Children of Violence
Doris Lessing became famous for writing The Golden Notebook, which was preceded by the Children of Violence series that are of a much higher quality. But the Notebook was lauded because it spoke to the burgeoning feminist movement. The C of V series’ five books, Martha Quest, A Proper Marriage, A Ripple From The Storm, Landlocked, and The Four-Gated City are a semi-biographical account of her experience of coming into being as a young woman in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.
Her parents were British, and mother aspired to the cultured class but had a feckless husband who barely made ends meet on a 1000 acre farm, so strife. In such an atmosphere, Doris, herself a British subject with a pretentious mother who she hated till the day she died developed and eventually came into being. Few people do, but she was blessed with a mother whose narrow vision of a proper life was the prison society crams its members into from very early life. Doris tried, she liked the gaiety of youth in the city, the sundowner parties, the gang and its hangouts, and then at the age of twenty she got married and had a couple of kids. That was not so much fun. She was now a full-fledged member of society’s institution. It lasted four years and then she got divorced from husband and kids, or as the New York Times said, She abandoned them.
When and how does one awaken, chooses to come into being? There needs to be an impetus, a prop to sustain one as you enter an uncharted life, exposing concealed aspects of self. For Lessing, support came in the communist party and work she committed herself to in efforts at freeing the black population then enslaved by their white overlords. These first steps eventually led her to England and a writing life.
C of V’s main protagonist is Martha Quest, a girl and then woman that one does not necessarily like at times but takes to heart. How can it be otherwise? One sees her swinging back and forth between going along readily with her enslavement or taking small steps to stand her ground. The courage it took for Doris Lessing to leave her kids behind and pursue a life of ideas is something that she seems never to have quite remitted herself of. Much of her writings portrays her self-sufficient women with a maternal vein in spite of their independence.