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Britain's Doris Lessing wins 2007 Nobel literature prize

Author, two weeks short of her 88th, is oldest choice ever

Posted: Friday, October 12, 2007

NEW YORK - Doris Lessing, Nobel laureate. This year's winner of the literature prize should inspire a fresh look at the long, prolific career of the author of "The Golden Notebook" and dozens of other works, and a fresh debate about the taste of Nobel judges.

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The 87-year-old Lessing, whose novels, short stories, memoirs and plays have reflected her own unexpected journeys across time, space and ideology, was praised Thursday by the Swedish Academy for her "skepticism, fire and visionary power."

"I've won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I'm delighted to win them all," said Lessing, alighting from a taxi outside her brick row house in North London as reporters gave her the news. Her previous honors include the James Tait Black Memorial Book Prize and the W.H. Smith Literary Award.

"It's a royal flush," she said.

For at least one generation of women, "The Golden Notebook," Lessing's 1962 novel about a writer's personal and political reckoning, was a moment of self-discovery comparable to "Catch-22" for anti-war protesters or "The Catcher in the Rye" for teenagers.

Lessing, almost two weeks short of her 88th birthday, is the oldest choice ever for a prize that usually goes to authors in their 50s and 60s. Although she continues to publish at least every other year, she has received little attention for her recent work has been criticized as didactic and impenetrable.

"This is pure political correctness," American literary critic Harold Bloom, commenting on Lessing's Nobel, told The Associated Press. "Although Ms. Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities, I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable ... fourth-rate science fiction."

Lessing, ironically, is herself a critic of political correctness who broke with the British Communist Party in the 1950s, has often presented women (including herself) as vain and territorial and has insisted that "The Golden Notebook" is not a "trumpet for Women's Liberation," as she wrote in the introduction for a 1993 reissue.

"I think a lot of romanticizing has gone on with the women's movement," she told the AP in a 2006 interview. "Whatever type of behavior women are coming up with, it's claimed as a victory for feminism - doesn't matter how bad it is. We don't seem go in very much for self-criticism."

The former Doris May Tayler has never liked to be told what to do, or how to think. In her memoir, "Under My Skin," published in 1994, she remembered herself as a contrarian child with a mantra of three stubborn words: "I will not."

She didn't need teachers; only her eyes and mind. As a girl, she read "The Secret Garden," biblical tales, Rudyard Kipling, history books about Napoleon, the Crusades, and Benjamin Franklin and Charles Dickens, whom she chose against the advice of the nuns in her convent. By age 10, she had written a one-act play featuring Shakespearean monarchs.

"She is a realist," says fellow author Shirley Hazzard, whose "The Great Fire" won the National Book Award for fiction in 2003. "Her intention is not to amuse. She's a serious writer who deals with thing she feels very, very strongly about."



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