Winner of the 1987 NEMLA-Ohio University Press Book Prize
“A tribute to Lessing’s recognized stature and continuing vitality and power to surprise and provoke. The range of response represented in these essays is impressive, and they admirably suggest the development of her work through its many phases.”
Long neglected by the academic world because of her rejection of belletristic values and resistance to convenient literary taxonomy, Doris Lessing has nonetheless built an international following of serious, dedicated readers. Acknowledging the difficulties posed by the multiple dimensions of Lessing’s work, Kaplan and Rose have gathered eleven essays that address her artistic, philosophical, political, and psychological complexity, and so provide a welcome introduction to the extraordinary depth and diversity of this important contemporary novelist.
Lessing has been described as an “alchemical” writer, in that her work is directed toward changing people’s lives and perceptions rather than simply recording experience. Accordingly, the contributors examine her various postures and tactics for the purpose of discovering how the alchemical elements inform her various personae. Frederick C. Stern discusses Lessing’s commitment to radical humanist thought, while Carey Kaplan examines how Lessing’s imperialist past has shaped her futuristic fiction. Elizabeth Abel offers a feminist interpretation of the pattern of brother-sister incest in Lessing’s work, showing how Lessing has established Antigone as a female alternative to the Oedipal myth of male incest. Particularly insightful is Eve Bertelsen’s report of her interview with Lessing, demonstrating how Lessing’s often evasive style of adversarial dialogue works in concert with her refusal to be conveniently pigeonholed by academic analysis.
For those readers new to her work, Doris Lessing: The Alchemy of Survival will serve as a useful introduction to Lessing’s concerns and techniques. Those who have long admired her writing will find in this collection new keys to understanding Lessing’s philosophical, political, and psychological complexity.
Carey Kaplan is associate professor and chairperson of the English Department at Saint Michael’s College.
Ellen Cronan Rose is associate professor in the Department of Humanities & Communications at Drexel University.
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