Art Mimicking Life
British Author Doris Lessing's life was molded by her hard childhood, and idealistic friends. In return, her life was reflected in her works. Her characters followed Doris' journey of self-actualization and discovery. Her unique experiences shaped her way of thinking and her way of thinking shaped the women in her books. While her female protagonists experience very different existences, they all share a common thread: their inner turmoil, dilemmas, and resolutions are those of the author's own existence.
Born in Persia on October 22, 1919 and named Doris May Tayler, Doris lived a childhood much like that of the protagonist in The Grass is Singing. According to her autobiographical Under My Skin, her parents were both British. Her father had become a clerk at a bank after being crippled in World War 1 but that position did not afford him the type of lifestyle he wanted. He moved his family to Rhodesia in Africa to work the supposedly rich land. (Skin, vii)
In Africa Doris' mother tried to maintain their "proper lifestyle." She became neurotic and obsessed that her daughter grow up to be a lady despite being surrounded by "savages." She enforced strict etiquette and hygiene rules on Doris, and her son Harry. Whenever they could, the siblings would escape their mother's watchful eye and go exploring. Doris recalls experiences like these with her bother to be the most enjoyable parts of her otherwise miserable childhood. (British) Doris was sent to convent school, and then to an all-girls high school. She did not enjoy the rigid rules or the social pressures, however, and dropped out at age thirteen.
At age nineteen Doris married Frank Wisdom and they had two children during the years that followed. However, shortly after the birth of their youngest, Doris felt the restraint, confinement and tradition of marriage and family to be too overbearing, and she left. For the next few years she associated herself with other progressive thinkers in a group called the Left Book Club. The club was comprised of Communist readers and writers who absorbed all progressive writings and acted upon them. One of the central members of the group was Gottfried Lessing, whom she married shortly after joining the group, and with whom she had one son. After the war, Doris became dissatisfied with the ideals of Communism and with her Communist husband. In 1954 she left the movement altogether and began to focus on her career as a professional writer. (Hanford)
In her writings Doris draws upon her childhood in Africa, complete with the racial hostilities, and the cultural conflicts. She also writes from a politically and socially aware perspective, and infuses her novels with he beliefs and ideals. As she has matured as a writer and a woman, Doris' literature has mirrored the development. From a naïve, socially unaccepted British girl growing up in Africa, to a respected, middle-aged woman, Doris' characters deliver a wonderful performance playing the parts of their creator.
Lessing's first book, The Grass is Singing, details the life of a young white girl, Mary, raised in Africa. One day she overhears a conversation between some friends who are discussing the girl. They agree that she will never marry. These words do something to Mary. She learns that it is thought to be preferred for a woman to marry, and that a husband is desirable. But she wonders if this is what every woman prefers, and what every woman desires. (Singing, 89) Subconsciously, Mary begins to look for a man to marry. Dick was hard working and sensitive, but Mary felt stifled. She became increasingly forlorn, angry, and eventually violent.
Mary's story is very similar to Lessing's own childhood, and young adulthood. Neither girl wanted to be controlled by social norms and restrictions. Just as Mary tried to leave her endless farm life, Lessing also escaped into the city. In 1949, she moved to London with her manuscript of The...