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Doris Lessing: British Nobel Laureate author dies, aged 94

The British Nobel Laureate author, who wrote The Golden Notebook and The Grass is Singing, had a writing career spanning more than 60 years

Adam Withnall
Sunday 17 November 2013 16:01 GMT
British writer Doris Lessing outside her home in north London, 11 October 2007, as she is told she has won the Nobel Literature Prize
British writer Doris Lessing outside her home in north London, 11 October 2007, as she is told she has won the Nobel Literature Prize (AFP/Getty Images)

Doris Lessing, the Nobel Laureate author of The Golden Notebook and The Grass is Singing, has died aged 94.

Largely self-educated and from a modest British-colonial upbringing, Lessing went on to become one of the greatest British writers of the last century.

Beginning with a selection of short stories published in 1948 and ending with her final book Alfred and Emily (2008), Lessing wrote on the defence of freedom, the developing world, women’s rights and countless other themes across more than 50 works of fiction, nonfiction and poetry.

Her publisher, HarperCollins, said she died peacefully early Sunday.

Born Doris May Tayler to British parents in what was then Persia, on 22 October 1919, Lessing moved with her family to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), before briefly attending Roman Catholic boarding school in the capital, Salisbury.

Lessing spent many of her formative years in southern Africa, dropping out of school at 13 and fleeing from home and a turbulent relationship with her mother at the age of 15.

Eventually moving to Salisbury in 1937, she married and had two children with Frank Wisdom. She quickly became disillusioned the life she saw playing out before her, left Wisdom and her family, and instead became drawn to the like-minded members of a Communist group called the Left Book Club.

There she met Gottfried Lessing, whom she married and with whom she had a son. In the post-war years Lessing again became restless, and in 1949 she moved to London with her son. That year she also published her first novel, The Grass is Singing, and began writing professionally.

From 1951 to 1959 Lessing wrote the Children of Violence sequence, five relatively conventional novels of experience. In 1962 she penned her seminal work, The Golden Notebook, often referred to as “a feminist bible” – though that is a description which, she says, “never occurred to me as I was writing”.

In 1995, Lessing received an Honorary Degree from Harvard University, and in 2001 she was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize in Literature, one of Spain’s highest distinctions.

In the December 1999 Honours List Lessing was appointed a Companion of Honour. She turned down the offer of becoming a Dame of the British Empire because, she said, there is no British Empire – adding that it was “a bit pantomimey”.

In 2005, Lessing was shortlisted for the first Man Booker International Prize. In 2007, she received the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Swedish Academy praised Lessing for her “skepticism, fire and visionary power”.

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