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Landlocked is the fourth novel of Doris Lessing's classic Children of Violence sequence of ...
Landlocked is the fourth novel of Doris Lessing's classic Children of Violence sequence of novels, each a masterpiece in its own right, and collectively an incisive, all encompassing vision of our world in the twentiethcentury.
Author Biography: Doris Lessing was born Doris May Taylor in Persia (now Iran) on October 22, 1919. Both 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). Her mother installed Doris in a covenant school, and then later in an all-girls high school in the capital of Salisbury, from which she soon dropped out. She was 13, and it was the end of her formal education.
Lessing's life has been a challenge to her belief that people cannot resist the currents of their time, as she fought against the cultural and biological imperatives that fated her to sink without a murmur into marriage and motherhood. Lessing believes that she was freer than most people because she became a writer. For her, writing is a process of "setting a distance," taking the "raw, the individual, the uncriticized, the unexamined, into therealm of the general."
Lessing's fiction is deeply autobiographical, much of it emerging out of her experiences in Africa. Drawing upon her childhood memories and her serious engagement with politics and social concerns, Lessing has written about the clash of cultures, the gross injustices of racial inequality, the struggle among opposing elements within an individual's own personality, and the conflict between the individual conscience and the collective good.
Over the years, Lessing has attempted to accommodate what she admires in the novels of the 19th century — their "climate of ethical judgment" — to the demands of 20th-century ideas about consciousness and time. After writing the Children of Violence series (1952-1959), a formally conventional bildungsroman (novel of education) about the growth in consciousness of her heroine, Martha Quest, Lessing broke new ground with The Golden Notebook (1962), a daring narrative experiment in which the multiple selves of a contemporary woman are rendered in astonishing depth and detail. Anna Wolf, like Lessing herself, strives for ruthless honesty as she aims to free herself from the chaos, emotional numbness and hypocrisy afflicting her generation.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Lessing began to explore more fully the quasi-mystical insight Anna Wolf seems to reach by the end of The Golden Notebook. Her "inner-space fiction" deals with cosmic fantasies Briefing for a Descent into Hell, 1971), dreamscapes and other dimensions (Memoirs of a Survivor, 1974), and science-fiction probings of higher planes of existence (Canopus in Argos: Archives, 1979-1983). These reflect Lessing's interest, since the 1960s, in Idries Shah, whose writings on Sufi mysticism stress the evolution of consciousness and the belief that individual liberation can come about only if people understand the link between their own fates and the fate of society.
Lessing's other novels include The Good Terrorist (1985) and The Fifth Child (1988); she also published two novels under the pseudonym Jane Somers (The Diary of a Good Neighbor, 1983, and If the Old Could., 1984). In addition, she has written several nonfiction works, including books about cats, a love since childhood. Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949 was recently joined by Walking in the Shade: 1949 to 1962, both published by HarperCollins.
The afternoon sun was hot on Martha's back, but not steadily so: she had become conscious of a pattern varying in impact some minutes ago, at the start of a telephone conversation that seemed as if it might very well go on for hours yet. Mrs Buss, the departing senior secretary, had telephoned for the fourth time that day to remind Martha, her probable successor, of things that must be done by any secretary of Mr Robinson, for the comfort and greater efficiency of Mr Robinson. Or rather, that is what she said, and possibly even thought, the telephone calls were for. In fact they expressed her doubt (quite justified, Martha thought) that Martha was equipped to be anybody's secretary, and particularly Mr Robinson's -- who had been spoiled (as Martha saw it), looked after properly (as Mrs Buss saw it), for five years of Mrs Buss's life.
Mrs Buss said: 'And don't forget the invoice on Fridays,' and so on; while Martha, fully prepared to be conscientious within the limits she had set for herself, made notes of her duties on one, two, three, four sheets of foolscap. Meanwhile she studied the burning or warm or glowing sensation on her back. The window was two yards behind her, and it had a greenish 'folkweave' curtain whose edge, or rather, the shadow of whose edge, chanced to strike Martha's shoulder and her hip. At first had chanced -- Martha was now carefully maintaining an exact position. Areas of flesh glowed with chill, or tingled with it: behind heat, behind cold, was an interior glow, as if they were the same. Heat burned through the glass on to blade and buttock; the cool of the shadow burned too, But there was not only contrastbetween hot heat and hot chill (cold cold and cold heat?); there were subsidiary minor lines, felt as strokes of tepid sensation, where the shadow of the window frame cut diagonally, And, since the patches and angles of sunlight fell into the office for half of its depth, and had been so falling for three hours, everything was warmed -- floors, desks, filing cabinets flung off heat; and Martha stood, not only directly branded by sunlight and by shadow, her flesh stinging precisely in patterns, but warmed through by a general irradiation. Which, however, was getting too much of a good thing. 'Actually,' she said to Mrs Buss, 'I ought to be thinking of locking up.' This was a mistake; it sounded like over-eagerness to be done with work, and earned an immediate extension of the lecture she was getting. She ought to have said: 'I think Mr Robinson wants to make a call.'
At this moment Mr Robinson did in fact put his head out of his office and frown at Martha who was still on the telephone. He instantly vanished, leaving a sense of reproach. Martha just had time to offer him the beginnings of a placatory smile of which she was ashamed. She was not going to be Mr Robinson's secretary, and she ought to have told him so before this,
She should have made up her mind finally weeks ago, and, having made up her mind, told him. She had not, because of her tendency -- getting worse -- to let things slide, to let things happen. It had needed only this: that she should walk into Mr Robinson's office and say, pleasantly, absentmindedly almost, 'I'm sorry, Mr Robinson, I've decided it would be better if I weren't your secretary.' At which he would nod, say: 'Of course, Mrs Hesse, think no more about it.'
This unreal conversation was why Martha had not in fact gone in before now to make her stand on a refusal; and why she had spent so much of her time in the last week or so marvelling at the complexities behind such a simple act.
Mrs Buss's husband had decided to take a job on the Copper Belt. Mrs Buss did not want to leave this job which fitted her soul like a glove, but being nothing if not an expert on what was right, knew it was right to follow her husband wheresoever he would go. Although she was not married to her husband but to her work, or rather, to her boss - for the past five years, Mr Robinson. This did not mean, far from it, that her relation with Mr Robinson was anything it should not be; her duty was to the idea of what was right from a secretary. In the Copper Belt, she would, after an agitated fortnight or so of writing letters to Martha telling her how to look after Mr Robinson, transfer herself to her new boss, whoever he was, and around him henceforward her life, her time, her being, would revolve.
As for Mr Robinson, he understood not the first thing about this phenomenon over which Martha pondered still, after years of working beside it.
What would he say, for instance, if Martha told him: Mr Robinson, did you know that Mrs Buss tells Mr Buss, on the nights when her shorthand book is full: 'You know I can't tonight, I've got two memorandums and a company agreement to type tomorrow morning.' And Mr Buss understood his position in her life so well, that he knew (as Mrs Buss said, with a nod of satisfaction) where he got off. What would Mr Robinson say if told that Mrs Buss went to bed early refusing sundowners, the pictures, a dance, anything at all, on the nights before -- an audit, a big court case where Mr Robinson would have to appear, or even a particularly heavy mail?
Well, Martha could not conceive of telling him, he simply would not believe it. He would go crimson, she knew that; the lean 'likeable' lawyer's face would grow sulky while the blood darkened it. Because, of course, he would not understand how impersonal this passion was, and that, from two weeks' time, in Lusaka, Mr Buss would be 'told where he got off' just as strongly but in relation to another job, another boss.
The door flung open again, and again Mr Robinson appeared, this time showing annoyance. Martha covered the mouthpiece, saying, 'It's Mrs Buss,' relieved that Mrs Buss was definitely 'office work'.
'Does she want to speak to me?'
'Do you want to speak to Mr Robinson?'
Posted December 30, 2012