The Golden Notebook

The Golden Notebook

by Doris Lessing


$17.48 $18.99 Save 8% Current price is $17.48, Original price is $18.99. You Save 8%.
View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Monday, August 26


Anna is a writer, author of one very successful novel, who now keeps four notebooks. In one, with a black cover, she reviews the African experience of her earlier years. In a red one she records her political life, her disillusionment with communism. In a yellow one she writes a novel in which the heroine relives part of her own experience. And in a blue one she keeps a personal diary. Finally, in love with an American writer and threatened with insanity, Anna resolves to bring the threads of all four books together in a golden notebook.

Doris Lessing's best-known and most influential novel, The Golden Notebook retains its extraordinary power and relevance decades after its initial publication.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061582486
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/14/2008
Series: P.S. Series
Pages: 688
Sales rank: 1,205,698
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

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. She wrote more than thirty books—among them the novels Martha Quest, The Golden Notebook, and The Fifth Child. She died in 2013.


London, England

Date of Birth:

October 22, 1919

Place of Birth:

Persia (now Iran)

Read an Excerpt

The Golden Notebook
A Novel

Chapter One

Free Women: One

Anna meets her friend Molly in the summer of 1957 after a separation

The two women were alone in the London flat.

'The point is,' said Anna, as her friend came back from the telephone on the landing, 'the point is, that as far as I can see, everything's cracking up.'

Molly was a woman much on the telephone. When it rang she had just inquired: 'Well, what's the gossip?' Now she said, 'That's Richard, and he's coming over. It seems today's his only free moment for the next month. Or so he insists.'

'Well I'm not leaving,' said Anna.

'No, you stay just where you are.'

Molly considered her own appearance--she was wearing trousers and a sweater, both the worse for wear. 'He'll have to take me as I come,' she concluded, and sat down by the window. 'He wouldn't say what it's about--another crisis with Marion, I suppose.'

'Didn't he write to you?' asked Anna, cautious.

'Both he and Marion wrote--ever such bonhomous letters. Odd, isn't it?'

This odd, isn't it? was the characteristic note of the intimate conversations they designated gossip. But having struck the note, Molly swerved off with: 'It's no use talking now, because he's coming right over, he says.'

'He'll probably go when he sees me here,' said Anna, cheerfully, but slightly aggressive. Molly glanced at her, keenly, and said: 'Oh, but why?'

It had always been understood that Anna and Richard disliked each other; and before Anna had always left when Richard was expected. Now Molly said: 'Actually I think he rather likes you, in his heart of hearts. The point is,he's committed to liking me, on principle--he's such a fool he's always got to either like or dislike someone, so all the dislike he won't admit he has for me gets pushed off on to you.'

'It's a pleasure,' said Anna. 'But do you know something? I discovered while you were away that for a lot of people you and I are practically interchangeable.'

'You've only just understood that?' said Molly, triumphant as always when Anna came up with--as far as she was concerned--facts that were self-evident.

In this relationship a balance had been struck early on: Molly was altogether more worldly-wise than Anna who, for her part, had a superiority of talent.

Anna held her own private views. Now she smiled, admitting that she had been very slow.

'When we're so different in every way,' said Molly, 'it's odd. I suppose because we both live the same kind of life--not getting married and so on. That's all they see.'

'Free women,' said Anna, wryly. She added, with an anger new to Molly, so that she earned another quick scrutinising glance from her friend: 'They still define us in terms of relationships with men, even the best of them.'

'Well, we do, don't we?' said Molly, rather tart. 'Well, it's awfully hard not to,' she amended, hastily, because of the look of surprise Anna now gave her. There was a short pause, during which the women did not look at each other but reflected that a year apart was a long time, even for an old friendship.

Molly said at last, sighing: 'Free. Do you know, when I was away, I was thinking about us, and I've decided that we're a completely new type of woman. We must be, surely?'

'There's nothing new under the sun,' said Anna, in an attempt at a German accent. Molly, irritated--she spoke half a dozen languages well--said: 'There's nothing new under the sun,' in a perfect reproduction of a shrewd old woman's voice, German accented.

Anna grimaced, acknowledging failure. She could not learn languages, and was too self-conscious ever to become somebody else: for a moment Molly had even looked like Mother Sugar, otherwise Mrs. Marks, to whom both had gone for psycho-analysis. The reservations both had felt about the solemn and painful ritual were expressed by the pet name, 'Mother Sugar'; which, as time passed, became a name for much more than a person, and indicated a whole way of looking at life--traditional, rooted, conservative, in spite of its scandalous familiarity with everything amoral. In spite of--that was how Anna and Molly, discussing the ritual, had felt it; recently Anna had been feeling more and more it was because of; and this was one of the things she was looking forward to discussing with her friend.

But now Molly, reacting as she had often done in the past, to the slightest suggestion of a criticism from Anna of Mother Sugar, said quickly: 'All the same, she was wonderful, and I was in much too bad a shape to criticise.'

'Mother Sugar used to say, "You're Electra," or "You're Antigone," and that was the end, as far as she was concerned,' said Anna.

'Well, not quite the end,' said Molly, wryly insisting on the painful probing hours both had spent.

'Yes,' said Anna, unexpectedly insisting, so that Molly, for the third time, looked at her curiously. 'Yes. Oh I'm not saying she didn't do me all the good in the world. I'm sure I'd never have coped with what I've had to cope with without her. But all the same . . . I remember quite clearly one afternoon, sitting there--the big room, and the discreet wall lights, and the Buddha and the pictures and the statues.'

'Well?' said Molly, now very critical.

Anna, in the face of this unspoken but clear determination not to discuss it, said: 'I've been thinking about it all during the last few months . . . now I'd like to talk about it with you. After all, we both went through it, and with the same person . . . '


Anna persisted: 'I remember that afternoon, knowing I'd never go back. It was all that damned art all over the place.'

Molly drew in her breath, sharp. She said, quickly: 'I don't know what you mean.' As Anna did not reply, she said, accusing: 'And have you written anything since I've been away?'


'I keep telling you,' said Molly, her voice shrill, 'I'll never forgive you if you throw that talent away. I mean it. I've done it, and I can't stand watching you--I've messed with painting and dancing and acting and scribbling, and now . . . you're so talented, Anna. Why? I simply don't understand.'

'How can I ever say why, when you're always so bitter and accusing?'

Molly even had tears in her eyes, which were fastened in the most painful reproach on her friend. She brought out with difficulty: 'At the back of my mind I always thought, well, I'll get married, so it doesn't matter my wasting all the talents I was born with. Until recently I was even dreaming about having more children--yes I know it's idiotic but it's true. And now I'm forty and Tommy's grown up. But the point is, if you're not writing simply because you're thinking about getting married . . . '

'But we both want to get married,' said Anna, making it humorous; the tone restored reserve to the conversation; she had understood, with pain, that she was not, after all, going to be able to discuss certain subjects with Molly.

Molly smiled, dryly, gave her friend an acute, bitter look, and said: 'All right, but you'll be sorry later.'

'Sorry,' said Anna, laughing, out of surprise. 'Molly, why is it you'll never believe other people have the disabilities you have?'

'You were lucky enough to be given one talent, and not four.'

'Perhaps my one talent has had as much pressure on it as your four?'

'I can't talk to you in this mood. Shall I make you some tea while we're waiting for Richard?'

'I'd rather have beer or something.' She added, provocative: 'I've been thinking I might very well take to drink later on.'

Molly said, in the older sister's tone Anna had invited: 'You shouldn't make jokes, Anna. Not when you see what it does to people--look at Marion. I wonder if she's been drinking while I was away?'

'I can tell you. She has--yes, she came to see me several times.'

'She came to see you?'

'That's what I was leading up to, when I said you and I seem to be interchangeable.'

Molly tended to be possessive--she showed resentment, as Anna had known she would, as she said: 'I suppose you're going to say Richard came to see you too?' Anna nodded; and Molly said, briskly, 'I'll get us some beer.' She returned from the kitchen with two long cold-beaded glasses, and said: 'Well you'd better tell me all about it before Richard comes, hadn't you?' The Golden Notebook
A Novel
. Copyright © by Doris Lessing. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1993 vii
Introduction 1971 xi
FREE WOMEN: 1 1(242)
Anna meets her friend Molly in the summer of 1957 after a separation
The Notebooks
FREE WOMEN: 2 243(110)
Two visits, some telephone calls and a tragedy
The Notebooks
FREE WOMEN: 3 353(130)
Tommy adjusts himself to being blind while the older people try to help him
The Notebooks
FREE WOMEN: 4 483(132)
Anna and Molly influence Tommy, for the better. Marion leaves Richard. Anna does not feel herself
The Notebooks
The Golden Notebook
FREE WOMEN: 5 615(22)
Molly gets married and Anna has an affair
About Doris Lessing 637

What People are Saying About This

Elizabeth Hardwick

“The Golden Notebook is Doris Lessing’s most important work and has left its mark upon the ideas and feelings of a whole generation of women.”

Irving Howe

"A work of high seriousness...The most absorbing and exciting piece of new fiction I have read in a decade; it moves with the beat of our time, and it is true."

Baltimore Sun

"This exciting writer has tried much, aimed high, and has paraded a galaxy of gifts."

Reading Group Guide

Plot Summary:

"Knowing was an 'illumination.' During the last weeks of craziness and timelessness I've had these moments of 'knowing' one after the other, yet there is no way of putting this sort of knowledge into words. Yet, these moments have been so powerful, like the rapid illuminations of a dream that remain with one waking, that what I have learned will be part of how I experience life until I die."

--Anna Wulf in The Golden Notebook

"The two women were alone in the London flat."

So begins Doris Lessing's most famous novel, published in 1962, and now considered one of the major works of twentieth-century literature. It is the story of Anna Wulf, a writer and single woman, who lives with her young daughter in a flat, occasionally renting out a room, less for the income than out of a reflex of social obligation. Laboring against a writing block, following the immense success of her autobiographical debut novel about a group of Communists in colonial Africa, Anna struggles to find a way to integrate the multiple selves that fragment her personality and make her life unbearably painful. Out of "fear of chaos, formlessness-- of breakdown," she decides to keep four notebooks, one for each component of her life--black for her experiences in Africa, red for current politics, yellow for a fictionalized version of herself, and blue for a diary. Although framed by a conventional novel called Free Women, the point of the novel, according to Lessing, is the "relation of its parts to each other." By viewing her life from these different angles, going over her experiences, gaugingher responses, and carefully probing her intertwined layers of consciousness, Anna eventually manages to unify her identify in one notebook. As she does so, she comes to terms with her growing disillusionment with communism, the trauma of emotional rejection and sexual betrayal, professional anxieties, and the tensions of friendship and family.

Topics For Discussion
1. Lessing has written that the central theme of The Golden Notebook is of "'breakdown', that sometimes when people 'crack up' it is a way of self-healing." In what ways does this theme find expression in the novel? How does Anna Wulf try to deal with her inner self-divisions? What part is played by each of Anna's four notebooks in her struggle to integrate her fragmented inner world and personality? What enables the notebooks to come together in the golden notebook at the end of the novel? How do her relationships to others, especially to Saul Green, contribute to her "crack-up" and "self-healing"?

2. By embedding Anna Wulf's psyche in the social and political movements of her time, Lessing suggests that the individual is inevitably shaped by history. In what ways is Anna Wulf a creation of the culture in which she lives-- personally, politically? Why does she become disillusioned with communism and revolutionary psychoanalysis? How is her life entangled with culturally endorsed ideas about romantic love? sex? family? friendship? normalcy?

3. Many women consider The Golden Notebook to be the founding novel of the women's movement. Yet the ironically titled novel-within-the novel, Free Women , seems to raise questions of "freedom." What do you feel the novel is saying about women's lives and desires? How do individual characters-- Anna, Molly, Marion--reflect various kinds of women's struggles? Does the novel offer any vision of freedom for women, and if so, what is it?

4. Why is Anna blocked as a writer? What are the inner and outer pressures that seem to inhibit her as an artist? How do her discussions with Mother Sugar and Saul Green illuminate her problem? How do her shifting feelings about the power of "naming" to alleviate psychic pain relate to her writing?

5. Do you think that the novel takes an unrelentingly bleak view of relations between the sexes? Or is there the suggestion of an alternative to the cruelty, betrayal, and emotional numbness that seem to characterize sexual relations in the novel? Do Anna's relationships with men change over the course of the novel (consider Willi, Michael, Saul, Milt)? Why does Molly decide to marry at the end? What do you think is suggested by the novel about Anna's future?

6. Anna, like her friend Molly, is a divorced mother, rasing a child on her own while struggling with other aspects of her life-- professional, political, sexual. How would you describe Anna's relationship with her daughter, Janet? How does she feel about herself as a mother? What is your reaction to Richard, and his criticism that Anna and Molly are "bad" mothers-- responsible, for one thing, for Tommy's attempted suicide? What does the character of Marion contribute to the novel's commentary on motherhood?

7. How does the form of the novel--the frame, the conventional short novel, Free Women , broken up by stages of Anna's four notebooks of different colors (black, red, yellow, and blue), and eventually unified in the golden notebook-- relate to some of the larger themes of the novel? What does the form suggest about an individual layers of consciousness? What is the significance and effect of filtering the world through a woman's point of view?

8. Do you agree with Victoria Brittain (quoted above) that The Golden Notebook is as illuminating today as it was when it appeared thirty years ago? Or do you find the the novel dated in any way?

About the Author
Doris Lessing was born in Persia (now Iran) in 1919. Lessing has described her childhood as an uneven mix of some pleasure and much pain. Her mother, obsessed with raising a proper daughter, enforced a rigid system of rules, then installed Doris in a convent school and, later, an all-girls high school in Salisbury, from which she soon dropped out at the age of thirteen. Lessing, however, made herself into a self-educated intellectual, reading Dickens, Kipling, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky. Doris's early years were spent absorbing her father's bitter memories of World War I, taken in as a kind of "poison." "We are all of us made by war," Lessing has written, "twisted and warped by war, but we seem to forget it." Lessing left home when she was fifteen and took a job as a nursemaid. Her employer gave her books on politics and sociology; she was also writing stories, and sold two to magazines in South Africa.

In 1937, she moved to Salisbury (Southern Rhodesia), where she worked as a telephone operator and, at nineteen, married Frank Wisdom and had two children. A few years later, feeling trapped in a persona she feared would destroy her, she left her family, remaining in Salisbury. She was drawn to the members of the Left Book Club, a group of Communists. 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 and published The Grass is Singing, beginning her career as a professional writer. After writing the Children of Violence series, about the growth in consciousness of her heroine, Martha Quest, Lessing broke new ground with The Golden Notebook (1962), a daring narrative experiment. Her most recent works include two volumes of autobiography, Under My Skin (1994) and Walking in the Shade (1997), and a novel, Love, Again (1995).

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

Golden Notebook 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Reading THE GOLDEN NOTEBOOK was a life-changing experience for me. The book resonated with me so strongly. It's the complex and beautiful story of Anna Wulf, a writer living in London. Anna writes about her love affairs, her job, her writing, her friends, her youthful days in Africa. Several notebooks comprise her diary. In the diary section, she writes of her life. In the novel section is the novel inspired by Anna's life. In a sense, it's a 'mix-and-match' book, like a four-piece suit. I've read the complete work. I've read the 'novel' part only. I've also read the diary section only. TGN is a brilliant novel--an intellectual primer on the 'crystallising process' (as she says) of novel-writing. For years, I'd heard/read rumours that Doris Lessing was this-close to winning the Nobel. So congratulations, Ms. Lessing. Finally!--Yolanda A. Reid
exploringNOOK More than 1 year ago
This is my favorite book by Doris Lessing, which is saying a lot because I regard her writing so highly. I must fall back on President Abraham Lincoln's famous book review, in case your tastes differ from mine: "If this is the kind of book you like, you will like this book."
Guest More than 1 year ago
The golden Note book is a very good book but is it so great as to win the greatest literarary award is open to question.It atracted me more as a feminist book than as a work of great literarary merit
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Per other reviews and it's prize for literature, I thought this would be a great read, but after 85 pages I just couldn't get into it. It seemed more of a lecture than a novel. I'm sorry I bought it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had heard many great things about this book. It took me awhile to get into and once I did it was pretty good. I feel it would be best enjoyed by an older woman that can relate more to Anna than I as a 25 year old can. But I did understand it to an extent and would definitely say it is worth the effort and time to read it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is very well written. I love the fact she had different notebooks to create one.This book is indeed a joy to read.
bartvinc40 More than 1 year ago
Definitely more to be gotten from this book if you're a woman I suspect, but I liked it too simply because of how well written it is. Vivid, heartfelt descriptions and musings about life.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a really great book for anyone but i guess its for girls you could say anyway i loved this book it was so good and such a great page turner.
bexaplex on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Anna the novelist writes in four notebooks, one of which (yellow) is a novel about a novelist, Ella.I think many people find this book self-absorbed or over-analytical. That seems to me the story that is being told: a woman who has essentially divorced herself from her own creativity cannot stop sifting through her life for meaning. Each notebook looks futilely for a different kind of meaning.I like the black notebook best, which I doubt is uncommon. It's ostensibly about money and the profession of writing, although everyone ends up associating it with Africa, the setting of Anna's first novel. There's interesting stuff going on in the black notebook — the stories about Zimbabwe are very compelling, and yet Anna dislikes them intensely because of the nostalgic feeling. It's sort of like reading Conrad with a postscript at the end letting you know that he's well aware of all that "dark continent" cultural undertone he's tapping into and he finds it sickening. And then there's Anna's attitude about the publishing business, here shifted onto the TV/movie adaptation business. Again, it's compelling — the hostility is bare in an almost-awkward way.If The Golden Notebook were being written today, I'd expect the blue notebook to come in 140-character installments. Obsessive diary-writing is one cultural phenomenon that we have definitely not left in the 20th century :)
TheBentley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Golden Notebook is not a task to be undertaken lightly. It's a very dense and complex book, much of which is basically in stream-of-consciousness. The structure alone is daunting, comprised as it is of five different documents--the main character's four different journals, which she keeps simultaneously on four different parts of her life (one of which is a fiction within the fiction) and the omniscient narrator's exposition. It's satisfying, perhaps partly because it is so difficult, but also because the literary quality--especially the historic value--is very high. Think of The Golden Notebook as the aggressive feminine response to James Joyce--both in content and in style. Like Joyce, it often devolves into neurotic navel-gazing, but at least it's navel-gazing of high quality and intelligence.
flydodofly on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A great chunk of hostory, yes, I realise that. It documents and sorts out some of the issues of an important time. Still, here is something about Lessing's writing I simply do now enjoy. It reads to me heavy and troublesome, an effort and a chore. Perhaps she is more of a historian than a novelist?
SaturdayReadingGroup on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Like having a depressed, middle class friend sitting in their new conservatory and rambling on at you for hours about how awful they think their life is, 576 pages in the company of Anna Wulf was about 500 too many. On the one hand I wanted to be empathetic and not denigrate her personal unhappiness but on the other was the irrepressible desire to shout "Arrrggg!!!, just cheer the hell up". Whilst there is undoubtedly good writing here and striking characterisation (were men really this obnoxious in the 1950s?) my sympathy and interest rapidly dribbled away. Despite it's vast length I found its world too claustrophobically narrow. The supporting cast of indolent, disaffected communists and intellectuals began to grate early on as the working classes and black Africans hovered in the background trying not to get into the way of all that profound misery. I'm afraid I had to make my excuses and leave early.
xtien on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Kafka said "a book must be an ice-axe to break the seas frozen inside our soul." This book is an ice-axe. It's about "modern women", in the fifties, and about their relationships with men, and lack thereof. Also, it's about the communist party, and ambigous feelings towards it. On the one hand, the main characters are attracted to the CP, otoh, they know what's happening in Russia and they are appalled by it. These feelings are similar to what lefty students felt in the seventies. Lessing writes about two women, friends, sharing a house. One, Anna, has written a succesful novel and is writing stories, one of which is about two women, friends, sharing a house. One of these, Ella, has written a novel. So it's a novel in a novel in a novel. I wouldn't be surprised if the character in Ella's novel also wrote a novel, etc. If you read the novel carefully, you get to see the similarities and the differences between the Anna story and the Ella story. I take it that you can retrieve some of the Doris story - i.e. the autobiographic component of the novel - by applying the Ella-Anna relationship to the Anna-Doris relationship. But that's just my theory. Anyway, although the book was written in 1962, it's certainly worthwhile. I don't think that the next generations of readers will recognize the context and the themes, so it may become less popular in the future.
pzmiller on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An incredible book -- a book that should have earned her the Nobel Prize in Literature long before now when she was finally awarded the prize.
plenilune on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Golden Notebook is a thought-provoking, if occasionally meandering, page-turner set mainly in England in the 1950s. It is primarily about Anna Wulf, writer of one successful novel, and her fight with writers¿ block as she struggles to put the absolute truth (and only the truth) into words. While I did find the pace of my reading slow down in the last 1/5th or so of the book, it was absolutely worth pushing through and finishing.Despite characters that are mostly unlikable, or at the least, unsympathetic, I found the book to be engrossing. The utilization of the story-within-a-story narrative is expertly done. As the stories develop and come together, I came to more than one realization. The first was that there were even more levels than merely stories-within-a-story. The second was that perhaps none of it had been the truth the whole time, and that perhaps Anna was right when she recognized that the truth is something that automatically becomes untrue once you¿ve written it down. Coming to that second realization (that it was likely that nothing in the previous 600+ pages was ¿true¿ per se) would normally make a reader feel that the endeavor had been a colossal waste of time, or at the least feel cheated. However, TGN is so well-done that despite this, you still feel fulfilled and rewarded for having read it. Maybe everything that Anna has told us is untrue, but those details are of little consequence when compared to the experience of TGN as a whole¿and it is something you have to experience; you will never get an honest feel for this book by reading reviews or synopses. Notwithstanding my general praise of TGN as a creative work, the feminist in me finds the general mood of unhappiness in the book problematic. Anna and her friend Molly are ¿free women¿ (i.e. they are independent and do as they please) yet neither seems terribly happy with her life. Anna jumps from relationship to relationship (and frequently, married man to married man) and never seems happy; she bemoans the lack of faithful men she¿s been able to find, yet never does anything to break out of it. And internally she¿s falling apart, as evidenced in the multiple notebooks she keeps. I might describe Molly as content, but we don¿t have access to her internal workings as we do with Anna. This gloom may be simply something used to capture the mood of what a electively single woman faced at that time, but I still find it disconcerting. Nevertheless, the voracious reader (and hopeful one-day writer) in me feels like TGN is just SO good, calling it a novel is almost an insult. This book is a work of master craftsmanship. I recommend it to any smart, voracious reader, and to all writers and would-be writers.
vaellus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lessing herself has referred to this book as 'narcissistic'; it is also disillusioned, depressed and lacking in grace and wisdom. To wade through stacks of slapdash, tired self-centered nonsense only to find a few tiny good bits along the way is just not worth it. Disappointing, mindnumbing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was really disappointed. The story is too wordy and doesn't grab the readers attention. Definately not worth the effort of reading 600 pages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thru grand children's children this book is just silly the more things change the more they stay the same i remember when the whole town met and took by mouth the polio vaccine also remember when sl many went back to school the community college average studebt age became 35 years