Doris Lessing’s Beautiful Impossible Blueprints

  • Jocelyn Harris


In ‘The Small Personal Voice’, an essay first published in 1957, Doris Lessing argues that the responsible artist should be ‘an architect of the soul’, a humanist working to strengthen good against evil.1 She is, and she has. Born in Persia, raised in colonial Rhodesia, her father embittered and mutilated by the First World War, Doris Lessing came to postwar England and found it wanting. Child of violence and of violent change, she creates unsettingly innocent observers, their perceptions sharpened by unfamiliarity and exile.2 Lessing maps our most urgent concerns: the collapse of empires and idealisms, the shadow of war and the Bomb, urban disaster and environmental ruin. The blueprints that she tests as remedies for these ills include madness, mysticism, apocalypse, Utopia and organic architecture; tests and discards, for she is always moving on.


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  1. 8.
    R. D. Laing, The Politics of Experience (1967; rpt. New York: Ballantine Books, 1970) p. 28Google Scholar
  2. 10.
    Ibid., p. 133. See also Marion Vlastos, ‘Doris Lessing and R. D. Laing: Psychopolitics and Prophecy’, PMLA, 91 (March 1976) 245–58.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 12.
    Jenny Taylor makes this point at greater length in her Introduction to Notebooks/Memoirs/Archives: Reading and Rereading Doris Lessing (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982) pp. 1–42.Google Scholar
  4. 16.
    See Mary Astell, Some Reflections on Marriage, with Additions (1730; rpt. New York: Source Book Press, 1970)Google Scholar
  5. Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party: a Symbol of Our Heritage (New York: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1979).Google Scholar
  6. 17.
    For a more detailed discussion of Blake and Lessing, see Susan Levin’s ‘A Four-Fold Vision: William Blake and Doris Lessing’, in William Blake and the Moderns, ed. Robert J. Bertholf and Annette S. Levitt (Albany: New York State University Press, 1982) pp. 212–21.Google Scholar
  7. 21.
    Frank Lloyd Wright, The Living City (1945; rpt. New York: Mentor Books, 1958) pp. 29Google Scholar
  8. 22.
    See Betsy Draine, Substance under Pressure: Artistic Coherence and Evolving Form in the Novels of Doris Lessing (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1983) p. 147Google Scholar
  9. 23.
    See Roland Barthes, ‘Textual Analysis: Poe’s “Valdemar”’, in Modern Criticism and Theory: a Reader, ed. David Lodge (London/New York: Longman, 1988) p. 172.Google Scholar
  10. 28.
    Quoted in Gordon S. Haight, George Eliot: a Biography (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968) p. 464.Google Scholar
  11. 30.
    Quoted in Florence Emily Hardy, The Life of Thomas Hardy: 1840–1928 (1928; rpt. London: Macmillan, 1962) p. 224Google Scholar

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© Jocelyn Harris 1991

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  • Jocelyn Harris

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