Doris May Lessing CH (née Tayler; born 22 October 1919) is a British novelist, poet, playwright, librettist, biographer and short story writer. Her novels include The Grass is Singing (1950), the sequence of five novels collectively called Children of Violence (1952-69), The Golden Notebook (1962), The Good Terrorist (1985), and five novels collectively known as Canopus in Argos: Archives (1979-1983).
Lessing was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature. In doing so the Swedish Academy described her as "that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny". Lessing was the eleventh woman and the oldest person to ever receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.
In 2001, Lessing was awarded the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime’s achievement in British Literature. In 2008, The Times ranked her fifth on a list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945".
Lessing was born in Kermanshah, Iran, then known as Persia, on 22 October 1919, to Captain Alfred Tayler and Emily Maude Tayler (née McVeagh), who were both English and of British nationality. Her father, who had lost a leg during his service in World War I, met his future wife, a nurse, at the Royal Free Hospital where he was recovering from his amputation. Alfred Tayler and his wife moved to Kermanshah, Iran, in order to take up a job as a clerk for the Imperial Bank of Persia and it was there that Doris was born in 1919. The family then moved to the then British colony of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1925 to farm maize, among other plants, when her father purchased around one thousand acres of bush. Lessing’s mother attempted to lead an Edwardian lifestyle amidst the rough environment, which would have been easy had the family been wealthy; in reality, such a lifestyle was not feasible. The farm failed to deliver any monetary value in return.
Lessing was educated at the Dominican Convent High School, a Roman Catholic convent all-girls school in Salisbury (now Harare). She left school at the age of 14, and was self-educated from there on; she left home at 15 and worked as a nursemaid. She started reading material that her employer gave her, on politics and sociology and began writing around this time. In 1937, Lessing moved to Salisbury to work as a telephone operator, and she soon married her first husband, Frank Wisdom, with whom she had two children (John and Jean), before the marriage ended in 1943.
Following her first divorce, Lessing’s interest was drawn to the popular community of the Left Book Club, a communist book club which she had joined the year before. It was here that she met her future second husband, Gottfried Lessing. They were married shortly after she joined the group, and had a child together (Peter), before the marriage failed and ended in divorce in 1949. After these two failed marriages, she has not been married since. Later on Gottfried Lessing became the East German ambassador to Uganda, and was murdered in the 1979 rebellion against Idi Amin Dada.
When she fled to London to pursue her writing career and communist beliefs, she left two toddlers with their father in South Africa (another, from her second marriage, went with her). She later said that at the time she thought she had no choice: "For a long time I felt I had done a very brave thing. There is nothing more boring for an intelligent woman than to spend endless amounts of time with small children. I felt I wasn’t the best person to bring them up. I would have ended up an alcoholic or a frustrated intellectual like my mother."
Because of her campaigning against nuclear arms and South African apartheid, Lessing was banned from that country and from Rhodesia for many years. She moved to London with her youngest son in 1949. Her first novel, The Grass is Singing, was published in 1950. Her breakthrough work, The Golden Notebook, was written in 1962.
In 1982 Doris Lessing attempted to publish two novels under a pseudonym, Jane Somers, to show the difficulty new authors faced in trying to have their works in print. The novels were declined by Lessing’s UK publisher, but was later accepted by another English publisher, Michael Joseph, and in the US by Alfred A. Knopf. The Diary of a Good Neighbour was published in England and the US in 1983, and If the Old Could in both countries in 1984, both as written by Jane Somers. In 1984, both novels were re-published in both countries (Viking Books publishing in the US), this time under one cover, with the title The Diaries of Jane Somers: The Diary of a Good Neighbor and If the Old Could, listing Doris Lessing as author instead of listing Jane Somers.
She declined a damehood, but accepted appointment as a Companion of Honour at the end of 1999 for "conspicuous national service". She has also been made a Companion of Literature by the Royal Society of Literature.
In 2007, Lessing was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. She was 87, making her the oldest winner of the literature prize at the time of the award and the third oldest Nobel Laureate in any category. She also stands as only the eleventh woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature by the Swedish Academy in its 106-year history. Lessing was out shopping for groceries when the announcement came, arriving home to tell reporters who had gathered there, "Oh Christ!". She told reporters outside her home "I’ve won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I’m delighted to win them all. It’s a royal flush." She titled her Nobel Lecture On Not Winning the Nobel Prize and used it to draw attention to global inequality of opportunity, and to explore changing attitudes to storytelling and literature. The lecture was later published in a limited edition to raise money for children made vulnerable by HIV/AIDS. In a 2008 interview for the BBC’s Front Row, she stated that increased media interest following the award had left her without time for writing.
A 2010 BBC radio documentary titled Useful Idiots listed among "useful idiots" of Joseph Stalin several prominent British writers, including Doris Lessing.
Canopus in Argos Series
Doris Lessing – Shikasta (read by John Livesey)
Doris Lessing – The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four And Five (read by Maggie Jones)
Doris Lessing – The Sirian Experiments (read by David Banks)
Doris Lessing – The Making Of The Representative For Planet 8 (read by Carol Marsh)
Doris Lessing – The Sentimental Agents In The Volyen Empire (read by John Cormack)
Children of Violence Series
Doris Lessing – Martha Quest (read by Norma West)
Doris Lessing – A Proper Marriage (read by Norma West)
Doris Lessing – A Ripple From The Storm (read by Norma West)
Doris Lessing – Landlocked (read by Norma West)
Doris Lessing – The Four Gated City (read by Norma West)
Doris Lessing – The Golden Notebook (read by Juliet Stevenson)
Doris Lessing – The Good Terrorist (read by Nadia May)
Doris Lessing – The Prisons We Choose To Live Inside (read by ???)
Canopus in Argos Series
Children of Violence Series