Places: The Golden Notebook

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1962

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1940’s-1950’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedMolly’s house

Molly’s Golden Notebook, Thehouse. London home of Molly Jacobs, in which most of the novel’s action is set. Molly’s house and Anna’s apartment are interior spaces that function as containers for the heroines’ emotional lives. Although the two friends refer to themselves as “free women,” they recognize the confines that their culture and their own thinking about gender relationships place on their actions and emotions. They are as enclosed by cultural conventions as they are by the spaces they inhabit.

When Anna and Molly are living together in the house, Molly’s house provides a space for their growing friendship. They pursue their careers and relationships with men as they please. After Molly’s son blinds himself in a suicide attempt, he spends most of his time at home and moves into the main room, making it impossible for Molly even to make a private phone call. At the end of the novel, Molly plans to marry and move to her new husband’s house; the change in residence signifies a new phase in her emotional life.

Anna’s apartment

Anna’s apartment. Anna rents an apartment for herself and her daughter after her long affair with Michael ends. She wants to get away from the place in which she has spent so much time with him but also wants a space for the notebooks she begins to keep. The author of a successful novel, Frontiers of War, Anna lives off the royalties while trying to decide what to write next. In her four notebooks, she records parts of her life. Experiencing her life as fragmented, she can find no single truth to record. At the end of the novel, she decides to stop writing, get a job, and move to another apartment. As with Molly, Anna’s life begins a new phase, as evidenced by her decision to find a new place to live.

*Central Africa

*Central Africa. Setting of Anna’s novel Frontiers of War and the place where Anna lived for several years during World War II. Anna’s novel tells the story of a British fighter pilot’s tragic love affair with an African woman. In her black notebook, Anna records her own experience in Africa, which provides the raw material for her novel. The stories of Africa stress several themes of The Golden Notebook–the process of translating experience into art and the difficulty of realistically recording experience. This second theme is evidenced by Anna’s constant questioning of whether her memory is accurate and wondering whether the story would be the same if told by one of the other participants.

In describing Central Africa, Doris Lessing draws on her own experience of living in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) from the age of five until 1949, when she moved to London.

Mashopi Hotel

Mashopi Hotel. Hostelry in the African countryside where Anna and her friends spend weekends and holidays. Although the group goes there primarily to take breaks from their Communist Party activities, it is there that they experience most deeply the politics of the country, particularly the racial divide between the white settlers and black Africans. One white friend of Anna’s has had a long-term affair with an African women, the wife of the hotel’s cook, and has fathered one of her children. Despite his rejection of the color bar and his desire to help his lover, he cannot acknowledge this child without jeopardizing his job and harming his own wife, his children, and his elderly parents and in-laws who depend on him. Jackson, the cook, loses the job he has held for fifteen years because of a misunderstanding by the owner. He is forced to leave immediately with no opportunity to explain.

*Soviet Union

*Soviet Union. Although neither Anna nor Molly visits the Soviet Union, they both join and later leave the Communist Party. The contrast between their political ideals and reports of possible atrocities taking place in the Soviet Union accentuates the novel’s theme of the difficulty of discerning a single truth.

BibliographyGreene, Gayle. Changing the Story: Feminist Fiction and the Tradition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991. Feminist criticism of Lessing, among other writers. Examines how language plays an important role in The Golden Notebook.Hite, Molly. The Other Side of the Story: Structures and Strategies of Contemporary Feminist Narrative. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989. This work of feminist criticism offers a thorough discussion of Lessing’s experiments with form.Kaplan, Carey, and Ellen Cronan Rose, eds. Approaches to Teaching Lessing’s “The Golden Notebook.” New York: Modern Language Association, 1989. An excellent look at The Golden Notebook, with helpful applications of contemporary feminist theory.Pickering, Jean. Understanding Doris Lessing. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990. Excellent summaries of the novels with helpful commentary.Pratt, Annis, and L. S. Dembo, eds. Doris Lessing: Critical Studies. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1974. A collection of essays on Lessing’s work, containing an excellent interview with Lessing conducted by Florence Howe and some early feminist criticism.Rubenstein, Roberta. The Novelistic Vision of Doris Lessing: Breaking the Forms of Consciousness. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1979. This book gives special attention to Lessing’s focus on human consciousness, what the theme means in her work and how she challenges the limits of consciousness in her prose.Sprague, Claire, and Virginia Tiger, eds. Critical Essays on Doris Lessing. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986. A collection of insightful essays on Lessing’s work.
Categories: Places