Thursday, October 11, 2007

Doris Lessing, Come On Down!

This year's Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Doris Lessing, swelling the list of accomplishments for people who never finished high school.

In addition to a great photo of Lessing reacting to the news while sitting on her front porch, the New York Times mentioned this in passing:
At 19, she married and had two children. A few years later, feeling imprisoned, she abandoned her family. She later married Gottfried Lessing, a central member of the Left Book Club, a left wing organization, and they had a son together.
Lessing is respected for the feminist concerns in her writing, but this brought me up a bit short. She was a very young person, and I'm not one to judge other people's lives too harshly, but certainly no man's abandonment of children would be so blithely explained by his "feeling imprisoned." So I was glad to find that Dwight Garner, in a posting on Paper Cuts, a Times blog, printed this excerpt of an interview he conducted with Lessing in 1997:
Were you surprised at the criticism you received after writing, in your first [memoir], about leaving the kids from your first marriage behind you?

Of course I wasn't surprised. The thing was that this was a terrible thing to do, but I had to do it because I have no doubt whatsoever if I had not done it, I would have become an alcoholic or ended in the loony bin. I couldn't stand that life. I just couldn't bear it. It's this business of giving all the time, day and night, trying to conform to something you hate. Nobody can do it without going crazy. My husband was a civil servant who became increasingly high in the ranks. He couldn't afford a wife who had [radical ideas]. I wouldn't have lasted. I became friends with the kids later, and the grandkids, and so on. I'm not pretending that anything terrible didn't happen.
That seems like a more appropriately complicated take on it.

Congrats to Lessing for winning the award, and condolences to anyone who wagered on Philip Roth. There's always next year.


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