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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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PRINTED FROM EDINBURGH SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.edinburgh.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Edinburgh University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in ESO for personal use.date: 25 September 2021

‘A funny thing laughter, what’s it for?’: Humour and Form in Lessing’s Fiction

‘A funny thing laughter, what’s it for?’: Humour and Form in Lessing’s Fiction

(p.97) Chapter 7 ‘A funny thing laughter, what’s it for?’: Humour and Form in Lessing’s Fiction
Doris Lessing and the Forming of History

Cornelius Collins

Edinburgh University Press

The notion of Lessing, as Joan Didion once wrote, as a ‘didactic’ writer implies that her writing cannot be funny. But if the radical otherness of her outlook as a former colonial subject prevents some readers from laughing, Lessing’s use of humour, as a dialogic modality, brings awareness to problems otherwise denied or unrecognized. In her early fiction, humour takes on a conventional, social-realist function, drawing on the novel’s historical connections to the genre of satire. The limits of novelistic satire become apparent in The Golden Notebook (1962), however, and, from this impasse, Lessing’s humour moves towards an alternative, therapeutic mode in order to engage with such emerging concerns as ecological catastrophe and social collapse. After explicitly reconsidering the rhetorical value of humour in The Four-Gated City (1969) and the short story ‘A Report on the Threatened City’ (1971), Lessing incorporates enigmatically humorous moments into The Summer Before the Dark (1973) and The Memoirs of a Survivor (1974). As these works take greater distance from the Western novel tradition, they embrace the subtly dialogic method of the Sufi teaching story, which informs the absurd but instructive anecdotes of colonial Rhodesia in Lessing’s 1985 lecture,Prisons We Choose to Live Inside.’

Keywords:   Doris Lessing, humour, The Golden Notebook, The Four-Gated City, ‘A Report on the Threatened City,’, The Summer Before the Dark, The Memoirs of a Survivor

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