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Book Title: The Four-Gated City|
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 477 KB
v The author of the book: Doris Lessing
Edition: Harper Perennial
Date of issue: September 1st 1995
ISBN 13: 9780060976675
City - Country: No data
Read full description of the books The Four-Gated City:So ends Lessing's Bildungsroman par excellance. This near-700 page breeze block of a book takes Martha from her early 30s to old age, and is set in post-war London. Lessing compelled my attention before even beginning, with a dervish teaching story and a quote from The Edge of the Sea Each of the Parts the book is divided into has one or several such juicy snippets from diverse sources, making me feel that Martha herself, in her habit of reading into a topic to educate herself, is also Doris (although there is a severe reprimand in this book of seeing autobiography in every novel, a fault I have been never more guilty of than in my reading of The Children of Violence series). If the quotations seem a little oblique until later, they are both intriguing and beautiful, surprisingly so when they come from school text books. A quote from Idries Shah on the beliefs of the Sufis reminded me of this quote that has haunted me since I stumbled on it somewhere at 17, from Hazrat Inayat Khan: The world is evolving from imperfection towards perfection; it needs all love and sympathy; great tenderness and watchfulness is required from each one of us. And I felt that bridges were being built in me like the mangrove roots. I remembered books I'd read more than ten years ago on astrology, philosophy and history, as well as science fiction and other novels. The whole last half of this book was unexpected, as Lessing writes on epic, visionary scales as in The Memoirs of a Survivor and Re: Colonised Planet 5, Shikasta
Some readers might have felt the shift incongruous, but on the contrary it seemed to me utterly appropriate, since watching Martha move through states in herself and grow as a person from adolescence on has afforded so much insight, self-reflection that every step of her progress and learning is satisfying. She is appealingly ordinary yet completely unique, in a way that makes it clear this is true of everyone if only a five volume epic could be devoted to their psychological development! The depths and heights of self-discovery she reaches in this final novel are made breathtaking by the scope and stretch of Lessing's genius. Really, how many times do we have to say that the personal is political? The arc of Martha's experience is on the only scale we can truly feel, yet Lessing measures a world with it, as we measure our world by living in consciousness.
I was struck by the evocation of grim, poverty-stricken post-war London, standing partly ruined, grimy, miserable, with blackout fabric still around the windows, no food worth eating or clothes anyone would want to wear in the shops. The slow slow coming of the '60s is like a change from Winter to Spring, although Martha arrives in summer. London seems to be full of people who want Martha to work for them in some capacity, and each of the encounters she negotiates makes space for a different quality of insight – the Maynard's relative, Henry, allows fresh and incisive view on the English class system. Incisive particularly because I was desperate for Martha to take the job even as I exulted in her refusal, because I didn't want her to be destitute. I envied her courage. She is also wanted by a young man, Jack, whose simply decorated room is the first place apart from gardens that Martha describes appreciatively. He is a kind of medium for Martha, allowing her to access a certain transcendent state. Finally she begins working as a kind of assistant to Mark, managing his troubled family in an increasingly fractious and oppressive political atmosphere. In this role it's particularly obvious how different this wise and restrained Martha is from her impulsive younger self. The quality of her consciousness, as of her conversations, is much deeper
For example, she is so acute in speaking to psychoanalyst Dr Lamb, posing the question of why parent-child relationships are so awful, so destructive. We see that this is not a permissible question in the field, which is ahistorical. He tells her 'you need an historian, or a sociologist'. Martha is demanding responsibility. This tasty slice is just grazing the iceberg of what Martha eventually comes to understand about mental illness and the medical approach to it, with the help of Mark's wife Lynda, who has been the victim of aggressive and damaging psychological 'therapy'. Martha's mother's abusive, apparently unconscious monologue relatedly helps her towards understanding, though very painfully.
Discussion of literary genres takes place in a context that makes it serious, even urgent. The 'Ivory Tower' as a mood of political reaction, the humble, outsider status of sci-fi and the revulsion and ridicule of any challenge the the rationalist orthodoxy in the form of esoteric knowledge, occultism or mysticism are both vital issues here. There is also much continuation of the political insight of the earlier volumes, here focusing especially on the mood and political atmosphere among young people in post-war London. The observation of young people at an anti-nuclear march is especially striking
Ultimately what most sets Lessing apart from other writers is her courage to go further than the time she was living in, to extrapolate the trends she perceived. Big business' rising political power is perhaps her most acute prediction, and though the Cold War anxiety about nuclear apocalypse has been out of mind for a few decades, so that the shadow it has cast over my generation, for instance, has been penumbral compared to back then, that threat has been replaced by climate change, presently having relatively minor effects on the privileged nations of the global North who caused it, but increasingly devastating less wealthy regions. “Another preventable horror' as Martha would say. Lessing's consciousness of the environment is always in evidence. Here Martha shares a thought I have very often as I decend into the guts of the underground every day: the soil under the London streets looks dead, has been killed, lifeless for hundreds of years. It's not that we should dig over the city and return it to our bacterial brethren, but that such moments of consciousness remind us of the urgent need to live on this fragile crust of mud in this flimsy sea of gases in balance and reverence. Our soils are in crisis, depleted of minerals and microorganisms, rapidly being washed away mainly because of deforestation, livestock grazing and now misguided biomass farming. This novel is of its time, but it speaks loudly in this one too.
Read information about the authorBoth of her parents were British: her father, who had been crippled in World War I, was a clerk in the Imperial Bank of Persia; her mother had been a nurse. In 1925, lured by the promise of getting rich through maize farming, the family moved to the British colony in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Like other women writers from southern African who did not graduate from high school (such as Olive Schreiner and Nadine Gordimer), Lessing made herself into a self-educated intellectual.
In 1937 she moved to Salisbury, where she worked as a telephone operator for a year. At nineteen, she married Frank Wisdom, and had two children. A few years later, feeling trapped in a persona that she feared would destroy her, she left her family, remaining in Salisbury. Soon she was drawn to the like-minded members of the Left Book Club, a group of Communists "who read everything, and who did not think it remarkable to read." Gottfried Lessing was a central member of the group; shortly after she joined, they married and had a son.
During the postwar years, Lessing became increasingly disillusioned with the Communist movement, which she left altogether in 1954. By 1949, Lessing had moved to London with her young son. That year, she also published her first novel, The Grass Is Singing, and began her career as a professional writer.
In June 1995 she received an Honorary Degree from Harvard University. Also in 1995, she visited South Africa to see her daughter and grandchildren, and to promote her autobiography. It was her first visit since being forcibly removed in 1956 for her political views. Ironically, she is welcomed now as a writer acclaimed for the very topics for which she was banished 40 years ago.
In 2001 she was awarded the Prince of Asturias Prize in Literature, one of Spain's most important distinctions, for her brilliant literary works in defense of freedom and Third World causes. She also received the David Cohen British Literature Prize.
She was on the shortlist for the first Man Booker International Prize in 2005. In 2007 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.
(Extracted from the pamphlet: A Reader's Guide to The Golden Notebook & Under My Skin, HarperPerennial, 1995. Full text available on www.dorislessing.org).
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