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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

Lessing’s Witness Literature

Lessing’s Witness Literature

(p.152) Chapter 11 Lessing’s Witness Literature
Doris Lessing and the Forming of History

Elizabeth Maslen

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter takes as its starting point World War One, its traumatic effect on Lessing’s parents, and the ongoing effect of their traumas on Lessing herself; and goes on to explore how these issues are channeled into literary form in The Wind Blows Away our Words (1987), Mara and Dann (1999), The Story of General Dann and Mara’s Daughter, Griot and the Snow Dog (2005) and Alfred and Emily (2008). In exploring the effects of trauma on survivors and their children, it refers to the theories of a psychologist specialising in war trauma, Robert Jay Lifton; to Holocaust scholars such as Michael Levine; and to the philosopher Susan Brison. The chapter demonstrates how Lessing’s early experiences influenced her contribution to what is termed ‘witness literature’, developing techniques in her work that encourage readers to engage with the most challenging issues of her time, and to expose the ways in which language can be manipulated. Lessing’s thinking is contextualised with reference to other writers such as Herta Müller, Nadine Gordimer, Storm Jameson, Attia Hosein and Kamala Markhandaya, whose work is haunted by the effects of war and violence, and who all insist that personal experience cannot be divorced from the Zeitgeist.

Keywords:   Doris Lessing, trauma, The Wind Blows Away our Words, Mara and Dann, The Story of General Dann and Mara’s Daughter, Griot and the Snow Dog, Alfred and Emily

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