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A Small Personal Voice

Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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      A Small Personal Voice
Doris Lessing

An essential and definitive collection of the Nobel Prize for Literature winner’s finest essays, reviews, reminiscences and interviews from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.‘The novelist talks as an individual to individuals, in a small personal voice. In an age of committee art, public art, people may begin to feel again a need for the small personal voice; and this will feed confidence into writers and, with confidence because of the knowledge of being needed, the warmth and humanity, and love of people which is essential for a great age of literature.’In this collection of her non-fiction, Lessing’s own life and work are the subject of a number of pieces, as are fellow writers such as Isak Dinesen and Kurt Vonnegut. There are essays on Malcolm X and Sufism, discussions of the responsibility of the artist, thoughts on her exile from Southern Rhodesia, and a fascinating memoir of her fraught relationship with her mother.Lit throughout by Doris Lessing's desire for truth-telling, ‘A Small Personal Voice’ is both an important collection of writings by and a self-portrait of one of the most significant writers of the past century.


A Small Personal Voice

Essays, Reviews, Interviews

Edited and introduced by Paul Schlueter


Cover (#uccfe9922-aed5-570a-a0dc-781cbff0dc86)

Title Page (#u563aba4c-6c0d-5649-a00b-fd26fe70ab4b)

Introduction (#u2d72d7f8-c22a-52fa-a22c-691b4a89e223)

ON HER LIFE AND WRITINGS (#u66621b37-a480-50a8-b337-453f4763fe6e)

The Small Personal Voice (#u9d1a7d94-8355-5881-9557-ea7ad496ca03)

Preface to The Golden Notebook (#u3ccb51bd-1f78-500c-8542-26cc77dc02cb)

Interview with Doris Lessing by Roy Newquist (#u6befbf56-85a6-5a6d-b886-ce6ce00c2a9c)

Doris Lessing at Stony Brook: An Interview by Jonah Raskin (#litres_trial_promo)

A Talk with Doris Lessing by Florence Howe (#litres_trial_promo)

My Father (#litres_trial_promo)

Impertinent Daughters (#litres_trial_promo)

ON OTHER WRITERS (#litres_trial_promo)

Afterword to The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner (#litres_trial_promo)

Allah Be Praised (#litres_trial_promo)

In the World, Not of It (#litres_trial_promo)

Vonnegut’s Responsibility (#litres_trial_promo)

Ant’s Eye View: A Review of The Soul of the White Ant by Eugène Marais (#litres_trial_promo)

A Deep Darkness: A Review of Out of Africa by Karen Blixen (#litres_trial_promo)

ON AFRICA (#litres_trial_promo)

Being Prohibited (#litres_trial_promo)

The Fruits of Humbug (#litres_trial_promo)

Note from the Author (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Author (#litres_trial_promo)

Also by the Author (#litres_trial_promo)

Copyright (#litres_trial_promo)

About the Publisher (#litres_trial_promo)

INTRODUCTION BY PAUL SCHLUETER (#ulink_aed19e6d-0d84-515d-81ef-b5e3692d4ea0)

Although most readers of Doris Lessing know her only through her novels and stories, she has also written many essays and given a number of interviews that shed considerable light on her ideas about and commitment to the craft of writing. Increasingly, scholars and others have asked for copies of specific pieces no longer in print or otherwise unavailable, and it is for this reason that this selection has been prepared.

A few words about the selections seem appropriate. The initial piece, ‘The Small Personal Voice,’ appeared in Declaration (London: MacGibbon and Kee, 1957, pp. 11–27) and is Mrs Lessing’s most affirmative essay concerned with the function of the novel in an age of cataclysmic change. Other writers included in Declaration were John Osborne, Colin Wilson, John Wain, and Kenneth Tynan.

The Preface to The Golden Notebook, Mrs Lessing’s most famous and justly praised novel, was written in 1971 for a paperback reprint of the book first published a decade earlier, and appears in both the current British and American editions of the book (London: Michael Joseph and Panther Books, New York: Simon & Schuster and Bantam Books). It also appeared, as ‘On The Golden Notebook’, in Partisan Review, XL, 1 (1973), pp. 14–30. It is Mrs Lessing’s fullest statement thus far about the novel and is a healthy corrective to numerous misunderstandings and misinterpretations made previously by reviewers and critics.

The interview conducted by Roy Newquist took place in October 1963 and was published in Newquist’s book Counterpoint (Chicago: Rand McNally,1964, pp. 413–24). Jonah Raskin’s interview, ‘Doris Lessing at Stony Brook: An Interview,’ was conducted in May 1969 during a time when Mrs Lessing was spending four days at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and was published in New American Review 8 (New York: New American Library, 1970, pp. 166–79); at the time the Stony Brook campus was undergoing the agonies of political struggle between the activists among the students and the outside authorities, and the interview is more than anything else a dialogue between the two generations of political radicals. Florence Howe’s interview ‘A Talk with Doris Lessing,’ was conducted in October 1966 and published in The Nation, March 6, 1967, pp. 311–13.

Concluding the first section of the book is a piece in which Mrs Lessing discusses her childhood. ‘My Father’ first appeared in the Sunday Telegraph on September 1, 1963, and later appeared in Vogue, in an abridged form, as ‘All Seething Underneath’ (February 15, 1964, pp. 80–1, 132–3).

The second section of this book includes a number of Mrs Lessing’s essays about and reviews of the work of other writers. Readers of her ‘Children of Violence’ series will recognize her frequent references to Olive Schreiner’s The Story of an African Farm (1883) as suggestive of a debt owed by one writer to another, so Mrs Lessing’s ‘Afterword’ to a recent reprint of the novel (New York: Fawcett World Library, 1968, pp. 273–90) is especially timely. ‘Allah Be Praised’ is a review of The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and appeared in the New Statesman (May 27, 1966, pp. 775, 778).

‘In the World, Not of It’ is one of two essays Mrs Lessing has written about the writings of Idries Shah, and appeared in Encounter (August, 1972, pp. 61–4). Another piece, ‘An Ancient Way to New Freedom,’ originally appeared in Vogue for September 15, 1971, and is not included in the present selection because of its availability in a collection entitled The Diffusion of Sufi Ideas in the West, edited by L. Lewin (Boulder, Colo.: Keysign Press, 1972).

‘Vonnegut’s Responsibility’ suggests Mrs Lessing’s interest in writers of our own day, an interest found in her occasional reviews of current books. The essay appeared in the New York Times Book Review (February 4, 1973, p. 35). Eugène Marais’s The Soul of the White Ant was first published in 1937 (translated from Afrikaans) and reissued in 1969; Mrs Lessing’s essay – really more of a tribute than a mere commentary – appeared in the New Statesman, January 29, 1971 under the title ‘Ant’s Eye View.’

And, finally, ‘A Deep Darkness’ is a review of Isak Dinesen’s (pseudonym of Karen Blixen) Shadows on the Grass (1961), but with as much to offer on Blixen’s Out of Africa (1938) as on the more recent book; since both concern the Danish author’s love for and years of residence in Africa, it seems appropriate that Doris Lessing offer such a review. The piece appeared in the New Statesman, January 15, 1971, pp. 87–8.

The book ends with a short group of selections about Africa, the subject of many earlier pieces by Mrs Lessing. ‘Being Prohibited’ describes her visit to South Africa in 1956, following which she was placed on the list of ‘prohibited aliens’ for that country and Southern Rhodesia. The essay was first published in the New Statesman (April 21, 1956, pp. 410, 412), and should be read in conjunction with Mrs Lessing’s book Going Home (1957) in which she provides a detailed account of what she found in colonial Africa.

‘The Fruits of Humbug’ appeared in The Twentieth Century (April 1959, pp. 368–76) as part of a series entitled ‘Crisis in Central Africa,’ and compares Mrs Lessing’s own return to Africa in 1956 with the expulsion of a Member of Parliament from Rhodesia in 1959.

Mrs Lessing’s range of subjects is wide, and her interest in the essay continues year after year. This selection ought to serve well to introduce a different facet of her talent to a popular audience, and to provide the difficult-to-locate materials scholars around the world have been requesting. And the several interviews included enable Mrs Lessing to offer more detailed remarks about her own craft of writing than are otherwise available to a popular audience, and provide even greater understanding of this most gifted writer to the many who enjoy her fiction.

On Her Lifeand Writings (#ulink_acd07655-7d37-513b-9f45-0e0da0502801)

The Small Personal Voice (#ulink_bba85cfd-d550-571b-8124-997cb4ea4d2a)

To say, in 1957, that one believes artists should be committed, is to arouse hostility and distrust because of the quantities of bad novels, pictures, and films produced under the banner of committedness; also because of a current mood of reaction against socialist art-jargon, the words and phrases of which have been debased by a parrot-use by the second-rate to a point where many of us suffer from a nervous reluctance to use them at all. The reaction is so powerful and so prompt that one has only to stand up on a public platform and say that one still believes in the class analysis of society and therefore of art, in short that one is a marxist, for nine-tenths of the audience immediately to assume that one believes novels should be simple tracts about factories or strikes or economic injustice.

I see no reason why good writers should not, if they have a bent that way, write angry protest novels about economic injustice. Many good writers have. Dickens, for instance, was often inspired by poverty and injustice. Novels like Germinal or The Jungle are not to be despised. A writer’s natural talent may drive him to transform what might have been a simple morality tale into something much more powerful. Or his talent may be adequate only for crude protest. But propagandist literature, religious or political, is as old as literature itself, and has sometimes been good and sometimes bad.

Recently it has been very bad; and that is why the idea of committedness is in disrepute. But at least it is in debate, and that is a good thing: passionate polemics about art or about anything else are always a sign of health.

Polemics about art now must take into account what has happened in the communist countries where socialist theories of art have been put into practice. The ‘agonized reappraisals’ that are going on everywhere in the socialist movements are a seminal force; for I do not believe that humanity is so compartmented that reappraisals, agonized or not, can go on in one section of it and not quickly and usefully influence anybody who thinks at all.

As a writer I am concerned first of all with novels and stories, though I believe that the arts continuously influence each other, and that what is true of one art in any given epoch is likely to be true of the others. I am concerned that the novel and the story should not decline as art-forms any further than they have from the high peak of literature; that they should possibly regain their greatness. For me the highest point of literature was the novel of the nineteenth century, the work of Tolstoy, Stendhal, Dostoevsky, Balzac, Turgenev, Chekhov; the work of the great realists. I define realism as art which springs so vigorously and naturally from a strongly held, though not necessarily intellectually defined, view of life that it absorbs symbolism. I hold the view that the realist novel, the realist story, is the highest form of prose writing; higher than and out of the reach of any comparison with expressionism, impressionism, symbolism, naturalism, or any other ism.

The great men of the nineteenth century had neither religion nor politics nor aesthetic principles in common. But what they did have in common was a climate of ethical judgement; they shared certain values; they were humanists. A nineteenth-century novel is recognizably a nineteenth-century novel because of this moral climate.

If there is one thing which distinguishes our literature, it is a confusion of standards and the uncertainty of values. It would be hard, now, for a writer to use Balzacian phrases like ‘sublime virtue’ or ‘monster of wickedness’ without self-consciousness. Words, it seems, can no longer be used simply and naturally. All the great words like love, hate; life, death; loyalty, treachery; contain their opposite meanings and half a dozen shades of dubious implication. Words have become so inadequate to express the richness of our experience that the simplest sentence overheard on a bus reverberates like words shouted against a cliff. One certainty we all accept is the condition of being uncertain and insecure. It is hard to make moral judgements, to use words like good and bad.

Yet I reread Tolstoy, Stendhal, Balzac, and the rest of the old giants continuously. So do most of the people I know, people who are left and right, committed and uncommitted, religious and unreligious, but who have at least this in common, that they read novels as I think they should be read, for illumination, in order to enlarge one’s perception of life.

Why? Because we are in search of certainties ? Because we want a return to a comparatively uncomplicated world? Because it gives us a sense of safety to hear Balzac’s thundering verdicts of guilt or innocence, and to explore with Dostoevsky, for instance in Crime and Punishment, the possibilities of moral anarchy, only to find order restored at the end with the simplest statements of faith in forgiveness, expiation, redemption?

Recently I finished reading an American novel which pleased me; it was witty, intelligent, un-self-pitying, courageous. Yet when I put it down I knew I would not reread it. I asked myself why not, what demand I was making on the author that he did not answer. Why was I left dissatisfied with nearly all the contemporary novels I read? Why, if I were reading for my own needs, rather than for the purposes of informing myself about what was going on, would I begin rereading War and Peace or The Red and the Black?

Put directly, like this, the answer seemed to me clear. I was not looking for a firm reaffirmation of old ethical values, many of which I don’t accept; I was not in search of the pleasures of familiarity. I was looking for the warmth, the compassion, the humanity, the love of people which illuminates the literature of the nineteenth century and which makes all these old novels a statement of faith in man himself.

These are qualities which I believe are lacking from literature now.
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