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Doris Lessing and the Forming of History$
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Kevin Brazil, David Sergeant, and Tom Sperlinger

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781474414432

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474414432.001.0001

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Early Lessing, Commitment, the World

Early Lessing, Commitment, the World

(p.10) Chapter 1 Early Lessing, Commitment, the World
Doris Lessing and the Forming of History

Adam Guy

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter begins by looking at the notions of writerly commitment formulated in Lessing’s essay ‘The Small Personal Voice’ (1957). Lessing’s ideas on commitment are then compared to those emerging from Jean-Paul Sartre’s post-1945 writing, which became an important frame not only for Sartre’s actions as a public figure, but also for the work of contemporaries such as Simone de Beauvoir and Frantz Fanon. Despite Lessing’s critique of Sartre in ‘The Small Personal Voice’, she is shown to share an emphasis on the place of the committed writer within a broad and unfolding world-system; she also shares with Sartre the same rhetorical means to establish such an emphasis. Lessing’s 1963 short story, ‘A Letter from Home’, is then read against the background of her notions of commitment and their Sartrean resonances. Tracking Lessing’s ideas about commitment from her non-fictional to her fictional writing, a consistent problematic is detected, of the manner in which a global location for the writer might be conveyed. In particular, Lessing addresses this problematic through frequent use of number. For Lessing (as for Sartre), number is less a means of enabling measurement and accuracy, than a gestural means to convey enormous scale.

Keywords:   Doris Lessing, Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, ‘A Letter from Home’

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