Synopses & Reviews
1996 Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography
"Walking in the Shade opens in 1949 with Doris Lessing's resolute good-bye to Africa and her hopeful hello to England. In the second volume of her memoirs, Lessing traces her journey as a twice married mother of three in the British colony of Southern Rhodesia to her struggles as a writer and single parent in post-war London. If "Under My Skin focuses on her childhood and various attempts to differentiate herself from her parents and the values and sacrifices they symbolized, then "Walking in the Shade marks Lessing's development as a promising writer, cast in the shadow of her vexed relationship to the Communist Party in particular and organized politics in general. In fact, Lessing considered separating the description of her political life into a single chapter, so that disinterested readers could simply skip the section. However, Lessing soon realized that politics permeated her experience of these years so thoroughly that compartmentalization would not only be impossible, but inadvisable given her dedication to representing truthfully the age through which she lived and was shaped. Lessing devotes much of the second volume to the evocation of her creative process, her interactions with the literati of London and the many changes--economic, social and cultural--that occurred in England throughout the 1950s. "Walking in the Shade concludes in 1962, the year she published her most famous and most influential work to date: "The Golden Notebook.
Topics For Discussion
1. In the middle of "Walking in the Shade, Lessing remarks that " coming events cast their shadows before. But looking backfrom the perspective of those events, it is easy to be dishonest. Some tiny passing shade of feeling, a mere cloud shadow, may ten years later become a storm of revelation: about yourself, about others, about a time. Or may have dissolved and gone." Does this metaphoric reflection relate to the title of Lessing's second autobiographical volume? If so, how?
2. Lessing punctuates the second volume of her autobiography with commentary on " The Zeitgeist: How We Were Thinking." These sections, which include reflections on politics, class warfare, and feminism, seem to promote a common theme in Lessing's work: people cannot act outside the parameters of their particular histories, of which they are a direct product. Yet, Lessing also insists that " if acceptance of social ills is a sign of maturity, what becomes of progress?" Are these philosophical positions in conflict or do they represent a productive paradox about history and change?
3. Throughout the book, Lessing suggests that all formally organized social groups, regardless of original intention, eventually become religious and frequently turn into their polar opposite. What does religion mean in the context of this hypothesis? How does Lessing describe this process of group transformation in relation to her experience with the Communist Party?
4. In England, Lessing became involved with many Americans. She concludes that " Americans are a people of extremes." Although the British and the Americans share the English language, Lessing says their " national temperaments" form a barrier to substantive communication and understanding, a contention that " may hardly be said aloud in theUnited States, because of political correctness." What characterizes these " national temperaments" in Lessing's opinion? How do these different dispositions manifest themselves in "Walking in the Shade?
5. In England, Lessing became involved with many Americans. She concludes that " Americans are a people of extremes." Although the British and the Americans share the English language, Lessing says their " national temperaments" form a barrier to substantive communication and understanding, a contention that " may hardly be said aloud in the United States, because of political correctness." What characterizes these " national temperaments" in Lessing's opinion? How do these different dispositions manifest themselves in "Walking in the Shade?
About the Author
Doris Lessing was born in Persia (now Iran) in 1919. Lessing has described her childhood as an uneven mix of some pleasure and much pain. Her mother, obsessed with raising a proper daughter, enforced a rigid system of rules, then installed Doris in a convent school and, later, an all-girls high school in Salisbury, from which she soon dropped out at the age of thirteen. Lessing, however, made herself into a self-educated intellectual, reading Dickens, Kipling, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky. Doris's early years were spent absorbing her father's bitter memories of World War I, taken in as a kind of " poison." " We are all of us made by war, " Lessing has written, " twisted and warped by war, but we seem to forget it." Lessing left home when she was fifteen and took a job as a nursemaid. Her employer gave her books on politics and sociology; she was alsowriting stories, and sold two to magazines in South Africa.
In 1937, she moved to Salisbury (Southern Rhodesia), where she worked as a telephone operator and, at nineteen, married Frank Wisdom and had two children. A few years later, feeling trapped in a persona she feared would destroy her, she left her family, remaining in Salisbury. She was drawn to the members of the Left Book Club, a group of Communists. Gottfried Lessing was a central member of the group; shortly after she joined, they married and had a son. During the postwar years, Lessing became increasingly disillusioned with the Communist movement, which she left altogether in 1954. By 1949, Lessing had moved to London with her young son and published "The Grass is Singing, beginning her career as a professional writer. After writing the "Children of Violence series, about the growth in consciousness of her heroine, Martha Quest, Lessing broke new ground with "The Golden Notebook (1962), a daring narrative experiment. Her most recent works include two volumes of autobiography, "Under My Skin (1994) and "Walking in the Shade (1997), and a novel, "Love, Again (1995).
The second volume of Doris Lessing's extraordinary autobiography covers the years 1949-62, from her arrival in war-weary London with her son, Peter, and the manuscript for her first novel, The Grass is Singing, under her arm to the publication of her most famous work of fiction, The Golden Notebook. She describes how communism dominated the intellectual life of the 1950s and how she, like nearly all communists, became disillusioned with extreme and rhetorical politics and left communism behind. Evoking the bohemian days of a young writer and single mother, Lessing speaks openly about her writing process, her friends and lovers, her involvement in the theater, and her political activities. Walking in the Shade is an invaluable social history as well as Doris Lessing's Sentimental Education.
Doris Lessing arrived in London in 1949 with her young son, Peter, and the manuscript of her first novel, The Grass Is Singing. Over the next 13 years, which culminated in the publication of her masterwork, The Golden Notebook, she became one of the world's most celebrated novelists. How she got there is more than just a fascinating memoir, it's a history, of the cold war era in Europe, as Lessing takes us through her fascination -- and subsequent disillusionment -- with communism, her work in the theater, her experiences as a young single mother, and her engagement with a burgeoning bohemian subculture.
-- Fans of The Golden Notebook will welcome this invaluable inside account of its genesis.
-- The historical aspects of the book will garner a whole new audience, in addition to Lessing's literary fans.
-- This second volume of Lessing's autobiography is a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.
This highly acclaimed second volume of Doris Lessing's autobiography chronicles her growth from a fledgling writer to one of literature's most respected figures. B&W photos.
About the Author
Doris Lessing, winner of the Nobel Prize in literature for 2007, is oneof the most celebrated and distinguished writers of our time. She hasbeen awarded the David Cohen Memorial Prize for British Literature,Spain's Prince of Asturias Prize and Prix Catalunya, and the S.T. DupontGolden PEN Award for a Lifetime's Distinguished Service to Literature,as well as a host of other international awards. She lives in north London. Lessing was born Doris May Taylor in Persia (now Iran) on October 22, 1919.Both of her parents were British: Her father, who had been crippled in World War I, was a clerk in the Imperial Bank of Persia; her mother had been a nurse. In 1925, lured by the promise of getting rich through maize farming, the family moved to the British colony in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Her mother installed Doris in a covenant school, and then later in an all-girls high school in the capital of Salisbury, from which she soon dropped out.She was 13, and it was the end of her formal education.
Lessing's life has been a challenge to her belief that people cannot resist the currents of their time, as she fought against the cultural and biological imperatives that fated her to sink without a murmur into marriage and motherhood.Lessing believes that she was freer than most people because she became a writer.For her, writing is a process of "setting a distance," taking the "raw, the individual, the uncriticized, the unexamined, into the realm of the general."
Lessing's fiction is deeply autobiographical, much of it emerging out of her experiences in Africa.Drawing upon her childhood memories and her serious engagement with politics and social concerns, Lessing has written about the clash of cultures, the gross injustices of racial inequality, the struggle among opposing elements within an individual's own personality, and the conflict between the individual conscience and the collective good.
Over the years, Lessing has attempted to accommodate what she admires in the novels of the 19th century -- their "climate of ethical judgment" -- to the demands of 20th-century ideas about consciousness and time.After writing the Children of Violence series (1952-1959), a formally conventional bildungsroman (novel of education) about the growth in consciousness of her heroine, Martha Quest, Lessing broke new ground with The Golden Notebook (1962), a daring narrative experiment in which the multiple selves of a contemporary woman are rendered in astonishing depth and detail.Anna Wolf, like Lessing herself, strives for ruthless honesty as she aims to free herself from the chaos, emotional numbness and hypocrisy afflicting her generation.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Lessing began to explore more fully the quasi-mystical insight Anna Wolf seems to reach by the end of The Golden Notebook.Her "inner-space fiction" deals with cosmic fantasies Briefing for a Descent into Hell, 1971), dreamscapes and other dimensions (Memoirs of a Survivor, 1974), and science-fiction probings of higher planes of existence (Canopus in Argos: Archives, 1979-1983).These reflect Lessing's interest, since the 1960s, in Idries Shah, whose writings on Sufi mysticism stress the evolution of consciousness and the belief that individual liberation can come about only if people understand the link between their own fates and the fate of society.
Lessing's other novels include The Good Terrorist (1985) and The Fifth Child (1988); she also published two novels under the pseudonym Jane Somers (The Diary of a Good Neighbor, 1983, and If the Old Could., 1984). In addition, she has written several nonfiction works, including books about cats, a love since childhood. Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949 wasjoined by Walking in the Shade: 1949 to 1962, both published by HarperCollins.