Doris Lessing Biography

Doris Lessing, the British novelist won the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature. Her novels are deeply autobiographical and reflect her deep feminist engagement with major social and political issues.


Doris Lessing was born on 22 October 1919 to British parents in what was then known as Persia (now Iran) as Doris May Taylor. In 1925 the family moved to a farm in Zimbabwe (the Rhodesia) hoping to improve their income. At the age of seven, she was sent to a convent boarding school but later moved to a girls’ school in Salisbury. When 14 she independently ended her formal schooling.

In the 1945s Doris got involved with the Southern Rhodesian Labour Party. Doris married Gottfried Lessing in 1945. When the couple divorced in 1949, she took their son and moved to London. Doris quickly established herself as a writer. Between 1952 and 1956 she was a member of the British Communist Party and was active in the campaign against nuclear weapons. Because of her criticism of the South African regime, she was prohibited entry to that country between 1956 and 1995. After a brief visit to Southern Rhodesia in 1956, she was banned there as well for the same reason.

Literary output

Doris Lessing made her debut as a novelist with ‘The Grass is Singing’ (1950), which examines the relationship between a white farmer’s wife and her black servant. The book is a study of unbridgeable racial conflicts. The semi-autobiographical ‘Children of Violence’ series, usually called the Martha Quest series for its main character, is largely set in Africa. The series comprises Martha Quest (1952), A Proper Marriage (1954), A Ripple from the Storm (1958), Landlocked (1965) and The Four-Gated City (1969). With these books Lessing created a modern equivalent of the Bildungsroman of women writers of the 19th century. ‘The Golden Notebook’ (1962) was Doris Lessing’s real breakthrough. The burgeoning feminist movement saw it as a pioneering work and it belongs to the handful of books that depicted the 20th-century view of the male-female relationship.

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