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Title:Doris Lessing's versions of Zimbabwe from 'The golden notebook' to 'Alfred and Emily'
Author:Chennells, Anthony
Periodical:The English Academy Review (ISSN 1753-5360)
Geographic term:Zimbabwe
literary criticism
About person:Doris May Lessing (1919-2013)
Abstract:Throughout her long career, Doris Lessing frequently wrote about Rhodesia or Zimbabwe, often giving the country fictional names, including Anna Wulf's Central Africa in 'The golden notebook'. Anna dismisses her account of the country as falsified by nostalgia, but her 'Black notebook' contains energetic debates about what the country would be like if blacks emerged victorious from an anti-colonial war. 'African laughter', her account of her visits to Zimbabwe in the 1980s and early 1990s, allows Lessing to consider how accurately these debates anticipated what the country became. Her narrative moves through delight at the new nation to disillusionment with the opportunities that are being wasted. Disillusionment is also the dominant mood of 'The sweetest dream', a novel partly set in the newly independent Zimlia, and Zimbabwe is explicitly discussed in an influential article called 'The tragedy of Zimbabwe'. In the 1990s Lessing wrote the two volumes of her autobiography, 'Under my skin' and 'Walking in the shade'; several episodes of the Rhodesian section of the first of these are re-worked in sketches in her final book, 'Alfred and Emily', part novella and part memoir of a Rhodesia that her parents experienced as an extension of the trauma of the First World War. In each of these different types of narrative Lessing assumes a different subjective point of view, and there is no single objective account of the country. Her narrative choices require that Lessing's versions of Zimbabwe are nearly always provisional. Bibliogr., notes, ref., sum. [Journal abstract]