Anna Wulf and Martha Quest

nancy_in_venice_ca Sunset 24 z10November 17, 2013

I woke up this morning to the news that Nobel Laureate author Doris Lessing had died at age 94.

I remember devouring her books after years of never having bothered to read any of her works even though I knew she was an important writer. The Golden Notebook, The Children of Violence series, Memoirs of a Survivor, Briefing for a Descent into Hell, and later, The Good Terrorist.

I still have not overcome my aversion to science fiction (my loss, I know) to read her Canopus in Argus series.

Rest in peace, Ms. Lessing.

BBC / Obituary: Doris Lessing

Guardian / Doris Lessing dies aged 94

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Nancy, I began my freshman writing course this semester with a short excerpt from a book she wrote about the lack of critical thinking in Western culture--âÂÂGroup Mindsâ is the excerptâÂÂs title. IâÂÂve read and taught her works for many years. So when I heard the news this morning, I knew that an important voice is lost to us. IâÂÂm not averse to science fiction but I have not read the Canopus in Argos series. I do read a lot of Ursula K. Le Guin, however, another remarkable female voice--and another philosopher/science fiction writer.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 7:21PM
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dublinbay z6 (KS)

Ah, The Golden Notebook was a very special experience in my earlier life.

I'm not a sci/fi fan either, but I'm glad writers like Doris Lessing and Ursula Le Guin have succeeded so well in a field dominated by male writers.

One of the great women writers of the 20th century.


    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 7:53PM
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nancy_in_venice_ca Sunset 24 z10

I do read a lot of Ursula K. Le Guin

I read the non science fiction collection of stories, The Compass Rose.

Besides missing great writing from Lessing and Le Guin, I'm also missing the writing of Octavia Butler. I'm embarrassed to say that I had never heard of her until she died some years ago.

Some day I'll delve into the genre -- as soon as the 'to read pile' diminishes. Dozens of book spines stare at me accusingly as I slink by on the way to the garden.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 8:37PM
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"Nancy, I began my freshman writing course this semester with a short excerpt from a book she wrote about the lack of critical thinking in Western culture--âÂÂGroup Mindsâ is the excerptâÂÂs title."

Interesting, Pidge... I'm not familiar with this author's works. When was this written of? Is this a recent writing, or older?

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 9:12PM
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Here is the whole piece, Jodi. The excerpt from it that I use does not included the political commentary, just the parts about how we think we are individual thinkers but generally succumb to group pressures.

I donâÂÂt know the date on which she gave this lecture, but itâÂÂs not new.

Here is a link that might be useful: group minds

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 7:37AM
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Kate, I only heard about Octavia Butler when I was looking for an African American woman writer for a course I was teaching and did not want to use Morrison or Walker for the umpteenth time. Fledgling was the novel suggested--a stunning read and not easy for students who like to think they are ultra-modern but have a lot of almost prudish beliefs.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 7:40AM
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dublinbay z6 (KS)

I'm like Nancy--Octavia Butler is one of those neglected books with the accusing spines that I slink by on my way to the garden. : ( SciFi fans think highly of her, however.

I'm more deeply into 19th century American women writers.


    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 9:08AM
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Thanks, Pidge. I just found it interesting that someone would write about that particular subject quite a bit prior to today...

Gosh, I feel so "literature dumb", like I should be so much more widely read in the classics, and so much more worldly in my knowledge of authors, and in many of the genre's often spoken about here...

Where does everyone find the time to devour so many books?! I read fast, but I can't seem to get through a chapter of anything without someone needing me to do something else! ;-)

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 10:34AM
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dublinbay z6 (KS)

Jodik, Virginia Woolf said a woman needs to get a room of her own, with a key, lock herself in--and throw the key away! Otherwise, her family will always be intruding on her space and time.

I would add that woman needs a spray can of "Guilt Away." Spray in a circle around you, and they will all stay away, respecting your space. : )


P.S. And there is more time for reading if you don't have an obsession with housecleaning.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 1:02PM
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Doris Lessing also wrote some seriously creepy stuff about cats. She is presented as a cat lover and I always think mercy, save us from love.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 3:56PM
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Doris Lessing is not a woman many of us would have been comfortable with and not all her perspectives were ones I could share. But she was a powerful and important 20th-century figure. The first work of hers that I read was her first novel, The Grass Is Singing, and I was hooked. I read other works through the lens of having been floored by her first novel, but it wasnâÂÂt always easy.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 4:55PM
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I read Doris Lessing's Martha Quest series (also known as the Children of Violence), followed by The Golden Notebook and I wanted to be that woman! I loved her. Then she veered into sci-fi and I also became interested in other things, so no more Doris for me. Then I think about another woman writer, whom I also enjoyed, who was braver than DL, and she is Nadine Gordimer, who has lived in South Africa for all her life, who became an international voice against apartheid through her many books (which were banned, like Lessing's, in SA and Rhodesia), and who won the Nobel Prize in the early 90s. She, unlike Lessing, did not leave Africa, even when she was in danger of being personally banned by the SA government. She stayed, and fought the fight - when it could only be fought out loud by whites like her, because blacks and coloreds who openly opposed the system were jailed (like Mandela), or disappeared. This story, of Gordimer, and her South African colleagues, is seriously undertold.

Then today, when I was checking details about DL on Wiki, I found this comment from her concerning her desertion of her two toddlers (she left them in SA with their father when she went/fled to England): "There is nothing more boring for an intelligent woman than to spend endless amounts of time with small children." Oh please. My heart bleeds for DL and her braininess.

My favorite woman writer of this era was Simone de Beauvoir. Not just because of The Second Sex, also very influential for me, but for her fiction and essays, for her passionate affair with Nelson Algren in Chicago, for her great *joie de vivre*, and for her intellectual, unrecognized superiority over her dopey paramour, Jean-Paul Sartre.

Pidge - I don't know exactly what you teach, whether or not it's always fiction, but you might have a look at America Day By Day, Simone's book about her first trip to the States, in 1947-48, just after the war, when Europe was flattened and hungry. She became addicted to fresh orange juice in NYC! She spent three months traveling by land only across the country, and I think this book is just remarkable, one of my faves. She has been called a modern de Tocqueville.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 4:07AM
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As an avid sci fi reader/feminist, I have been reading the brilliant Octavia Butler since she started publishing, and outside of her magazine articles, I have right here on my shelf all of her work. She is (was) one of the finest writers, certainly in the sci fi field. DL usually depressed me, but her "Mara and Dan" was interesting and readable. (big, though!)

Pidge, if you're looking for fine African-American women writers, the sci fi writers Nalo Hopkinson and Jewell Gomez are good - for essays and simply shining, unforgettable prose that slaps you upside the head and forced you to fall for her - the late Audre Lourde is the one who stands out in my mind. But I have more, dear me, so many more.......

I have a rather crowded shelf of sci fi (fighting with the yarn stash for space!), with only one DL mentioned above, and the rest the many many others who brave that blank page and write down the bones.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 10:59AM
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Sable, your post just beat me to putting my own thoughts here. I was intending to mention both Simone de Beauvoir and Nadine Gordimer. I think the latter is the most under-rated female writer of our times. I was heavily influenced by de Beauvoir's thinking when I lived in France. Another interesting female writer is Simone Weil (not very well known, I think, in America).

Kate, what strong women writers interest you the most from the 19th century? I admire the work of Willa Cather, among others.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 1:11PM
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dublinbay z6 (KS)

What strong 19th century women writers interest me? If we are including British lit, I would certainly select the Bronte sisters and George Eliot's Mill on the Floss (I'm not as enthusiastic about her other works--too long and "heavy"). : ) Oh, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning's epic poem Aurora Leigh rates up there near the top--Susan B. Anthony used to carry a copy with her wherever she went!

But I spend more time with American lit, and without a doubt, Kate Chopin is my all-time favorite earlier woman writer. Have you read her novel The Awakening? Wonderful! Great short stories also.

Right now I'm researching the earlier literature featuring "New Woman" or suffragist heroines. There's a surprising number of such fictions by writers not so well known today but very interesting to read. Lillie Devereux Blake wrote a strongly feminist novel Fettered for Life; or her Lord and Master (1874) --isn't that some title! And I've located a number of "the coming woman" short stories--very feminist--like Ellen Glasgow's "A Woman of To-morrow" published about 1895 or so.

Everyone knows Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, but most people are not aware she was a suffragist/feminist and wrote wonderful gothic fiction with some rather amazing heroines. She also has some good civil war short stories featuring nurse heroines. Elizabeth Stuart Phelps' The Story of Avis (1877) is a fascinating novel with an artist heroine--other suffragist/feminists were the local color writers like Sarah Orne Jewett and Mary Wilkins Freeman who are usually taught for the "neutral" regional themes, but then one day I ran across a Jewett story about a man cross-dressing in a New England village and all the elderly women getting together to help him appear more feminine and stylish. Wow--I knew I needed to study those New England regionalists more--some interesting things going on in those backwoods regions! LOL

I've also been locating more minority writers--who are mostly unknown or little known for that time period. If I extend the 19th century up to 1920, I have found some interesting fiction by women of color also.

Lots of names--their fiction can often be found online since their works are in the public domain.

Oh, how could I forget Edith Wharton--first rate, as are the recent movies made of her novels, such as The Age of Innocence. And obviously Willa Cather, though most of her fiction was published in the 20th century. I adore her little novel A Lost Lady (published in the early 1920s or there-abouts).

I'm sure I left out some fascinating women writers, but that at least gives you an idea of what I've been working with.


This post was edited by dublinbay on Tue, Nov 19, 13 at 14:05

    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 2:02PM
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"I would add that woman needs a spray can of "Guilt Away." Spray in a circle around you, and they will all stay away, respecting your space."

Couldn't I just fart, instead? That would seem so much easier and faster, and it would definitely work! ;-)

And before everyone grosses out or denies it... women pass gas, too... we just usually keep it quiet out of tradition and courtesy... something called "being ladylike".

"P.S. And there is more time for reading if you don't have an obsession with housecleaning."

No real problem there... my name is Jodi, not Susie Homemaker! ;-)

Seriously though, some things are more important than others in the grander scheme, and I learned to live with a little dust and some clutter when I became a stepmother. Children have a way of changing one's priorities and outlook... and I'm so much happier for it. I could never live in a pristine house with everything just so, right down to the way the pile of a carpet is vacuumed. I'd rather live a home, with a little dust and whatnot. Why sweat the trivial stuff?

Here's how "deep" my reading has been lately... I'm currently trying to get through "Tattooed" by Pamela Callow... it's a murder mystery, fiction.

Well... chores call... I can't even get through the reading here! LOL!

    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 2:45PM
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dublinbay z6 (KS)

Hey, there's nothing wrong with murder mysteries! And Mary Roberts Rinehart, classic detective fiction writer, dates back to the time period I work in. She even has a great suffragette escapade short story called "The Borrowed House" published in 1920--barely within my time period. It's a funny mystery/ghost story---actually making fun of mystery/ghost stories and suffragette extremists--but the heroine decides she does favor votes for women!


    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 5:53PM
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IâÂÂm cooking dinner and reading this thread way too fast. But I must say that there is enough here to keep me busy for weeks and months, maybe years.

edited to add that my daughter Nancy dropped in this afternoon and we spoke of Lessing. She read the Golden Notebook when she was 17, in high school. Years ahead of me!

Also must add that when I told the class I mentioned in an earlier post that Lessing has died, there was a colletive gasp. Imagine--all those generations, including 18 year olds, who now count Lessing among the people who may influence them.

This post was edited by pidge on Tue, Nov 19, 13 at 18:03

    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 5:58PM
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I'll have to check out Mary Roberts Rinehart... thanks, Kate!

When I read for pleasure, I enjoy fiction murder mysteries... favorite authors are Lee Child, John Camp, John Sanford, and several other popular authors of the genre... though I confess to reading gobs of romance novels as a youth. I've even peeked at Fifty Shades of Grey, and read a few chapters of the second book! I love that the author "went there" in terms of... well, I don't want to ruin it for those who haven't read it yet, but plan to... so... you'll just have to read it for yourself. :-)

I understand the movie is in production... I can't imagine it will be as good as the book, though.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2013 at 9:30AM
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nancy_in_venice_ca Sunset 24 z10

Kate, I have read Kate Chopin's Awakening, and a collection of her short stories. I remember a short story that deals with family secrets regarding blood lines that I think was hers. I've also read a novel by Sarah Orne Jewett. How I came to that one, I don't remember.

Thank you for the suggestions. I'll save the names.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2013 at 10:02AM
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dublinbay z6 (KS)

Nancy, the blood lines story--perhaps Chopin's "Désirée's Baby"?-- fine story.

Sarah Orne Jewett novel: Country of the Pointed Firs perhaps?

I've never read a Simone de Beauvoir novel. How is she as a novelist? I have, of course, read The Second Sex (said in reverent tones).


    Bookmark   November 20, 2013 at 10:37AM
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nancy_in_venice_ca Sunset 24 z10

I've never read a Simone de Beauvoir novel. How is she as a novelist?

I enjoyed her novel The Mandarins -- the only one I can recall reading. So many years have passed since I read it that memory is almost vanished except that I was impressed. I believe the novel won an award in France.

The two volumes of her autobiography (out of four) that I read were great as well: Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter, and Prime of Life.

I can't believe I used to have so much time to read, and now I have so little.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2013 at 10:58AM
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Marguerite Duras is another female novelist well worth looking into: "The Lover" and others.

Kate, you and I like a lot of the same women authors: L.M. Alcott, Edith Wharton, Kate Chopin, and Willa Cather. The latter is amazing at getting inside the thoughts of males, although a female, herself.

I first read "The Awakening" in the 1970's, when I was in a feminist reading group. I thought the novel was brilliant and unforgettable. There were several early women authors who were well ahead of their times in their thinking and values.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2013 at 2:52PM
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Kate - The Mandarins is a great book, and did win France's highest literary award (the Prix Goncourt), but it might be a bit taste-specific, being as it's a roman a clef about a group of French intellectuals and existentialists. France was all a-twitter about the book, busy guessing who was who; there was Simone herself, Nelson Algren (her lover), Sartre (her long-term lover), and Albert Camus (Sartre's main rival and my personal favorite of all of them), and many other stars of that scene. I think that it's so well-written and so evocative of that period in post-war France.

She wrote several other novels; another one that caused a flurry is All Men Are Mortal, about a man who cannot die, who is "doomed" to eternal life on earth. And there are her volumes of autobiography, as Nancy mentioned. Her life has been well-described in her biography by Deirdre Bair.

Woodnymph - From your mention of Weil and Duras and others, I can see that you must have loved your time in France, being in the atmosphere created by so many fascinating writers and thinkers; what a great experience. I was "doomed" to the Middle East (and it has never left me), and it was an Israeli archaeologist who suggested that I read Albert Camus's The Plague. From there I took off with the French, haunting a Jerusalem bookstore that dealt mainly in good books in English/English translation. The bans on Tropic of Cancer and Lady Chatterley's Lover in the U.S. had recently been lifted, but I hadn't seen them, so they were the first books I ran for there. As did every other Yank I knew!

Nadine Gordimer - Learned about her from my first husband, who was/is South African. She is a personal hero of every decent S. African.

If we are talking about female mystery writers, how about the grande dame of the genre - Agatha Christie.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2013 at 5:38PM
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dublinbay z6 (KS)

Nadine Gordimer is another one I've been meaning to read. I'm familiar with a couple short stories by her but have never read one of her novels. I looked at her bibliography once--too long. I had no idea which novel to start with. What would you suggest for a first Gordimer novel, Sable?

Ah, yes--Agatha Christie -- had an obsession with her mysteries back in high school and later enjoyed M. Poirot on TV.

As you talked about French writers, I realized that back in school, years ago, I read Sartre and Camus, but never de Beauvoir. Had to read The Second Sex on my own. I don't remember that she was even mentioned back in school. Must try out The Mandarins this winter. Thanks for the suggestion, Nancy and Sable.


    Bookmark   November 20, 2013 at 7:24PM
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RIP Doris Lessing. She gave a lot for a very long time.

I haven't seen mention here of Toni Morrison. Not all of her writings were loved by the critics, but I think she's magic. If you don't have time to read much else of hers, do try "Beloved."

    Bookmark   November 20, 2013 at 10:14PM
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Kate - I have to be honest; I don't remember Gordimer's writing that well, but am pretty sure that I concentrated on her short stories. She was legendary among the young South Africans *in exile* in Jerusalem and London, and that's how I learned so much about her. We admired her for her fantastic political courage. However, amazon lists a book called Life Times, which looks like an excellent collection of her short stories over the years. It also has a good selection of her novels. You could read the reviews and decide from there which to read.

Two other books - a 19th century classic: The Story of an African Farm, by Olive Schreiner (introduction by D. Lessing). The Boers were the Dutch who settled S. Africa, and from the turn of the century on fought the British, who were also there. Olive was a young Boer girl who was raised on a farm and wrote lyrically and realistically about life then. It made a great impact on me. Lessing wrote about it: "it is in that small number of novels, with Moby Dick, Jude the Obscure, Wuthering Heights, perhaps one or two others, which is on a frontier of the human mind."

Looking through my bookshelves I also found D. Lessing's African Stories, which garnered raves back in the day (1965). It contains all her short stories and is tremendous. I should re-read it!

Good luck and enjoy!

    Bookmark   November 22, 2013 at 2:59AM
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dublinbay z6 (KS)

Thanks, Sable, for the suggestions.

Olive Schreiner's book is one of the earlier ones I have been meaning to read for a long time now. It is also usually cited as one of the early "New Woman" novels.


    Bookmark   November 22, 2013 at 9:57AM
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