In the constellation of post-World War II fiction, Doris Lessing shines with a most peculiar light. To describe her as a novelist and short-story writer (and occasional essayist, playwright, scenarist, and poet) seems, somehow, to be misleading; like Ayn Rand, she is an author many of whose most fervent devotees have been drawn less by the plangency of her prose or the charm of her characters than by the unabashed fervor with which she has polemicized on behalf of an idea. Precisely what that idea is, however, has been a subject of widespread misconception since the publication in 1950 of her first novel, The Grass is Singing (the story of a white African woman’s murder by a black houseboy), and particularly since the appearance of her sixth and most celebrated novel, The Golden Notebook, in 1962. That, of course, was the book that made Lessing a popular prophet:...


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