Doris Lessing: The Real Jewel of Africa

English: Doris Lessing, British writer, at lit...

English: Doris Lessing, British writer, at, Cologne literature festival 2006, Germany (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Nobel Prize winning author Doris Lessing has died aged 94 in London. Born in what is now Iran in 1919 to British parents, Doris and her family moved to what was then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1925. Doris and her brother, Harry, enjoyed the bush life whilst their parents struggled to make a life for themselves in Africa.They spent their days exploring the countryside and learning about the flora and fauna.

However, Doris’s mother was determined that her daughter should be brought up as a lady and she was sent firstly to a convent school and then later to an all girls school in Harare. She loved to read and this helped her to escape from her unhappy childhood into the worlds of Rudyard Kipling, Dickens, Scott et al.

Doris Lessing left school aged fifteen to get away from her mother and that was when she began writing, selling two stories to South African magazines. Aged 19, she married Frank Wisdom and went on to have two children with him. She again felt trapped and escaped her family but continued to live in Salisbury (Harare). She became interested in the Communist movement and through a group known as the Left Book Club, she met and married Gottfried Lessing and had a son. Following the Second World War, she became disillusioned with Communism and took her son to London, leaving her second husband behind. Her first novel ‘The Grass is Singing‘ , set in Africa, was published in 1949.

She went on to write many novels such as ‘The Golden Notebook’ and ‘The Good Terrorist’, short stories, poetry and plays. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007. She was 88 and the oldest woman to receive the prestigious award.

Doris Lessing was outspoken on a number of subjects, not least the land that was her home for so many years and what has become of it since Robert Mugabe came to power in 1982. In 2003, she wrote an article that appeared in the New York Review of Books in the April edition entitled “The Jewel of Africa”, castigating Mugabe for his cowardice and his greed. She wrote: “For a while I wondered if the word “tragedy” could be applied here, greatness brought low, but Mugabe, despite his early reputation, was never great; he was always a frightened little man. There is a tragedy, all right, but it is Zimbabwe’s.”

Doris Lessing was an inspiration to many writers (and of course readers),especially women, including many in Zimbabwe itself such as NoViolet Bulawayo who was this year shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for her novel ‘We Need New Names’.

She is quoted as having said “I’ll be pleased when I’m dead. That will let me off worrying about all these wars.” Having passed quietly in her sleep, she can indeed stop worrying about the world but her legacy will last long into the future.