On this date in 1919, novelist Doris Lessing (nee Doris May Tayler) was born in Persia (now Iran) to British parents. She moved with them to the British colony of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1925. Doris’ childhood, a mixture of idyllic and difficult, ended prematurely when she was sent to a convent school, where she was terrified by the nuns and their tales of sin and damnation, according to a Reader’s Guide to The Golden Notebook and Under My Skin (1995). A temporary attraction to Roman Catholic ritual was dispelled when her mother described the horrors of the Inquisition, at which point Doris “quit religion,” according to literary critic John Leonard (cited in Who’s Who in Hell by Warren Allen Smith).
Doris’ formal education ended when she dropped out of an all-girls high school at age 13. She left home at 15, married at 19, and had two children before leaving her family. Doris later remarried and had a son with Gottfried Lessing. Her first novel, The Grass is Singing, was published in 1949, the year she moved to London with her son. Her famed “Children of Violence” series (1951-1959) features her heroine, Martha Quest, in a series of four coming of age novels.
In 1956, Lessing was named a “prohibited alien” by Southern Rhodesia and South Africa. The Golden Notebook (1962), with heroine Anna Wulf, was hailed as an early feminist classic. Her autobiographies were published in two volumes, Under My Skin, and Walking in the Shade (1997). She has also written a series of controversial science fiction books, and continues to write fiction.
In analyzing a human propensity to dogmatism, including her own previous communist conversion, Lessing has said: ”There are certain types of people who are political out of a kind of religious reason. I think it’s fairly common among socialists: They are, in fact, God-seekers, looking for the kingdom of God on earth . . . If you don’t believe in heaven, then you believe in socialism” (The New York Times, “Doris Lessing on Feminism, Communism and ‘Space Fiction’,” July 25, 1982). She was awarded the 2007 Nobel award for Literature. D. 2013
“You’d never believe, when I was young, we genuinely believed religious wars were over. We’d say, at least it’s impossible to have a religious war now. Can you believe that? . . . I’m so afraid of religion. Its capacity for murder is terrifying.”
—-Doris Lessing interview by Harvey Blume, Boston Book Review