The golden notebook

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The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing, 1962

I- Author

Doris May Taylor was born in Persia (Iran) in 1919. Her father was a World War I survivor and a bank clerk and her mother a nurse, both were British. In 1925, her family moved to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) to cultivate maize but this venture proved to be unsuccessful. Meanwhile, her mother intended to give her a strict education, which Dorisresented. Instead she found comfort in the surrounding nature with her brother, Harry. She was then sent to the Dominican Convent High School in Salisbury (Harare), a religious all-girls school, but fled at the age of 13. This was the end of her formal education. Because of the difficult relationship she had with her mother, she left her home at the age of 15 and became a nursemaid. At the age of 19,while she was working as a phone operator in Salisbury, she married her first husband, Frank Wisdom. They had two children and divorced in 1943. She then joined a communist book club, the Left Book Club, where she encountered Gottfried Lessing, her second husband, with whom she had a boy. They divorced in 1949 and she fled to London with her youngest child to pursue her writing career. Shepublished her first successful novel the same year, titled The Grass Is Singing. Her career can be divided into three phases: the Communist one (1944-1946) where she dealt with social issues, the psychological one (1956-1969) which produced The Golden Notebook and was an exploration of the human mind, and finally the science fiction one which was quite unpopular. However most of her writings remainautobiographical with the themes of Africa, childhood, politics, social matters, culture, racism and individualism. She won the Nobel Prize of Literature in 2007, amongst many other prizes. Alfred and Emily, her most recent novel, is said to be her very last book by the author herself.

II- Summary

The Golden Notebook deals with the life of a writer, Anna Wulf, in relation with her daughter Janet,her friend Molly, and their lovers, exes and other relatives. Mother and daughter live in a flat where Anna rents two rooms, not looking for an additional income but to fill the void created by her loneliness. In a daring narrative style, the writer tells us about her life in five sections of the novel. In the first section, entitled “Free Women”, she depicts current events and therefore heractual life is the only form of traditional novel in the book. The remaining sections are her four notebooks: the black one deals with her experiences in Africa and her new way of life as the author of one best-seller inspired by those experiences, The Frontiers of War; in the red one she writes about her involvement in the communist party, her disillusionment in the latter and her newfound orientationtowards socialism; the yellow notebook contains a manuscript for a potential new novel, The Shadow of the Third, where she depicts the life of an author, Ella, her fictionalized self; finally, the blue notebook is Anna’s personal diary, in which she expresses her fears and her emotions regarding family issues. Each section appears four times in the book. Therefore, the “Golden Notebook” is anattempt for the author to tie all the parts of her life which are divided and are leading her to insanity. Going over the various experiences in her life through different angles, she notices her disillusionment with communism and her grim feelings, consequence of her own sexual betrayal and the emotional rejection from her lovers. Partly autobiographical, this novel is an interesting insight onthemes such as Stalinism, communism, work, sex, love and maternity seen through the eyes of a woman.

III- Characters

• Anna Wulf: 40 year-old author, single mom to Janet, Molly’s friend.
She is the main character and the sole author of the notebooks. We learn that she lived in Africa during the Cold War where she had an unsuccessful marriage with one of her communist colleagues,...
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