Doris Lessing may have been — but for her acceptance of the Nobel Prize — the first of the feminist breed for whose existence Virginia Woolf called in *Three Guineas*. The non-secessionist outsider.
I never loved the *Golden Notebooks*. As someone who had from my childhood in Africa been there and done that it was no big woop. I have to think more about Lessing as an African, an Africanist, and an Afro-futurist.
A much greater book, *The Four-Gated City*, has immortal passages, not least of Martha Quest walking for days through Blitz-cratered London, one of the 20th century’s number one *flaneuses*, a woman seeing the city. Check out Deborah Parsons’ important book on this matter.
*The Four Gated City* is the only book I can think of, with Dickens right up there at the top, which actually gets down to what the virtue of money is. One of the protagonists is a rich schizophrenic. In those days the treatment was some lobotomizing drug like Lithium. The rich schizophrenic has the wherewithal to reject Lithium, go home to a safe and well-equipped basement apartment in the family home, in a safe neighborhood, with servants, and stay there, going over the walls with her fingertips, until the fearful tempest has passed. Martha Quest stays with her and takes care of her. In this way, the rich schizophrenic is not a vegetable all the time, but can continue with a life of the mind and maternal affections when she is not ill. That is the value of money — and it presumably exists in village or community life even when there is no money, and a superfluity of unmarried women at home, if not precisely servants. This scene speaks directly to one small political aspect of Foucault’s indictment of mental health practice — Lithium is brain police for the poor.
Lessing’s third great contribution to civilization was frankly telling it like it is about motherhood and abandoning her two little children, just as her mother had spent Lessing’s own childhood telling her what a burden it was. Yep.
The science fiction was, perhaps, a mistake unless you think of it more as unmedicated Sun Ra Afro-futurist riffs. Did she deserve the Nobel? I think perhaps not. But I would have given it to her just for saying motherhood is too hard, spiritually deceptive, and not as important as the patriarchs want you to believe.