Doris Lessing (1994) Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography to 1949.
Posted by celticman on Sun, 20 Apr 2014
Doris Lessing is one of those authors I kept meaning to read. Her father was an officer wounded in the Great War and her mother the nurse that nursed him, rather a romantic ideal, but reality often knocks spots off those kinds of notions. Her great love was killed before she could marry him and he’d lost a leg, well, they had each other. Then they’d a loan from the land bank and a failing farm in Southern Rhodesia. She was upwardly mobile, longing to engage with a better class of person. He was bitter about the war and dirt poor. They had two children. A boy and a girl. England was always home (they didn’t return to). And this is Doris’s story. She is an African, a kaffir lover, a Communist that left her own two children a boy and a girl with Frank, her first husband, married Gottfried, a German refugee, and fellow Communist, didn’t love him, but had a child with him. ‘Our sexual life was sad,’ she says of Gottfried. ‘He was deeply puritanical and inhibited. I could have believed he was a virgin.’ In this period of her life she feared her dreams because she distrusted the pleasure of sadness. She married him because in those days people could not have affairs. This is an older and wiser narrator looking backing, interpreting and analysing the things her younger self understood. Gottfried she understood. He considered her ‘not suitable material as a Communist cadre. The trouble was fundamental – it was me, myself, my nature.’ There is a mystical element to her notion that nature’s response to the great catastrophes of the First and Second World War was to make females more fecund. These ideas are not developed in any way, but asides, the book reads as if the narrator is address you the reader. As a writer she is an outsider looking in. Communism was the only answer to a system that routinely exploited 99% of the population and elected officials that thought blacks were on the same branch of the tree as apes, were prone to laziness and did not need much of an education. ‘Every group, of whatever kind, however it starts,’ Lessing writes, ‘will end as a religious of mystical group.’ Both she and Gottfried decamp to London. She with the finished manuscript for her first novel (which I’ve not read) The Grass is Singing, which in the 1950s became an international success. A remarkable lady in lots of different ways.