11 October 2007

On reading that Lessing has won the Nobel Prize

Doris Lessing is one of those writers of whom I always feel that I should have read more. I've only read one of her short stories and it instantly comes to mind when I hear her name.

Our Friend Judith is commonly anthologized. My first reading of it was in the text used for an Intro to Lit class I taught as a grad student. I had never read anything by Lessing at the time but I was not unfamiliar, if perplexed, with her reputation. In my undergraduate classes, she was praised by professors in Women's Studies classes, and merely mentioned by professors in Literature classes. "Oh yes, Lessing. Well, the feminists seem to like her a lot".

My first reading of the short story was, therefore, influenced by these comments. In retrospect, I'm not sure that I ever had a professor mention Lessing that had actually read her work. The syllabus was mandated; Our Friend Judith was for the unit discussing character and an unreliable narrator. It is a good story to teach these concepts.

Naive readers will state that the story is about nothing much, except for an old spinster who gets upset about a cat. When I was teaching this story (in the mid-80's), some students might state that the story is about a woman who is independent and her friends who are envious that she is. Some would have picked up on a 'feminist' twist to this story, perhaps because they had run to the library to read criticism in order to sound as if they knew what they were talking about. But few realized from the first reading that the story was more about the busybody narrator and her gossiping friend Betty than it was about Judith.

I reread this story the morning after reading that Lessing won the Nobel Prize. Twenty-odd years after reading it for the first time, I still like it and I am still admiring of the structure of this story. Maybe some day I'll read more of Lessing's work. Maybe it is similar to this brief story. Maybe then I'll understand if there is a reason --other than the blatant sexism of my 70's era Literature professors --for their comments.


Dorothy W. said...

I've never read her, but I've been long curious about The Golden Notebook. I'm also a bit intimidated. But I should get over that!

Emily Barton said...

I've never read any Lessing, although she's been recommended to me by many people. She's one of those people I've been meaning to read, oh, for about twenty years near. I ought to finally do so.

chiefbiscuit said...

I've never read her either - was put off by a friend ... dunno if I'd bother now - altho' your description has left me better informed.

Courtney said...

I've never read Lessing, which I now find hard to believe (I mean, honestly - how can they give the Nobel prize to someone I've never read? :-)) - Your post makes me want to read at least this story.