for their unflinching description of how it is to be old in contemporary Britain. The Summer Before the Dark (1973) deals with some of the same themes. Later novels include The Good Terrorist (1985), a disturbing portrayal of a young woman mothering a houseful of squatters and progressing from radical politics to terrorism; The Fifth Child (1988) about a couple who stake their happiness on breeding children only to lose all because Harriet refuses to reject her monstrous fifth child; and Love, Again (1996) about a woman who falls in love at the age of sixty-five. Lessing's many other works of fiction, non-fiction, and drama display her interest in politics, Sufism, and the changing destiny of women. Her range and versatility is demonstrated in her many other publications which include Collected Stories (2 volumes, 1978), Particularly Cats, and More Cats (1989; with paintings by Anne Robinson), London Observed: Stories and Sketches (1992), African Laughter: Four Visits to Zimbabwe (1992), and most notably Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949 (1994) which was considered by Hilary Mantel, to be ‘her greatest work of art’.