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A Sad Day for Readers
November 17, 2013 8:09 AM   Subscribe

Doris Lessing, revolutionary Nobel prize-winning novelist, passed away this morning at the age of 94.
In 2007, she became the oldest author to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature at the age of 88, and was only the 11th woman to win the award.
Ms. Lessing famously poked fun at the judges for snubbing her work 40 years earlier. She joked: "So now they've decided they're going to give it to me. So why? I mean, why do they like me any better now than they did then?"
She later described winning the Nobel prize as a "bloody disaster", and turned down a Damehood.

In addition to her best-known works, including The Golden Notebook, the Canopus in Argos series, and the Children of Violence series, Lessing published many other books, including two under the pseudonym of Jane Somers.

The Guardian's Doris Lessing page
DorisLessing.org
posted by still_wears_a_hat (54 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by localroger at 8:10 AM on November 17, 2013


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posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:11 AM on November 17, 2013


Her Children of Violence series was one of the best things I've ever read.

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posted by fuse theorem at 8:17 AM on November 17, 2013


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posted by Artw at 8:19 AM on November 17, 2013


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posted by cazoo at 8:20 AM on November 17, 2013


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posted by aesop at 8:20 AM on November 17, 2013


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Doris Lessing's writing transformed me. She helped me understand the world, and how humans can interact with it and one another. Her influence on my life could not be overstated.

Thank you Doris Lessing.
posted by goneill at 8:30 AM on November 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


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posted by Smart Dalek at 8:33 AM on November 17, 2013


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posted by HandfulOfDust at 8:34 AM on November 17, 2013


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Thank you Doris Lessing.
posted by sneebler at 8:37 AM on November 17, 2013


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posted by skycrashesdown at 8:37 AM on November 17, 2013


Her reaction to being told she won the Nobel Prize is pretty wonderful.

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posted by dismas at 8:38 AM on November 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


In The Golden Botebook she had the presence of mind to describe reality accurately , and so was called a radical with a feminist agenda.
posted by alms at 8:39 AM on November 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


One of those literary gaps in my reading life that I keep on meaning to fix.

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posted by Fizz at 9:00 AM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by nikitabot at 9:01 AM on November 17, 2013


The Golden Notebook was the first book I read that seemed real to me. Many books shaped my adolescence but that book brought me into adulthood.

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posted by MaritaCov at 9:06 AM on November 17, 2013


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posted by Iridic at 9:13 AM on November 17, 2013


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Her books are everything I want from books: innovative, startling, convincing, absorbing, and thought-provoking. The Good Terrorist, especially, is marvelous. One of her underrated gems, I think.
posted by MarioM at 9:14 AM on November 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


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posted by BibiRose at 9:15 AM on November 17, 2013


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posted by fraula at 9:16 AM on November 17, 2013


Close to 50 years of her notes and archives lie at the HRC in Austin, Tx.
Doris Lessing at the HRC

Doris Lessing:
A Preliminary Inventory of Her Papers at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
Creator Lessing, Doris May
Title Doris Lessing Papers
Dates: 1940s-1999
Extent: 45 boxes, 9 galleys (18.9 linear feet)
Abstract: The papers include novels, short stories, and plays for stage, television, and film, non-fiction, works including adaptations, articles, essays, and lectures, as well as reviews of works of this British author.
Language: English.
Access: Open for research

Inventory link
posted by Zangal at 9:20 AM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Desert Island Discs
posted by pracowity at 9:25 AM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:49 AM on November 17, 2013


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posted by postcommunism at 10:04 AM on November 17, 2013


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posted by c'mon sea legs at 10:14 AM on November 17, 2013


Is it possible for a writer to win the Nobel and still be underrated? Lessing might be a test case.

At the very least, despite the respect her realistic novels are universally and justly paid, I've still known almost no one either in the SF world or the world of high literature who took the Canopus in Argos series very seriously, which I find a real shame considering how full she packed it with genre-defying visionary strangeness. At the very least, it's a project unlike anything else out there. Even the Mara and Dann books and the terrifically odd gender myth The Cleft don't seem to have found very much of a readership despite being both accessible and worth reading. There's something about Lessing's late-career determination to defy the rules of proper realistic middlebrow-novel good taste, along with her tremendous and scorching wit, that strikes me as still more impressive than she's usually given credit for.
posted by RogerB at 10:18 AM on November 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


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posted by drezdn at 10:20 AM on November 17, 2013


The New York Times obituary is even more insulting than you might expect.
posted by RogerB at 10:34 AM on November 17, 2013


She's a personal hero of mine. turned down a Damehood - that's badass. Time to re-read Golden Notebook, a novel that taught me a great deal, but I can't define what. Thank you so much, Doris Lessing.

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posted by theora55 at 10:37 AM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


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posted by emhutchinson at 10:48 AM on November 17, 2013


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posted by Fibognocchi at 10:54 AM on November 17, 2013


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posted by homunculus at 10:56 AM on November 17, 2013


It's comforting to know that The Golden Notebook was transformative for other people too. That book gave me ways of looking at the world and my place in it that I now know would have been very difficult to come by anywhere else.

More than a decade later, my girlfriend at the time I read it told me I was like a sleepwalker during the week it took me to get through it.
posted by jamjam at 10:56 AM on November 17, 2013


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posted by oomny at 11:01 AM on November 17, 2013


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posted by ethansr at 11:01 AM on November 17, 2013


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posted by lalochezia at 11:17 AM on November 17, 2013


RogerB: "Times"

Yes, talk about a mealy-mouthed uncompliment:
When she entered the realm of science fiction, she disappointed some of her staunchest supporters. Her “Canopus in Argos” series, which began with “Re: Colonized Planet 5, Shikasta” in 1979, was greeted with both surprise and regret.

NYT, wtf? Lesson here: if you want to safeguard your literary reputation from hagiographers, avoid genre.
posted by meehawl at 11:20 AM on November 17, 2013


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posted by Lynsey at 12:14 PM on November 17, 2013


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posted by Paris Elk at 12:16 PM on November 17, 2013


The New York Times obituary is even more insulting than you might expect.

We can take solace in the fact that Doris Lessing wouldn't have given a flying fuck about what the Times wrote.
posted by alms at 12:59 PM on November 17, 2013 [10 favorites]


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posted by threetwentytwo at 1:54 PM on November 17, 2013


Jesus, the New York Times called her strident, WTF.

I can't even begin to imagine what it must have been like to be her, such a fierce and brilliant and uncompromising woman. I think about her leaving her two toddlers behind in South Africa with their father, back in late forties. How much shit she took for that, for decades, from everyone. I can't imagine.

I love her. We're diminished without her.
posted by Susan PG at 1:57 PM on November 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have a special fondness for the undulant rhetoric of The Sentimental Agents, which is a book that clearly speaks to some of our political arenas these days...
posted by ovvl at 2:47 PM on November 17, 2013


I've still known almost no one either in the SF world or the world of high literature who took the Canopus in Argos series very seriously
I bounced off it pretty hard the time I tried to read it, and I was in more of a place to enjoy atypical forms then than I am now, but maybe I'll give it another try. People who have read it tend to think pretty highly of it, in my experience.
Lesson here: if you want to safeguard your literary reputation from hagiographers, avoid genre.
Or at least do the Margaret Atwood no-true-Scotsman thing…
posted by hattifattener at 3:12 PM on November 17, 2013


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posted by Cash4Lead at 4:57 PM on November 17, 2013


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posted by MrBadExample at 5:15 PM on November 17, 2013


/Spills some dressing.
posted by ooga_booga at 5:25 PM on November 17, 2013


I think I've only read the Golden Notebook, but I loved it. Vivid and amazing.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:47 PM on November 17, 2013


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posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 8:27 PM on November 17, 2013


I saw io9's thing before the NYT one. In comparison, it's shocking how fatuous the latter is. I read Martha Quest when I was 22 or so and it's one of a handful of adult reading experiences--that book in that time and place--that I have felt really deepened and nourished by. She's amazing.
posted by batfish at 8:43 PM on November 17, 2013


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posted by daniel_charms at 9:13 PM on November 17, 2013


RogerB: "The New York Times obituary is even more insulting than you might expect."

Relevant.

Although it does contain one gem of a line: "Readers did not stop interpreting her work in ways that infuriated her."

Which is of course entirely true. :)

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posted by zarq at 8:01 AM on November 19, 2013


One of my favorites. I've loved everything of hers I've ever read and in particular the Canopus in Argos books. They redefined feminist SF for me and, I think, paved the way for Atwood. I'm due and overdue for another rereading of those soon. Here are a few quotes of hers - in particular I think #10 is very important. So important that Love, Again is sitting on my bookshelf, waiting for me to get just a little older.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:30 AM on November 19, 2013


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posted by klausness at 7:33 AM on November 20, 2013


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