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Is The Golden Notebook a feminist novel?

15 October 2019

From The Guardian:

The New York Times critic Ernest Buickler once wrote that “a firkinful of scorching aphorisms” could be culled from nearly every page of The Golden Notebook. An exaggeration, of course – but only just. Doris Lessing’s 1962 novel is eminently quotable:

“For with my intuition I knew that this man was repeating a pattern over and over again: courting a woman with his intelligence and sympathy, claiming her emotionally; then, when she began to claim in return, running away. And the better a woman was, the sooner he would begin to run.”

“The real revolution is women against men.”

“If we lead what is known as free lives, that is, lives like men, why shouldn’t we use the same language.”

“One had to be much older than I was then to understand George’s relationship with his wife. He had a fierce loyal compassion for her, the compassion of one victim for another.”

. . . .

The Oxford Companion to English Literature describes The Golden Notebook as a landmark of the women’s movement in the 1960s, an achievement Lessing disliked, denying that the novel was a “trumpet for women’s liberation” or an account of “the sex war”.

It would be reductive to describe all of Lessing’s female characters as victims. Most of them are too smart, determined and independent-minded to allow themselves to be beaten down entirely. But the odds are stacked against them, especially in their relationships with men.

Time and again, the men get to do and say dreadful things, then trot off unscathed to their next victims.

. . . .

It’s impossible to read The Golden Notebook without thinking that there’s something very wrong in the gender relations it describes and in the world at large. It’s easy to see why readers might have taken it as a call to arms and feminist inspiration. But even so, it’s just as easy to see why Lessing was annoyed that people might describe the novel in exclusively feminist terms. It’s too complicated and ambiguous to fit any political programme.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG wonders if it matters whether The Golden Notebook is a feminist novel or not, particularly when the author denied “that the novel was a “trumpet for women’s liberation” or an account of “the sex war”.”

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4 Comments to “Is The Golden Notebook a feminist novel?”

  1. I still remember the critical review on a 60s feminist classic complaining that it didn’t contain any Strong Women.

    All right, the review didn’t use the caps, but it was clearly, This novel does not use OUR shibboleths.

    Can a work become unfeminist?

    • Well, apparently _The Left Hand of Darkness_ has gone from being ground breaking and a model of sexual liberation and possibilities to being criticized for a lack of female characters and the over-use of the generic male pronoun. It is not “trans-positive” enough. Le Guin said in several interviews that she was sorry about how it was edited, and that she would do it very differently today.

      • Today’s cutting edge trendsetters will be tomorrow’s reactionary fuddy-duddy’s. Trying to keep up with the ever changing avant gard fads is a hopeless task. A fool’s task.

        Really just another form of writing to market, albeit an unprofitable one.

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