Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949

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This, the first volume of Doris Lessing's autobiography, begins with her childhood in Africa and ends on her arrival in London in 1949 with the typescript of her first novel, The Grass is Singing, in her suitcase. The book recalls her own mind as a child, and the life of a child, with almost overwhelming immediacy, mapping the growth first of her consciousness, then, in adolescence, of her sexuality, and later, as a young woman, of her political beliefs. The African landscape (described with great lyricism), her ...
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1994 FIRST AMERICAN EDITION NEW, The dust cover is procted with a acid free Mayar proctor, 8vo-over 7?"-9?" tall. B & W Photos 419 p., BOOK, COVER AND DUST JACKET ARE IN NEW ... CONDITION. VOLUME ONE OF MY AUTOBIOGRAPHY TO 1949. Read more Show Less

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Overview

This, the first volume of Doris Lessing's autobiography, begins with her childhood in Africa and ends on her arrival in London in 1949 with the typescript of her first novel, The Grass is Singing, in her suitcase. The book recalls her own mind as a child, and the life of a child, with almost overwhelming immediacy, mapping the growth first of her consciousness, then, in adolescence, of her sexuality, and later, as a young woman, of her political beliefs. The African landscape (described with great lyricism), her often angry and combative relationship with her parents, her intense awareness of her own body, her passionate involvement with other people and indeed with everything around her are all here very, very powerfully present. Under My Skin shows a woman uncompromising, from the beginning, in every aspect, who breaks all the rules, who battles at every turn against her upbringing and environment, who looks on the world clear and hard; and yet who also displays a softness, a wonderful sense of humor, a compassion for human failure.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
"What is better than a really good biography? Not many novels," says Lessing in her first chapter of what is destined to be one of the best autobiographies of our time. Although Lessing has incorporated her life into nearly all of her novels, most notably the Martha Quest series, and has published some short autobiographical sketches, this is her first full-length autobiography, with a second volume projected to cover 1950 onward. From her childhood in the wilds of what was then Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) through her young married life in Salisbury to her Communist years during World War II, Lessing is able both to capture the immediacy of her youthful feelings and to comment on her past self with both compassion and the distance that maturity brings. This is a wonderfully vivid memoir that reveals the origins of a remarkable writer. It also gives the reader a direct connection to the physical and emotional experiences of childhood and youth that are universal and timeless. For all collections.-Shelley Cox, Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale
Hazel Rochman
With the same combination of burning intimacy and social commentary that made "The Golden Notebook" (1962) a classic of our times, Lessing writes about her childhood and coming-of-age in southern Africa. This is a sprawling autobiography--she admits that her fiction "makes a better job of the truth"--yet scenes and sentences hit you with a flash of recognition, articulating what you didn't know you felt. The best parts are about childhood, the intense physicality of it, "all the din and stink and smother." She didn't fit in. Beneath her jolly, competent public persona, she raged against her disappointed mother who wanted a well-brought-up little English girl. Two things saved Lessing and helped make her a writer: she read and read and read; and she roamed free in the wild bush around the farm. Yet always she was waiting to leave. At home, at boarding school, through two disastrous marriages and several casual affairs, the door was slammed shut. She hated the savage myths of "white civilization"; looking back now, she also evokes the absurdity of her Communist fervor. The fragments are unified by one thought: "Soon (but when?) I'll be out of here." Book-of-the-Month Club selection.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060171506
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/28/1994
  • Edition description: 1st U.S. ed
  • Pages: 416

Meet the Author

Doris  Lessing
Winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature, Doris Lessing was one of the most celebrated and distinguished writers of our time, the recipient of a host of international awards, including the Somerset Maugham Award, the David Cohen Memorial Prize for British Literature, the James Tait Black Prize for best biography, Spain's Prince of Asturias Prize and Prix Catalunya, and the S. T. Dupont Golden PEN Award for a Lifetime's Distinguished Service to Literature.

Biography

"Doris Lessing is the kind of writer who has followers, not just readers," Lesley Hazleton once observed. But the Nobel Prize-winning Lessing, whose classic novel The Golden Notebook was embraced as a feminist icon, has seldom told her followers exactly what they wanted to hear. For much of her career, she has frustrated readers' expectations and thwarted would-be experts on her work, penning everything from traditional narratives to postmodern novels to mystic fables.

Lessing was born in Persia (now Iran) and grew up in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where her father made an unsuccessful attempt to farm maize. Though she loved living on the farm, her family life was often tense and unhappy. Lessing married at the age of 20, but three years later, feeling stifled by colonial life and increasingly distressed by the racism of her society, she joined the Communist Party, "because they were the only people I had ever met who fought the color bar in their lives."

Soon after that, she left her husband and first two children to marry fellow Communist Gottfried Lessing, with whom she had a son. They divorced, and she took her son with her to England, where she published her first novel, The Grass Is Singing, to high acclaim. After several more novels, including the semi-autobiographical series Children of Violence, Lessing wrote The Golden Notebook, a postmodern, fragmentary narrative about a writer's search for identity. The Golden Notebook gained a passionate following in the feminist movement and "left its mark upon the ideas and feelings of a whole generation of women," as Elizabeth Hardwick wrote.

To Lessing's dismay, she was frequently cited as a "feminist writer" after that. Yet as Diane Johnson pointed out in a 1978 review of Stories, Lessing "also understands men, politics, social class, striving, religion, loneliness and lust." Johnson added: "Mrs. Lessing is the great realist writer of our time, in the tradition of the major Continental novelists of the 19th century, particularly Stendhal and Balzac, but also Turgenev and Chekhov -- a masculine tradition with which she shares large moral concerns, an earnest and affirmative view of human nature, and a dead-eye for social types."

But Lessing, who once called realist fiction "the highest form of prose writing," soon launched into a science-fiction series, Canopus in Argos: Archives, which baffled many of her fans. Lessing used the term "space fiction" for the series, which recounts human history from the points of view of various extraterrestrial beings. Though Lessing gained some new readers with her Canopus series, her early admirers were relieved when she came back to Earth in The Fifth Child, the story of a monstrous child born to ordinary suburban parents, which Carolyn Kizer deemed "a minor classic." Later novels like Mara and Dann included elements of fantasy and science fiction, but recently, with the publication of The Sweetest Dream, Lessing has returned to domestic fiction in the realist mode, which many critics still see as her best form.

Throughout her life, Lessing has been drawn to systems for improving human experience -- first Marxism, then the psychiatry of R. D. Laing, then Sufi mysticism. But her yearning for a single, transcendent truth coexists with a sharp awareness of the contradictory mix of vanities, passions, and aggressions that make up most human lives. As Margaret Drabble noted, Lessing is "one of the very few novelists who have refused to believe that the world is too complicated to understand."

Good To Know

Lessing's African stories painted a grim picture of white colonialism and the oppression of black Africans, and in 1956, Lessing was declared a prohibited alien in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. In 1995, she was able to visit her daughter and grandchildren in South Africa, where her works are now acclaimed for the same content that was once condemned.

Though she was briefly allied with the Communist Party in Salisbury, Lessing has frequently insisted that the picture of her as a political activist is exaggerated. "I am always being described as having views that I never had in my life," she once told the Guardian. She has, however, been an outspoken critic of the racial politics of South Africa, and she once turned down the chance to become a Dame of the British Empire on the grounds that there is no British Empire.

To demonstrate how difficult it is for new writers to get published, Lessing sent a manuscript to her publishers under the pseudonym Jane Somers. Her British publisher turned it down, as did several other prominent publishers (though her American editor detected the ruse and accepted the book). The Diary of a Good Neighbour was published as the work of Jane Somers, to little fanfare and mixed critical reviews. Lessing followed it with a sequel, If the Old Could..., before revealing her identity as the author of both.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Doris May Tayler (birth name), Jane Somers (pseudonym)
    2. Hometown:
      London, England
    1. Date of Birth:
      October 22, 1919
    2. Place of Birth:
      Persia (now Iran)
    1. Date of Death:
      November 17, 2013
    2. Place of Death:
      London, England

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