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The golden notebook by Doris May Lessing

The golden notebook (original 1962; edition 1962)

by Doris May Lessing

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3,390491,600 (3.64)1 / 275
Title:The golden notebook
Authors:Doris May Lessing
Info:London, 1962. 567 p. ; 8vo.
Collections:Your library
Tags:fiction, 1960s, feminism, communism, Southern Africa, diary

Work details

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (1962)

  1. 31
    The Two of Them by Joanna Russ (lquilter)
    lquilter: While reading The Two of Them by Joanna Russ, I was persistently reminded of Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook. The female protagonist's articulated rage, the psychoanalytic approach, the insurmountability of the patriarchy. For readers across genres who liked either of these novels, I would suggest trying the other.… (more)
  2. 00
    Orwell and Politics (Penguin Modern Classics) by George Orwell (DLSmithies)
    DLSmithies: Alright, this one's tenuous, but bear with me! Orwell has lots of interesting things to say about the socialist movement of the 30s and 40s in Britain and elsewhere, especially in Stalin's Russia. Similarly, the Communist Party in 1950s Britain looms large in the background of The Golden Notebook, and the main character is deeply troubled by the situation in Russia under Stalin (along with everything else that's happening on the world stage at the time). So, you see, there's a link!... ...or maybe it's just me.… (more)
  3. 01
    The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (readerbabe1984)
  4. 12
    geneven: This five-book series is great, though depressing in spots. (I haven't read The Golden Notebook.)

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English (43)  Spanish (3)  French (1)  Dutch (1)  Danish (1)  All languages (49)
Showing 1-5 of 43 (next | show all)
Although I can see that this novel may have been seen as feminist when it came out in 1962, it isn't actually very feminist in content - it just has women who are outspoken about every aspect of their lives including sexual and emotional relations. Apparently it was viewed as shocking that Anna and Molly were critical about men, Richard in particular; this, as with most of the other 'feminist' aspects, is now routinely found in contemporary novels.

The real heart of the novel in my eyes was Anna's ultimately unsuccessful attempt to integrate her desire to live by ideals with politics; the dichotomy of wanting to do work which will improve the world versus helping individuals to a better life. Lessing has captured the growing disillusionment of the Western communists in the years following WW2, not in the philosophic ideal of communism but with the reality of the political party.

Another major theme was the fragmentation of Anna, and by implication society as a whole, leading her into a state of mental breakdown. The 4 notebooks in which she tried by different methods to capture "the truth" each ended up being false just as different aspects of personality are not true representations of the whole person. Different versions of this concept were popular at this time (late 1950s, early 1960s), and if I had read this book during my twenties I think I would have been much more interested. Coming to it later in life, I found the political idealogical theme more compelling. ( )
1 vote leslie.98 | Jan 18, 2014 |
Big thick book. Bigger than I usually read, but I was committed after not very many pages. About the novel, about politics, about women and men. The structure was fascinating, the way the different parts of the book talked about one another. I read Lessing's introduction maybe three times and found it deeper each reading. ( )
  mykl-s | Dec 7, 2013 |
It's difficult to capture the complexity of a 568-page elaborately structured novel in a few paragraphs. Nobel Prize-winning Doris Lessing's fifth novel was a departure from the realism common in 1962 when it was published. Anna and Molly were best friends sharing the common bonds of divorce and single parenthood. Both flirted with Communism and became disillusioned. The core of the book, "Free Women," is presented in five segments interspersed with lengthy entries from Anna's four journals. The 'free' in the title is ironic because the women are failed feminists who are still controlled by the need of men in their lives. Free women are not so free after all!

This is a soul-searching book. Anna is obsessed with self-analysis in order to create calm out of the chaos of her life. She spends much time undergoing psychoanalysis by the perceptive "Dr. Sugar" who tries to make sense of the dreams that are replacing the words that have begun to fail her. Bad news for an author, even one with writer's block. It seems that compartmentalizing her life experiences in separate notebooks is part of the problem, not the solution.The four notebooks of different colors represent the disintegration leading Anna towards the mental breakdown that just might give her "a new kind of strength". One of the strengths of the book is the sense of hope lurking in the background of darkness and depression, although the reader has to dig deeply to find it.

The Golden Notebook is not an easy book to read because of its fragmented style. The fragmentation of narrative reflected both the crises in Anna's life and the changes in society during the mid-1950s. There is much to ponder in this book for the careful reader who wants to learn more about the effects of communism in England and the awakening of women's struggles to be equal with men. Anna may be complex but she's not unique. She is an intelligent, creative person with self-destructive tendencies, which might describe many of us. Whether or not you relate to Anna, you will find that Lessing has created a deep and memorable character to represent the postwar upheaval that led up to the craziness of the 1960s. ( )
2 vote Donna828 | Nov 8, 2013 |
I don't really know what to think about this book, but I can tell you one thing - it's a book that refuses to be summed up by a one-sentence description. Instead, here's a list of some of what it's about: friendships between women, Communism, single motherhood, sexual mores, psychoanalysis, writing, suicide, marriage, British colonies in Africa, race, class and gender divides, British vs. American tendencies, insanity, independence, love, losing faith in a cause, losing faith in oneself, public vs. private faces. Oh, and apparently it is supposed to be some sort of feminist touchstone, although Lessing says she didn't write it with that intention and I didn't personally read it that way myself.

I seesawed frequently between being intrigued and being bored. There's no doubt that Lessing's writing is engaging, but it didn't overcome the subject matter of some sections for me. I am not that interested in reading 50 pages on the future of Communism in the wake of realizations that Stalin was a monster. I'm not that interested in reading 3 pages of headlines that our main character, Anna, has clipped from newspapers and pasted into her journal. (Those 3 or 4 pages *felt* like 50 to me.) The structure of the novel was intriguing, although I admit I didn't entirely get it until near the end - I have no idea if a reader is supposed to have picked up on it before that.

My attention was held by the relationships between Anna and the major players in her life - her friend Molly and Molly's ex-husband, Richard, and their son, Tommy. Anna's relationship with her daughter, Janet, had some moments and expressions of emotions that any parent will recognize. Anna's relationships with men and her reflections thereupon were like the rest - sometimes interesting, sometimes so much tedious navel-gazing and justification.

Recommended for: anyone who wanted confirmation that bohemians are just as miserable as anyone else, people who think eating your vegetables before getting dessert makes dessert more rewarding, people with more patience for abstract whining and over-analyzing than me.

Quote: "She seems to me so fragile that I want to put out my hand to save her from a wrong step, or a careless movement; and at the same time so strong that she is immortal. I feel what I felt with sleeping Michael, a need to laugh out in triumph, because of this marvelous, precarious immortal human being, in spite of the weight of death." ( )
1 vote ursula | Jul 31, 2013 |
If before this book you wanted to be a writer, if after you finished it you still wanted to be a writer, then all the power to you.

What concerns us here is a English white heterosexual female, mother, author, communist. Upper-class, unmarried, unconsciously feminist. Neurotic, classist, homophobic, probably racist, there aren’t enough interactions with people of color to tell, but it seems likely considering the upbringing, the upbringing of the English society attuned to her personal attributes, her physical features, her financial stability, her sexuality mentality and race.

Do you have the story? Do you feel the pigeonholing begin? Do you sense your survival tactics classifying this contextual chorus as quickly as characterization consoles the contributors of compositions of caliber, of classics? Do you ease your way in expectations, do you settle your mind in the proper slots of when to be amused, when to be terrified, when to be aroused, when to be offended?

Because that’s what she does. She, Mrs. Anna Wulf, neé Anna Freeman (in actuality a ‘free’ woman, but let us save the carpings over lazy linguistics for another time), sees her world and feels the effects of that streamlined ideological training (you knew those words were coming, I love analyzing via this manner too much for a review to escape without them), and through some combination of fate and fortune can put them into words. The jargon of socialists versus the uninitiated working class (look at that discourse analysis class being put to work), the conflict between the expectations of men and those of women (look, I put men first, what does say about me), the pandering contempt of public society for the word ‘artist’ (oh you’re supposed to be tortured, however else would you come up with such delightful things for us, we couldn’t bear it if you didn’t wasted your talents, disappointed the rest of us who haven’t been blessed with such insight into the human condition).

She sees homosexuals as less than ‘real men’, she who cannot fathom the mixing of ‘male’ and ‘female’, cannot think outside the dichotomy of the gender lines of the English, no Kinsey scale formatting, confusing sexuality and mismatches between mind and body, just two words and the fearful gap . She talks of Africa as if it were something to be ‘saved’ by white people, we must let the Africans, those ‘poor things’, come to their true civilized calling but god forbid we accredit their myriad cultures or trust them as equals or look to them as experienced and authorized experts for a second, it is much better if we stick to our learning and reasoning and fall in circling patterns of thought that only work on paper. Children are a mystery, a mainframe of serialized progressions that cannot possibly successfully analyze the world and people around them, cannot possibly be capable of resignation with life, not when their parents need them to cope with their own. That would be monstrous.

She separates. Here is this book, this book composed without thought of composition, received with open arms by the popular opinion, full of lies and stereotypes and standards spiced with the slightest hint of chaos, the smallest fracture of ‘fighting the system’, that thrill, that excitement, feeding the average conformer their daily dose of moralizing self-righteousness, their carefully controlled observance of ‘the real world’. And now she is the ‘artist’, that tortured soul like so many others, who is not only unhappy but is supposed to be unhappy and learn how to be from those others (Joyce and Woolf and Kafka and Fitzgerald and Koestler and so many others who were truly unhappy), unhappy for the rest of us poor souls who cannot comprehend that talent, that quirk, and must rely on others who can, give us that side of madness that you have been blessed with that we who can cope so well with reality and its broken ideologies cannot ever have. And now she cannot write, because there are parts of her that fit within the system and parts of her that don’t, there are parts that she successfully absorbed in her progression of existence and parts that never quite deadened the natural rejection, , pain of guilt that increases with every observation, every analysis, every laying out of personal problems alongside the horrors of the world and finding the former severely lacking, a diagnosis of ‘it could be worse; it shouldn't hurt’, a conjectured solution of wishing to be a man so as to be able to fuck, so as to be able to ignore the shamed agony and bleeding of the vagina and all its myriad biological woes, so as to be able to ignore all that masculine patronizing and pigeonholing, that oedipal complex compensation, so as to be able to not think with feelings and feel with thought as so many men appear to be capable of.

Nothing is certain but death and taxes, and so those with life and those with money have the recipe for happiness. That is what everyone strives for, that is the goal the world round, and those who are threatened in both categories don’t want to believe that eventual stabilization will not bring them peace. They don’t want to believe that after the attainment of both lies of the small ills, the tiny hurts, the malformations of identit(y/ies/?) in coping with ideas and the machines that drive it, the emptiness that sinks in after the distracting thoughts of fleeing a run and keeping a job and the adrenaline of panic fade away. The possibility that whatever brain chemistry has been equipped cannot deal with what reality demands of its conscripts, demands that do not include the slightest hint of empathy for illnesses of the neurons. Plenty of paranoia and fear and conscious ignorance, yes. Kindness or understanding, no.

Selfish. Self-ish. Angry-ish, sad-ish, complicated-ish. Not quite there. Not quite the sublime self, the inherent rights, the pure drive for living, that brave entity that copes with so much in the effort to exist. Selfish. Working for money is selfish; who are you to only put forth efforts that you are paid for, selling yourself in whatever form for a small pittance? Fighting for your rights is selfish; who are you to say that what you have is not good enough, who are you to judge that it is not equal to everyone else, you and your inherent bias and will subsumed by this ‘oppressed’ self? Running for your life is selfish; who are you to say that you do not want to die, when so many others have gone before you, in agonized desperation that you cannot even begin to imagine?

And my god now you want to write about it? Go ahead. Go ahead with your need for income, your need for validation, your need for life, your selfish whims, your unconscious prejudices, your broken self that you think is oh so painful but really, you’re hardly that ‘special snowflake’ that you coddle so, that overly analytical stereotypical mess that cries about one thing but is secretly bigoted about everything else it doesn’t have to deal with that can’t even exist like the rest of us normal people, who may not have your talents but can cope just fine with a 9 to 5 job two kids and a spouse yes sirree we do just fine with our drinking our abuse our categorical separations our unconscious hypocrisies our identities set on the straight and narrow that we cannot feel straining and breaking at the seams. We deal just fine with the emptiness of words created by a species for communication and nothing more, we don’t see an object and think of the history that led to its creation and all its ill-fitting complexities and contradictions, we don’t regard a person and register their ancestral lines of being oppressive and being oppressed. We don’t look at ourselves and clinically observe the prejudice that led from this day of education here, this dangerous misconception that was born from this experience there, that disillusionment with what we are complicit with by existing. So much of it that is violence and blood. So many cannibal identities trapping behind with the punctured equilibrium of our past. So many coping mechanism selves trotting forth in our unrealistic idealistic opportunistic future.

We can hide from those feelings. We can be cold. We can be in control and funnel ourselves through the necessary fault lines, the civilized dichotomies, the socioeconomic machine.

Tell us, why should we care if you write about what causes you pain, if it does not cause us pain? Tell us, why should we care if you write about what you cannot cope with and hate that you cannot cope, if we can cope? Tell us, why should we care if you write about how we hurt you, if we do not know why it should? Tell us, why should we care when you question the rules, if those are the rules that we play by? Tell us, why should we care when you want to break the rules, if the rules are what we cannot imagine living without? Tell us, writer with money and intellect and security grown in comfort subsisting on a small effort grown profitable by chance because of your birth and your ancestry that so many of us would happily trade you for, why should we care about your problems when they are not all the problems?

Tell us, writer, you egotistical masochist, you lazy worm, you overly sensitive prat that cannot bear for your works to be commercialized and conformed and can afford to do so without sacrificing your standard of living, you sycophantic preacher who only wishes for social justice in the areas you are hurt by, you witless freak who cannot live a ‘normal life’, you coward pandering at indecision, pandering at mental illness, pandering at suicide, pandering at life.

Tell us, writer, why should we care when you strip away the world and show us how ‘good’ and ‘evil’ and every word known and unknown are winding labyrinths of infinite complexity mating in an obscene frenzy within every thing, every person, every concept.

Tell us, writer, why should we care if you cannot deal with it like the rest of us.

Tell us. ( )
4 vote Korrick | Jun 27, 2013 |
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Doris Lessingprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Valentí, HelenaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 006093140X, Paperback)

Much to its author's chagrin, The Golden Notebook instantly became a staple of the feminist movement when it was published in 1962. Doris Lessing's novel deconstructs the life of Anna Wulf, a sometime-Communist and a deeply leftist writer living in postwar London with her small daughter. Anna is battling writer's block, and, it often seems, the damaging chaos of life itself. The elements that made the book remarkable when it first appeared--extremely candid sexual and psychological descriptions of its characters and a fractured, postmodern structure--are no longer shocking. Nevertheless, The Golden Notebook has retained a great deal of power, chiefly due to its often brutal honesty and the sheer variation and sweep of its prose.

This largely autobiographical work comprises Anna's four notebooks: "a black notebook which is to do with Anna Wulf the writer; a red notebook concerned with politics; a yellow notebook, in which I make stories out of my experience; and a blue notebook which tries to be a diary." In a brilliant act of verisimilitude, Lessing alternates between these notebooks instead of presenting each one whole, also weaving in a novel called Free Women, which views Anna's life from the omniscient narrator's point of view. As the novel draws to a close, Anna, in the midst of a breakdown, abandons her dependence on compartmentalization and writes the single golden notebook of the title.

In tracking Anna's psychological movements--her recollections of her years in Africa, her relationship with her best friend, Molly, her travails with men, her disillusionment with the Party, the tidal pull of motherhood--Lessing pinpoints the pulse of a generation of women who were waiting to see what their postwar hopes would bring them. What arrived was unprecedented freedom, but with that freedom came unprecedented confusion. Lessing herself said in a 1994 interview: "I say fiction is better than telling the truth. Because the point about life is that it's a mess, isn't it? It hasn't got any shape except for you're born and you die."

The Golden Notebook suffers from certain weaknesses, among them giving rather simplistic, overblown illustrations to the phrase "a good man is hard to find" in the form of an endless parade of weak, selfish men. But it still has the capacity to fill emotional voids with the great rushes of feeling it details. Perhaps this is because it embodies one of Anna's own revelations: "I've been forced to acknowledge that the flashes of genuine art are all out of deep, suddenly stark, undisguiseable private emotion. Even in translation there is no mistaking these lightning flashes of genuine personal feeling." It seems that Lessing, like Anna when she decides to abandon her notebooks for the single, golden one, attempted to put all of herself in one book. --Melanie Rehak

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:59:49 -0400)

(see all 6 descriptions)

Anna is a writer, author of one very successful novel, who now keeps four notebooks. In one, with a black cover, she reviews the African experience of her earlier years. In a red one she records her political life, her disillusionment with communism. In a yellow one she writes a novel in which the heroine relives part of her own experience. And in a blue one she keeps a personal diary. Finally, in love with an American writer and threatened with insanity, Anna resolves to bring the threads of all four books together in a golden notebook.… (more)

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