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January 2019



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The Leaden Notebook

Last week’s Woman’s Hour drama was The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing, which was first published in 1962. This is from the BBC web site:

The Golden Notebook is one of the great novels of the 20th century. It portrays the complexity of one female writer's experience of life in the 1950s, as well as the bigger picture of a society on the brink of massive social change.
Anna is a writer, divorced and bringing up her daughter in London in the mid 1950s. She spends a great deal of time with her close friend Molly, also divorced, also raising her son. The two women are negotiating the difficult territory of Britain in the post war years, when many women were beginning to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy of marriage and domestic bliss.

The introduction to each episode described the novel as ‘iconic’ and ‘shocking’. It’s many, many years since I read The Golden Notebook. I failed then and still do fail to see just what is so wonderful about it. More shocking than A Taste of Honey (1958) or The L-Shaped Room (1960)? More accurate in its portrayal of women’s problems than The Weather in the Streets (1936)? The divorced heroine is always hanging on the phone waiting for a call from her married lover. (I would like to line up all the real and fictional women in this situation in front of an enormous billboard and force them to read: He Will Never Leave His Wife, You Fool.) After the failure of that relationship (he doesn’t leave his wife) Anna starts to crack up but is rescued in the end; by a man, of course. As I see it, there is nothing remotely feminist about the novel, which is why I’d be very interested to know what young women think of it nowadays.

Of course, the structure of the novel, in the form of the different notebooks, is what makes it ‘literary’ and gives rise to the critical acclaim. The radio adaptation did the book no favours as it couldn’t use the same format and went for straight narration. Listening to it, I was strongly reminded of hearing Barbara Pym’s Jane and Prudence in the same slot earlier this year. Which says it all, really.


I can't comment from a young woman's point of view but I absolutely agree with what you say. I tried to listen to the first episode and by the end of it I hated all the characters. I did like some of Lessing's books many years ago, but I must admit I've felt no urge to re-read them, and The Golden Notebook has convinced me I'm right. On the other hand, of course, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Barbara Pym - I do feel that her characters are prone to self-mockery when men let them down, which works for me, but clearly not for you!
Phew! I was expecting howls of anguish.
I agree with you in that Anna is IMO more pathetic than Pym's characters, who do just get on with it. Challenging the prevailing orthodoxy? Pym's characters do that by remaining single and chaste! Like you, I read a lot of Lessing when I was younger but have not bothered to re-read.
I caught snippets of The Golden Notebook on Radio 4 and based on what I heard I have no desire to read it. Don't know what it is about Women's Hour - if I have to work they seem to have interviews with writers I want to hear and extracts from books I want to read. If I have a day off work there's nothing I'm interested in...
I have problems with Woman's Hour, mainly not being able to stand Jenni Murray. I don't listen in the day but pick the serial up in the 7.45pm slot.
oops, I meant Woman's Hour, not Women's Hour. Nicola


The Leaden Notebook

Could you go over to my blog, and look for yours on the sidebar? Under the title is what is supposed to be the title of your latest offering - 'Greetings.' I clicked it and went to live journal's main page, with nary a sign of you. I had to click your blog title above it on my sidebar to get here. Any guesses??

Ah, Doris Lessing. Did you see 60goingon16's entry:

I read it, and all I have in my head, as I wrote in a comment on someone's blog (I hope not yours!), is an evening scene, walking up steps to a party, perhaps. There was something about the look of the sky or the feel of the air which I recall. Probably not at all what D.Lessing was hoping I'd remember after nearly thirty years. :<)

I did a little book report on Jane and Prudence last year. I'm not sure we were reading one another's journals then, so I'll include the link, in case you'd like to read it. I did so love it.

I must spend more time here wandering around!

Re: The Leaden Notebook

Hello Nan. I think I know how that happened. The Greetings post was a LJ Friends Only one, which meant not everyone could read it. I just tried using your blog bar and it doesn't seem to have updated itself to the most recent post.

I have read the 60 Going On 16 post and can only say, 'How strangely we differ in our opinions'!

Frustratingly, the link to your post about Jane and Prudence won't work. I get a blank page with 'this page does not exist'. Yet another of the web's little mysteries.


Re: The Leaden Notebook

I copied and pasted the whole address from my comment and it came right up.

Re: The Leaden Notebook

Yes! That worked: thank you.

BTW I love Wendy Cope as much as you do.