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This article is taken from PN Review 60, Volume 14 Number 4, March - April 1988.

Doris Lessing in Pursuit of the English Clare Hanson

Doris Lessing is out of favour with English criticism, when English criticism takes account of her work at all. After the ecstatic reception of The Grass is Singing in 1950 (an 'astonishing accomplishment' said no less a paper than the Daily Telegraph) - it has been downhill all the way, a textbook case of critics taking their own bafflement and confusion and reflecting it back on to the author. For example, in a long, anonymous review of The Golden Notebook in the TLS, the (male?) critic concluded:


There is no breaking of forms but an inability to impose form at all: the level of consciousness in all the notebooks is the same and very often the subject-matter overlaps, so that the reader cannot remember whether certain incidents are supposed to be fiction or fact . . . Her material has got badly out of hand, and in desperation she has bundled the lot together and chucked it at the reader to make of it what he (sic) can. (27 April 1962)


A sadly exemplary case of a critic inadvertently hitting some nails on the head while labouring otherwise under a fog of incomprehension. After the critical reception accorded The Golden Notebook and The Four-Gated City, it is hardly surprising to find that Lessing's 'space fiction' has found even fewer admirers in England: by this stage (the 1970s and 1980s), Lessing has become an open target. A TLS review of The Sirian ...


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