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Columbia University Press
Lessing, Doris
1919—, British novelist, b. Kermanshah, Persia (now Iran). She was brought up on a farm in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and in 1949 went to England, where her first novel, The Grass Is Singing (1950), was published. Widely regarded as one of the major writers of the mid-20th cent. and an influential figure among feminists, Lessing writes on a wide variety of themes: Rhodesia, women, communism, and animals. Distinguished for its energy and intelligence, her work is principally concerned with the lives of women–their psychology, politics, work, relationship to men and to their children, and their change of vision as they age. In her later books she has mainly focused on efforts by individuals to resist society's pressures toward marginalization and acculturation.

Throughout Lessing's work run currents of realism and fantasy, each of which dominate in some novels and mingle in others. Her fiction includes a series of five novels collectively entitled The Children of Violence, which concern a semiautobiographical character named Martha Quest; the series includes Martha Quest (1952), Ripple from the Storm (1958), and The Four-Gated City (1969). A series of five science-fiction novels is collectively entitled Canopus in Argos: Archives, of which The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 (1982) is best known. One of her most influential works, The Golden Notebook (1962), a study of the struggles of a woman writer, is considered a classic of feminist fiction.

Among Lessing's other novels are Briefing for a Descent into Hell (1971), The Summer before the Dark (1973), The Good Terrorist (1985), The Fifth Child (1988) and its sequel, Ben, in the World (2000), and The Sweetest Dream (2001), a semiautobiographical tale of the 1960s. To dramatize the plight of unknown novelists, Lessing wrote two novels, The Diary of a Good Neighbour (1983) and If the Old Could (1984), under the pseudonym of Jane Somers; they were ignored by critics until Lessing revealed their true authorship. She is also well known for her short stories.

See her volumes of autobiography, Under My Skin (1994) and Walking in the Shade (1997); biographies by A. Myles (1990) and C. Klein (2000); studies by R. Rubinstein (1979), I. Homquist (1980), M. Knapp (1984), C. Sprague and V. Tiger (1986), J. Pickering (1990), and M. Rowe (1994).