The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing
The Golden Notebook was published in 1962 and is one of the best known of Doris Lessing’s novels.
The central figure of “ The Golden Notebook ” is Anna Wulf, a writer from South Africa, living in London. During World War II Anna marries a German refugee Max but divorces and then emigrates to London with her daughter Janet. She has a long love affair with Michael and an intense friendship with Molly.
Being about thirty Anna is in a life crises, disillusioned by communist politics under Stalin, doubting herself and her literary career. Therefore she needs the treatment of a psychotherapist. To get things straightened out with herself she deals with them in four independent notebooks, each one has a different colour.
Soziopolitical context and main ideas:
As the following part will prove The Golden Notebook shows features of a political novel as well as characteristics of a novel of ideas and has, besides this, various autobiographic traces.
Racism is not a central topic in The Golden Notebook but the problem is mentioned when the protagonist, Anna, talks about her successful novel “Frontiers of War” which concerns race relations and forbidden love in southern Africa.
Doris Lessing escaped from this colonial society to London like Anna. There she was confronted with the effects of the Cold War in the 1950s which are mentioned in the novel just as the dangers of nuclear threats are. Doris Lessing and Anna were both deeply involved in politics and together with most of their friends they became members of the Communist Party. But trials and atrocities in the Soviet Union and other communist countries or revelations about Stalin’s crimes made them develop a feeling of doubt and disappointment towards Communism which was why they broke with communism.
Besides this The Golden Notebook is about feminism. Although Lessing herself claimed in the preface to the book: ”This novel was not a trumpet for Women’s Liberation…”, her friends called it “a tract about the sex war”. Anna and Doris Lessing being divorced with a child symbolize “a completely new type of woman” because they “lead what is known as free lives, that is, lives like men.”
Anna refuses to accept the roles traditionally imposed on women by society. By describing troubled relationships throughout the novel the author shows women’s dissatisfaction with men.
Another important characteristic feature which slips into Lessing’s novel repeatedly is the new way of treating psychological problems. Anna undergoes repeatedly psychotherapy and sees her psychotherapist nicknamed “Mother Sugar“. In the course of her treatment the interpretation of her dreams is very important which shows us the influence of Freud and especially of C.G. Jung with his theory of psychoanalysis. A central theme in The Golden Notebook are Anna’s doubts about the meaningfulness of literature.
Structure, time scheme and interpretation (chart of the action):
Doris Lessing wanted to leave behind the form of the conventional realistic novel. Therefore she chose such an extraordinary construction. The skeleton is the short novel “Free Women” which could stand for itself and is some kind of frame story which is divided into five sections by four notebooks. The notebooks are told by Anna Wulf the main figure of Free Women (each notebook focusing on a different kind of experience). The Black Notebook is about Anna’s time in South Africa and about her best seller “Frontiers of War”.
The Red Notebook reports about Anna’s political views and her attitudes towards the Communist Party.
The Yellow Notebook contains “The Shadow of the Third” - a manuscript of a novel about a married man and his mistress. It deals indirectly with Anna’s five-year relationship with Michael which Lessing projects onto Ella and Paul two fictional characters.
The form of the novel is of immense importance and underlines and reflects the novel’s meaning.
Anna’s split personality corresponds to the formal fragmentation. The protagonist is imbalanced because she sees each aspect of her life separately. She looks for an equilibrium within her personality. This can only be achieved by giving up writing in her notebooks and by beginning a new one The Golden Notebook , which gives the novel its title. In bringing together her different experiences a certain unity comes into existence which helps to regulate her imbalance in her consciousness.
This turning point in her life has been brought about by the painful but very intense affair with Saul Green. Saul being in the same mental state helps her to regain her personality and individual stability. Based on this experience she can build up a new relation to reality. As soon as she has got over her personal crisis then she has overcome her writer’s block.