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Chapter 7 - Lessing on Generations and Freedom

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 June 2021

Aaron Matz
Affiliation:
Scripps College, California
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Summary

Chapter 7, “Lessing on Generations and Freedom,” notes that while other English novelists – Lawrence, Woolf – wrote about characters mired in uncertainty about having children, none produced anything like the sequences of protracted vexation in Doris Lessing’s “Children of Violence” novels. This chapter takes in Lessing’s long career, from her first novel (The Grass Is Singing) to her last (Alfred and Emily), but it focuses on those 1950s and 1960s masterpieces, which track the heroine Martha Quest from adolescence to old age. Martha is riven by incompatible attitudes: a curiosity about motherhood is stymied by her antipathy toward becoming a mother. She cannot shake the conviction that in giving life to a new being she is shackling that being to a state of unfreedom. Martha, like her creator Lessing, is forced to ask whether only abandonment of one’s children can provide some small liberty to that next generation. In Lessing’s novels it is not only the mother who, encumbered by a baby, loses her freedom: it is also the child, beholden to the parent, who enters existence as an already subjected being.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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