Doris Lessings "The Golden Notebook"

Literature Review, 2004

15 Pages, Grade: sehr gut


The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing:

The Golden Notebook was published in 1962 and is one of the best known of Doris Lessing’s novels1.

First,I am going to give a short summary of The Golden Notebook. Then I want to explain the socio-political context of the book. This is the background of the novel itself and at the same time nearly identically to its main ideas. Afterwards 1 am going to analyse the structure of the work which again is closely connected to its interpretation. When I mention the most important characters you can follow my explanations on the sociogram which is in the handout. Because of the time limit, it is not possible to make more detailed explanations during my presentation

Now the short summary.

The central figure of The Golden Notebook is Anna Wulf, a writer from South Africa, living in London, During World War II Anna married a German refugee Max but divorce .'and then emigrate/to London with her daughter Janet. She has a long love affair with Michael and an intense friendship with Molly.

Being about thirty Anna is in a life crises, disillusioned by communist politics under Stalin, doubting herself and her literary career. Therefore she needs the treatment of a psychotherapist. To get things straightened out with herself she deals them in four independent notebooks, each one has a different colour.

Socio-political context and main ideas:

As the follow ing part will prove, The Golden Notebook shows features of a political novel as well as characteristics of a novel of ideas and has, besides this, various autobiographic traces.2

Racism is not a central topic in The Golden Notebook^but the problem is mentioned when the protagonist, Anna, talks about her successful novel “Frontiers of War” which concerns race relations and forbidden love in southern Africa.3

Doris Lessing — herself growing up on a farm in Rhodesia - experienced racism and developed like Anna a strong resistance towards suppression and exploitation of the black natives.4

Doris Lessing escaped from this colonial society to London like Anna. There she was confronted with the effects of the Cold War in the 1950s .which are mentioned in the novel just as the dangers of nuclear threats are.

Doris Lessing and Anna were both deeply involved in politics and together with most of their friends they became members of the Communist Party. But trials and atrocities in the Soviet Union and other communist countries or revelations about Stalin's crimes made them develop a feeling of doubt and disappointment towards Communism which was why they broke with communism. 5

Besides this The Golden Notebook is about feminism. Although Lessing herself claimed in the preface to the book: ’’This novel was not a trumpet for Women’s Liberation.”6 [10] her friends called it “a tract about the sex war”7 8.

Anna and Doris Lessing being divorced with a child symbolize “a completely new type of woman”9 because they “lead what is known as free lives, that is, lives like men,..”10.

Anna refuses to accept the roles traditionally imposed on women by society. She has to come up with different roles such as the role of the writer, the role of a Communist activist, the role of the working mother and that of a mistress. Having to combine all these roles in the class ridden British post war society brings about identity problems. Anna’s “source of self-respect was that she had not - as she put it - given up and crawled into safety somewhere. Into a safe marriage.”11

By describing troubled relationships throughout the novel the author shows women’s dissatisfaction with men12. The Golden Notebook talks about men’s sexual inadequacies, about Anna’s and Molly’s lovers who are inept and emotionally detached and it shows the devastating effect which such men have on women’s lives. What is especially outstanding in this novel is that it discusses openly female sexuality f. e.'Ella compares vaginal and clitoral orgasm.13 '

Another important characteristic feature which slips into Lessing’s novel repeatedly is the new way of treating psychological problems. Anna undergoes repeatedly psychotherapy and sees her psychotherapist nicknamed “Mother Sugar“. In the course of her treatment the interpretation of her dreams is very important, which shows us the influence of Freud and especially of C G. Jung with his theory of psychoanalysis.14 A central theme in The Golden Notebook are Anna’s doubts about the meaningfulness of literature because - as she states herself - in a world which “is so chaotic, art is irrelevant15 Anna - cannot support the chaos and meaninglessness and therefore she wants to write a “book powered with an intellectual or moral passion strong enough to create order, to create a new way of looking at life 16 But first she has to overcome her writer’s block which makes her doubt about the ability of language to convey reality clearly because “the real experience can’t be described”17.18

The form and an interprétation:

Doris Lessing is not a narrator in the traditional sense. She wanted to leave behind the form of the conventional realistic novel. Therefore she chose such an extraordinary construction perhaps a kind of parody of conventional realistic novel.

The skeleton is the short novel “Free Women” which could stand for itself and is some kind of frame story which is divided into five sections by four notebooks.19 The notebooks are told by Anna Wulf the main figure of “Free Women” and each of them focuses on a different aspect of Annas experiences.

The Black Notebook is about Anna’s time in South Africa and about her best seller “Frontiers of War”.

The Red Notebook reports about Anna’s political views and actions and also her attitude towards the Communist Party20

In the Yellow Notebook there are outlines of novels and short stories which should help to digest Anna’s experience. This notebook contains “The Shadow of the Third” - a manuscript of a novel about a married man and his mistress. It deals indirectly with Anna’s five-year relationship with Michael^ which Lessing projects onto Ella and Paul, two fictional characters.21


1 Cf. Fahim, S. Shadia Doris Lessing. Sufi Equilibrium and the Form of the Novel. St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1994, p 51

2 Cf Lessing. Doris. The Golden Notebook. Paladin Grafton Books, London Glasgow, 1990, p. 13f. and Cf. Cheng, Yuan-Jung: Heralds of the Postmodern. Madness and Fiction in Conrad. Woolf, and Lessing Peter Lang. New York, 1999, p. 76

3 Cf Fahim, S. Shadia: Doris Les si пи. p. 53ffM

4 Cf. Stem, Frederick C.. Politics and The Golden Notebook In. Kaplan, Carey/Rose, Ellen Cronan: Approaches to Teaching Lessing’s The Golden Notebook. The Modem Language Association of America, New York, 1989, p 37f

5 Cf Stem, Frederick C.. Politics and The Golden Notebook, In: Kaplan, p. 38-41, Cf Taylor, Jenny: Notebook/memoirs/archives Reading and Rereading Doris Lessing Routeledqe & Kegan Paul, Boston, 1982, p. 43f.; Cf. McCrindle, Jean Reading The Golden Notebook in 1962. tn: Taylor. Jenny: Notebook/memoirs/archives. Reading and Rereading Doris Lessing Routeledee & Kegan Paul, Boston, 1982, p. 52

6 Lessing, Doris: The Golden Notebook. Paladin Grafton Books, London Glasgow, 1990, p 8

7 Lessing, Doris The Golden Notebook, p 10

8 Cf. Sprague, Claire: In Pursuit of Doris Lessing Nine Nations Reading. The Macmillan Press, London, 1990, p 9 and Cf. Fahim, S. Shadia: Doris Lessing, p. 59f.

9 Lessing, Doris: The Golden Notebook, p 26

10 ibid, p 59

11 ibid, p. 36

12 Cf Cheng, Yuan-Jung; Heralds of the Postmodern, p 77ff Cf Seiler-Franklin, Carol. Women in the fiction ofMargaret Drabble. Doris Lessing, and Iris Murdoch. Peter Lang, Bern, 1979, p 131 f.:

Cf Fahim, S Shadia: Doris Lessing, p 6If.

13 Cf Taylor, Jenny: Notebook/memoirs/archives. p. 52 and Cf. Seiler-Franklin.Carol: Women in the fiction, p 133

14 Cf. Stem, Frederick C. Politics and The Golden Notebook. In: Kaplan, p. 44f and 54£, Cf Fahim, S Shadia: Doris Lessing. 55f and p. 63f.

15 Lessing, Doris. The Golden Notebook, p 57

16 ibid, p. 76

17 ibid, p. 549

18 Cf. Sprague, Claire In Pursuit of Doris Lessine, p 66f,Cf. Cheng, Yuan-Jung: Heralds of the Postmodem, p 88 Cf. Seiler-Franklin, Carol: Women in the fiction, p. 128f. Cf. Fahim, S Shadia Doris Lessing., p 57f

19 Cf Lessing, Doris. The Golden Notebook, p 7

20 Cf. Fahim, S Shadia. Doris Lessing., p 57ff

21 Cf. Fahim, S Shadia Doris Lessing., p 60ff

Excerpt out of 15 pages


Doris Lessings "The Golden Notebook"
University of Innsbruck  (Translationswissenschaften)
sehr gut
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The Golden Notebook;, Doris Lessing;, novel;, summary;, socio-political context;, main ideas;, racism;, politics;, feminism;, psychoanalysis;, meaningfulness of literature;, form;, interpretation;, communism;, chart of action;, time scheme;, Black Notebook;, Red Notebook;, Yellow Notebook;, Golden Notebook;, Anna;, Molly;, Richard;, Marion;, Tommy;, Michael;, Frontiers of War;, RAF;, Africa;, Jimmy;, Ted;, George;, Willy;, Maryrose;, Communist Party;, Hungarian Trial;, Prague;, Rosenbergs;, Stalin;, Julia;, Ella;, Dr. West;, Max;, Mrs. Mark;, seperation;, divorce;, H-Bomb;, Korea;, suicide attempt;, Czechoslovakia;, Jews;, Soviet Union;, Shadow of the Third;, love affair;, Ivor;, Ronny, homosexuals;, Free Women;, Congress of the Party;, De Silva;, Amercian Saul Green;, Janet;, boarding school;, commentary;
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MMag. Dr. Sabine Picout (Author), 2004, Doris Lessings "The Golden Notebook", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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