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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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Sequence, Series and Character in Children of Violence

Sequence, Series and Character in Children of Violence

(p.39) Chapter 3 Sequence, Series and Character in Children of Violence
Doris Lessing and the Forming of History

Kevin Brazil

Edinburgh University Press

Explorations of selfhood have been central to Lessing’s work. Perhaps less recognized, however, is that this has been accompanied by an ongoing and highly self-conscious exploration of the function of literary character as a formal device. This chapter addresses this question by focusing on Lessing’s most sustained treatment of character: Martha Quest in the five novel Children of Violence (1952-69) series. Previous criticism has often read Martha autobiographically, but this chapter begins by analysing how Lessing situates her novel-series in relationship to the history of the form, from Balzac to Proust to Louis Aragon, and how her initial conception of character bears close comparison with Georg Lukács’s discussions of critical realism in the era of the Cold War and decolonization. Such questions are written into Children of Violence, in Martha’s own scenes of reading and inability to find a fictional representation of her life. The chapter closes by considering how Lessing manipulates the aesthetic requirements and tensions of the novel sequence to foreground the representational limitations imposed not just by realist theories of character, but by capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy, and the bourgeois family. These, in the end, provide the horizon beyond which Martha cannot pass – but which Lessing’s writing can.

Keywords:   Doris Lessing, George Lukács, realism, Children of Violence: Martha Quest, A Proper Marriage, A Ripple from the Storm, Landlocked, The Four-Gated City

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