From the Golden Notebook to The Grass Is Singing: Doris Lessing’s Most Influential Novels

Doris Lessing

Born on this day October 22, 1919, Doris Lessing, a British author, is a name that resonates with literary genius and groundbreaking narratives. She is widely celebrated for her novels that are not only renowned for their literary merit but also their influential social commentary. Her work has earned her numerous accolades, including the Nobel Prize in Literature and the Somerset Maugham Award.

Among her most influential works, The Golden Notebook stands out as a monumental piece of feminist literature. The novel, published in 1962, is revered for its innovative structure and its candid exploration of mental illness, political radicalism, and female identity. It presents the fragmented life of Anna Wulf, a woman writer struggling with writer’s block, through various notebooks, each representing different aspects of her life. The ‘golden notebook’ is where she attempts to unify these fragmented selves.

On the other end of her literary journey stands The Grass is Singing, Lessing’s debut novel. Set in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), it presents an incisive critique of colonialism and racism through the tragic life of Mary Turner, a white woman married to a failed farmer. The novel’s brutally honest depiction of the racial tensions and harsh realities of colonial Africa marked Lessing as a significant voice in postcolonial literature.

From the introspective journey of Anna Wulf in The Golden Notebook to the tragic life of Mary Turner in The Grass is Singing, Doris Lessing has painted vivid pictures of women’s lives and societal structures. Her remarkable storytelling ability coupled with her insightful exploration of socio-political issues has made her one of the most influential authors of the 20th century. Her literary journey reflects her lifelong commitment to challenging conventional norms and questioning societal injustices, for which she was fittingly awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007.


When I look back I seem to remember singing.
Yet it was always silent in that long warm room.

Impenetrable, those walls, we thought,
Dark with ancient shields.The light
Shone on the head of a girl or young limbs
Spread carelessly. And the low voices
Rose in the silence and were lost as in water.

Yet, for all it was quiet and warm as a hand,
If one of us drew the curtains
A threaded rain blew carelessly outside.
Sometimes a wind crept, swaying the flames,
And set shadows crouching on the walls,
Or a wolf howled in the wide night outside,
And feeling our flesh chilled we drew together.

But for a while the dance went on–
That is how it seems to me now:
Slow forms moving calm through
Pools of light like gold net on the floor.
It might have gone on, dream-like, for ever.

But between one year and the next – a new wind blew?
The rain rotted the walls at last?
Wolves’ snouts came thrusting at the fallen beams?

It is so long ago.
But sometimes I remember the curtained room
And hear the far-off youthful voices singing.

-Doris Lessing

Curated by Jennifer

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