Nobel prize author, Doris Lessing dies at 94

LONDON — Doris Lessing emerged from a black cab outside her home in London one day in 2007 and was confronted by a horde of reporters. When told she had won the Nobel Prize, she blinked and retorted “Oh Christ! … I couldn’t care less.”

That was typical of the independent — and often irascible — author who died Sunday after a long career that included “The Golden Notebook,” a 1962 novel than made her an icon of the women’s movement. Lessing’s books reflected her own improbable journey across the former British Empire, and later her vision of a future ravaged by atomic warfare.

The exact cause of Lessing’s death at her home in London was not immediately disclosed, and her family requested privacy. She was 94.

“Even in very old age she was always intellectually restless, reinventing herself, curious about the changing world around us, always completely inspirational,” her editor at HarperCollins, Nicholas Pearson, said in one of the many tributes.

Lessing explored topics ranging from colonial Africa to dystopian Britain, from the mystery of being female to the unknown worlds of science fiction. In winning the Nobel literature prize, the Swedish Academy praised Lessing for her “skepticism, fire and visionary power.”

The often-polarizing Lessing never saved her fire for the page. The targets of her vocal ire in recent years included former President George W. Bush — “a world calamity” — and modern women — “smug, self-righteous.” She also raised hackles by deeming the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States “not that terrible.”

She remains best known for “The Golden Notebook,” in which heroine Anna Wulf uses four notebooks to bring together the separate parts of her disintegrating life. The novel covers a range of previously unmentionable female conditions — menstruation, orgasms and frigidity — and made Lessing an icon for women’s liberation. But it became so widely talked about and dissected that she later referred to it as a “failure” and “an albatross.”

Published in Britain in 1962, the book did not make it to France or Germany for 14 years because it was considered too inflammatory. When it was republished in China in 1993, 80,000 copies sold out in two days.

“It took realism apart from the inside,” said Lorna Sage, an academic who knew Lessing since the 1970s. “Lessing threw over the conventions she grew up in to stage a kind of breakdown — to celebrate disintegration as the representative experience of a generation.”

Although she continued to publish at least one book every two years, she received little attention for her later works and was often criticized as didactic and impenetrable.

Lessing was 88 when she won the Nobel literature prize, making her the oldest recipient of the award.

“This is pure political correctness,” American literary critic Harold Bloom said in 2007 after Lessing won the Nobel Prize. “Although Ms. Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities, I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable … fourth-rate science fiction.”

While Lessing defended her turn to science fiction as a way to explore “social fiction,” she, too, was dismissive of the Nobel honor.

After emerging from a London black cab, groceries in hand, that day in 2007, she said:

“I can’t say I’m overwhelmed with surprise,” Lessing said. “I’m 88 years old and they can’t give the Nobel to someone who’s dead, so I think they were probably thinking they’d probably better give it to me now before I’ve popped off.”

As the international media surrounded her in her garden, she brightened when a reporter asked whether the Nobel would generate interest in her work.

“I’m very pleased if I get some new readers,” she said. “Yes, that’s very nice, I hadn’t thought of that.”

Born Doris May Tayler on Oct. 22, 1919, in Persia (now Iran), where her father was a bank manager, Lessing moved to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) aged 5 and lived there until she was 29.

Strong-willed from the start, she read works by Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling by age 10 and lived by the motto, “I will not.” Educated at a Roman Catholic girls school in Salisbury (now Harare), she left before finishing high school.

At 19, she married her first husband, Frank Wisdom, with whom she had a son and a daughter. She left that family in her early 20s and became drawn into the Left Book Club, a group of literary communists and socialists headed by Gottfried Lessing, the man who would become her second husband and father her third child.

But Lessing became disillusioned with the communist movement and in 1949, at 30, left her second husband to move to Britain. Along with her young son, Peter, she packed the manuscript of her first novel, “The Grass is Singing.” The novel, which used the story of a woman trapped in a loveless marriage to portray poverty and racism in Southern Rhodesia, was published in 1950 to great success in Europe and the United States.

Lessing then embarked on the first of five deeply autobiographical novels — from “Martha Quest” to “The Four-Gated City” — works that became her “Children of Violence” series.

Her nonfiction work ranged from “Going Home” in 1957, about her return to Southern Rhodesia, to “Particularly Cats,” a book about her pets, published in 1967.

In the 1950s, Lessing became an honorary member of a writers’ group known as the Angry Young Men who were seen as injecting a radical new energy into British culture. Her home in London became a center not only for novelists, playwrights and critics but also for drifters and loners.

Lessing herself denied being a feminist and said she was not conscious of writing anything particularly inflammatory when she produced “The Golden Notebook.”

Lessing’s early novels decried the dispossession of black Africans by white colonials and criticized South Africa’s apartheid system, prompting the governments of Southern Rhodesia and South Africa to bar her in 1956.

Later governments overturned that order. In June 1995, the same year that she received an honorary degree from Harvard University, she returned to South Africa to see her daughter and grandchildren.

In Britain, Lessing won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1954, and was made a Companion of Honor in 1999. That honor came after she turned down the chance to become a Dame of the British Empire — on the ground that there was no such thing as the British Empire at the time.

Lessing often presented women — herself included — as vain and territorial, and insisted in the introduction for a 1993 reissue that “The Golden Notebook” was not a “trumpet for women’s liberation.”

“I think a lot of romanticizing has gone on with the women’s movement,” she told The Associated Press in a 2006 interview. “Whatever type of behavior women are coming up with, it’s claimed as a victory for feminism — doesn’t matter how bad it is. We don’t seem to go in very much for self-criticism.”

But what about that day with the press camped on her door — a video of which was copied and widely displayed by Twitter followers noting her passing in sadness. Was she really dismissive of the Nobel? Her editor, Pearson, said her reaction corresponded with her personality.

“That was typical Doris. She took things in their stride,” he said. “I think she was delighted.”

She is survived by her daughter Jean and granddaughters Anna and Susannah.

News
Nature Conservancy Ranch
The Nature Conservancy just bought the 900-acre 7J Ranch at the headwaters of the Amargosa River, north of Beatty. The property could become a research station, though ranching will continue.
Swift water rescue at Durango Wash in Las Vegas
On Thursday, February 14, 2019, at approximately 8:42 a.m., the Clark County Fire Department responded to a report of a swift water incident where people were trapped in the Durango wash which is located near 8771 Halcon Ave. Personnel found one person who was trapped in the flood channel. The individual was transported to the hospital in stable condition. Video by Clark County Fire & Rescue.
Flooding at E Cheyenne in N. Las Vegas Blvd.
Quick Weather Around the Strip
Rain hits Las Vegas, but that doesn't stop people from heading out to the Strip. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries
Aaron Semas, professional bull rider, talks about his traumatic brain injuries. The Cleveland Clinic will begin researching the brains of retired bull riders to understand the impact traumatic brain injuries have on cognition. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/ Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Matt Stutzman shoots arrows with his feet
Matt Stutzman who was born without arms shoots arrows with his feet and hits the bullseye with remarkable accuracy. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Secretary of Air Force Emphasizes the Importance of Nellis AFB
US Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson visited Nellis Air Force Base during Red Flag training and described how important the base is to the military.
Former Northwest Academy student speaks out
Tanner Reynolds, 13, with his mother Angela McDonald, speaks out on his experience as a former student of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff member Caleb Michael Hill. Hill, 29, was arrested Jan. 29 by the Nye County Sheriff’s Office on suspicion of child abuse.
Former Northwest Academy students speak out
Tristan Groom, 15, and his brother Jade Gaastra, 23, speak out on their experiences as former students of Northwest Academy in Amargosa Valley, which includes abuse by staff and excessive medication.
Disruption At Metro PD OIS Presser
A man claiming to be part of the press refused to leave a press conference at Metro police headquarters, Wednesday January 30, 2019. Officers were forced to physically remove the man. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience
Clients at Las Vegas’ Homeless Courtyard talk about their experience after the city began operating around the clock. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Las Vegas parts ways with operator of homeless courtyard
Jocelyn Bluitt-Fisher discusses the transition between operators of the homeless courtyard in Las Vegas, Thursday Jan. 24, 2019.(Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas police and Raiders partner with SafeNest
Las Vegas police and the Raiders partner with SafeNest on Project Safe 417 (the police code for domestic violence is 417). The program partners trained SafeNest volunteer advocates with Metropolitan Police Department officers dispatched to domestic violence calls, allowing advocates to provide immediate crisis advocacy to victims at the scene of those calls. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
North Las Vegas police chief discusses officer-involved shooting
North Las Vegas police chief Pamela Ojeda held a press conference Thursday, Jan. 24, regarding an officer-involved shooting that took place on Jan. 21. The incident resulted in the killing of suspect Horacio Ruiz-Rodriguez. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Volunteers gather for annual Clark County homeless count
Volunteers gather for the annual Southern Nevada Homeless Census, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Who can understand hospital price lists?
Lists of costs for procedures, drugs and devices are now posted the websites of hospitals to comply with a new federal rule designed to provide additional consumer transparency. Good luck figuring out what they mean.
People in Mesquite deal with a massive power outage
People in Mesquite respond to a major power outage in the area on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Group helping stranded motorists during power outage
A group of Good Samaritans are offering free gas to people in need at the Glendale AM/PM, during a massive power outage near Mesquite on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen falls at Las Vegas parade
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada fell and injured her wrist at the Martin Luther King Day parade in Las Vegas on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Local astronomers host super blood wolf moon viewing
The Las Vegas Astronomical Society paired with the College of Southern Nevada to host a lunar eclipse viewing Sunday night. Known as the super blood wolf moon, the astronomical event won't occur for another 18 years. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Tate Elementary shows academic progress after categorical funding
Students at Tate Elementary in Las Vegas has benefited from a program to boost education funding in targeted student populations, known as categorical funding. One program called Zoom helps students who have fallen below grade level in reading. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The third annual Women’s March in Las Vegas
The third annual Women’s March in Las Vegas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @btesfaye
First former felon to work for Nevada Department of Corrections
After his father died, Michael Russell struggled for years with drug addiction. When he finally decided to change for good, he got sober and worked for years to help others. Now he is the first former felon to be hired by the Nevada Department of Corrections. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Three Square helps TSA workers
Three Square Food Bank donated over 400 care bags to TSA workers affected by the government shutdown Wednesday, filled with food, personal hygiene products and water.
Las Vegas furniture store donates to Clark County firehouses
Walker Furniture donated new mattresses to all 30 Clark County firehouses in the Las Vegas Valley, starting today with Station 22. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mount Charleston Gets Heavy Snow, Fog
Mount Charleston saw heavy snow today, and fog in lower elevations as a cold front swept across the Las Vegas Valley. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Krystal Whipple arrested in Arizona
Krystal Whipple, charged in the killing of a Las Vegas nail salon manager over a $35 manicure, is expected to return to Nevada to face a murder charge.
Holocaust survivor on acceptance
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, talks about the most important message for people to understand from her life and experiences.
Holocaust survivor speaks about telling her story
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, tells of opening up about her experiences during Sunday’s event at Temple Sinai.
Jesus Jara State of the Schools address
Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara delivers his State of the Schools address on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
ad-high_impact_4
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing