AS SHE climbed slowly out of the taxi with her shopping, her grey bun coming down as usual, Doris Lessing noticed that the front garden was full of photographers. They told her she had won the 2007 Nobel prize for literature. She said, “Oh, Christ.” Then, picking up her bags, “One can get more excited.” And then, having paid the cab man, “I suppose you want some uplifting remarks.” She supplied a few later for her official Nobel interview, but still on her own terms: wearing what looked like a dressing gown and a lopsided, plunging camisole at a kitchen table overloaded with open packets of crackers and messy jars of jam.


For 30 years, by her reckoning, people had expected that she would get the prize. She hated expectation: that burden that made you a prisoner of circumstances and dragged you along like a fish on a line. The expectation when a child that she would behave, and not try to pull down her itchy stockings or burst into tears. The expectation that she would be a good wife (as she tried twice), pushing prams all day long, instead of leaving her two small children behind to start a new life. The expectation that the Communist revolution would usher in Utopia, when it was all “a load of old socks”. Why did people expect such things? Who had promised them? When?

Most frustrating was the public’s expectation that she, as a writer, would keep to one path. After the success of her first novel, “The Grass is Singing” (1950), packed in manuscript in her suitcase when she arrived, almost penniless, in Britain from Southern Rhodesia, she could have kept on writing about Africa. But in “The Golden Notebook” (1962) she plunged instead into the world of a woman’s dreams and mental disintegration, to wide dismay. In “The Good Terrorist” (1985) she expanded on her theory that acts of terror could be blundered into, rather than ruthlessly planned: again, alarums and confusion. Her five-book “Canopus in Argos” series (1979-83) ventured into science fiction, chronicling moral and ecological disaster on a planet, Shikasta, that was Earth in thin disguise. Many of her fans thought she had gone bonkers. She insisted that it was the best writing she had ever done.
Her name for that, for it wasn’t really science fiction, was “space fiction”: suddenly the old literary constraints were lifted, and she could write with breadth about universal themes. It was like sliding out of a stuffy room (she always noticed smells, whether of animal hide, lice, peas, unwashedness) to thrust her nose into cool fresh air, or running out into the bush of her Rhodesian childhood, with its miles of tawny grass shining in the sun. Or, in her London life, coming out of the flat where she had paced round and pecked at the typewriter all day to wander for hours through the night-time streets.
For too long she had played the game of being pleasant, fitting in. From childhood she was called “Tigger”, the bouncy beast, the jolly good sport. Good old Tigger, who underneath it all was in a rage of hatred against her mother and aching to run away as, at 15, she did. Another persona was “the Hostess”, so generous and talkative to the lefty and literary flotsam who crammed into her London flats, when inside she would be crushed from some unwise love affair or other, or just wanting to be alone. Everyone was a chameleon; hence “The Golden Notebook”, in which a woman’s life was narrated in discrete notebooks, emotional, political and everyday, which eventually tangled into one. Feminists seemed mostly to notice that it mentioned menstruation. They made it their handbook in the sex wars of the 1960s, which hadn’t been her aim at all.
Myth and truth
A small part of her was feminist, just as a small part was Communist in the 1950s, and Sufi later. Every ideology collapsed into something else, just as her frail family farmhouse of mud and thatch would fade back into the bush in time. She never gave her whole self to anything, except to one lover, “Jack”, in the 1960s—and to her third child, Peter, whom she cared for until he died, of diabetes, this year. As a writer she stood outside, “wool-gathering” and observing with sly eyes, like one of her cats. Much of her heart, though, lay in Africa, and her writing soared when recounting the labour of blacks, the easy bigotry of little-Englander whites (like her parents) and the sights and sounds of the place, from the smoke-mist of dawn to the rustling, creeping noise at night that revealed itself as rain. Rhodesia was her “myth country”.
She wrote “The Grass is Singing” to expose a truth: that white women could desire black men. It made a shocking scene when Moses, the cook-boy, was seen through the window buttoning up Mary Turner’s dress with “indulgent uxoriousness”. And she could spring the hard truth in dozens of smaller touches: describing a new mother as “a sack of bruised flesh”, or the “silky black beards” of underarm hair.
There was a true Doris, too, somewhere. This “aliveness” was where the stories came from, and it was buried deep. As she plumped herself wearily down on the doorstep to answer questions, that Nobel morning in 2007, she seemed to show an authentic, unbrushed side to the world’s press. But the real Doris was saying, as she had every day for decades, Run away, you silly woman, take control, write.

 (中央社記者 楊淑閔台北 1日電)促修法落實 土地正義的 世新大學社發所助理教授、台灣農村陣線 發言人 蔡培慧昨傍晚車禍顱內出血,急救術後清醒,但腦壓大觀察中。

台灣農村陣線成員 許博任表示,蔡培慧昨天傍晚在苗栗竹南鎮上結束座談會活動後,綠燈走在斑馬線上時,被一輛綠燈左轉的小客車撞倒,因後腦著地,頭骨破致顱內出血,昨晚10時送抵林口長庚醫院手術救治,手術後,今天已清醒。


蔡培慧長年參與大埔農地等多件土地徵收爭議案,主張推動土地徵收條例修法,以落實土地正義; 許博任說,她發生車禍,引發許多人及媒體關注,希望大家為她祈禱,祝 她早日康復。