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This report is taken from PN Review 59, Volume 14 Number 3, January - February 1988.

Writers at PEN: Lessing and Oz Nicolas Tredell
The PEN Ninth Writers' Day was held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on the South Bank in London on 28 March. Doris Lessing and Amos Oz were the principal speakers. Lessing spoke first, on 'The Scope of the Novel'. She praised work from 'what used to be called the colonies and dominions' as 'an extraordinarily enlivening influence on British literature'. She identified 'comparatively new developments in the novel' that she saw as important: science fiction; confessional, self-exploratory women's writing; work from countries in Africa and South America that had previously lacked a written tradition of literature; and 'factoids' such as In Cold Blood. Her most provocative comments were on women's writing. The confessional, self-exploratory kind of writing was 'something women had to go through' but which they were now getting beyond. Women's writing was becoming less personal, wittier, more humorous, more detached, more 'mainstream'. This might seem like apostasy in view of Lessing's earlier work, especially The Golden Notebook, which has been seen as a major precursor and inspiration of confessional women's writing. Tackled on this in the afternoon's question session, Lessing stressed that The Golden Notebook was very much 'staged', objectivized, not merely 'some woman emoting about something'.

She moved on to propose that novels should be seen as 'purveyors of information' useful in such areas as sociology, history, psychology, anthropology. As examples, she cited Remembrance of Things Past and Anna Karenina - saying, incidentally, that the attitudes to women Tolstoy describes are 'now, thank God, obsolete', at ...


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