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Doris Lessing

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Doris Lessing in the LRB on ‘unwritten novels’, 11 January 1990:

I first began to brood about unwritten novels in the late Fifties, after the Twentieth Congress. (Everyone over a certain age will know what I mean: youngsters, even the politically minded, ask, what was that?) I knew I had lived through an extraordinary time, but now it was over. What had ended was a political atmosphere – and this is always impossible to describe to later people, who are living in a different, equally compelling atmosphere, nearly always inimical to the first. (In the last few weeks we have seen a similar sudden change, one that no one foresaw, and the way we all thought so recently will rapidly seem improbable. Young ones are already asking their elders: ‘How was it possible you did that?’)

And Hilary Mantel on Lessing’s memoir, Under My Skin, 22 December 1994:

When Doris Lessing writes about her early life she writes with a painful and vivid exactness; it is not often that the helpless, bottled rage of childhood and adolescence is so clearly re-imagined and represented. But she writes with discrimination, with an awareness of context, setting the personal clearly against the general. What made her mother, her father? The war made them. It made the ‘dark grey cloud, like poisoned gas’, that hovered over her childhood. It made the society she grew up in. Her father could not bear post-war England, and arranged for his employer, a bank, to post him to Persia. From those early days she can piece together a few fragments. She rode on horseback, held before her father, the harness that strapped his false leg to his body digging into her back. Adults undressed for a swimming party, their white slapping flesh suddenly and shockingly exposed; there was the smell of cold, and dead leaves on the water. But then, after a spell in ‘wet, dark, dirty, graceless England’, came their emigration to Southern Rhodesia, which gave her the bush for a nursery, gave light and air to the writer growing inside.

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