Doris Lessing: a model for every writer coming from the back of beyond

Margaret Atwood in The Guardian:

British-novelist-Doris-Le-008Wonderful Doris Lessing has died. You never expect such rock-solid features of the literary landscape to simply vanish. It's a shock. I first encountered Lessing on a park bench in Paris in 1963. I was a student, living on baguettes, oranges and cheese, as one did, and suffering from a stomach ailment, as one did. My pal Alison Cunningham and I had been barred from our hostel during the day, so Alison was soothing my prostrate self by reading from The Golden Notebook, which was all the rage among such as us. Who knew we were reading a book that was soon to become iconic?

Just as we were getting to a crucial moment in the life of Anna Wulf, along came a policeman to tell us that lying down on park benches was against the law, so we decamped for a bistro and another interesting washroom experience. (Footnote: this was before second-wave feminism. It was before widespread birth control. It was before mini-skirts. So Anna Wulf was a considerable eye-opener: she was doing things and thinking things that had not been much discussed at the Toronto dinner tables of our adolescence, and therefore seemed pretty daring.) The other woman we were sneakily reading in 1963 was Simone de Beauvoir, but the childhoods of little-girl colonials such as ourselves lacked starched petticoats and were not very French. We had more in common with a remote-places-of-the-Empire parvenue such as Doris Lessing: born in Iran in 1919, growing up on a bush farm in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe); then, after two failed marriages, running away to England with scant prospects, which was where we colonials with scant prospects ran away to then.

Picture: 'If there were a Mount Rushmore of 20th-century authors, Lessing would be carved on it.'

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