A writer discovers herself as she searches to understand Doris Lessing (1919-2013).
In her mid-30s, married with a young son, Feigel (English/King’s Coll., London; The Bitter Taste of Victory: Life, Love, and Art in the Ruins of the Reich, 2016, etc.) became obsessed with the idea of freedom. A miscarriage strained her marriage, and as desperately as she wanted another child, she also felt conflicted about the inherent constraints of motherhood. Struggling to define the “existential feeling” of freedom and its consequences for a woman’s life, Feigel turned to Lessing, for whom liberation was a pressing concern and recurring theme, mining her works and her life in an attempt “to understand freedom as Lessing conceived it and as we might apprehend it now, politically, intellectually, emotionally, and sexually.” Thoroughly immersed in Lessing’s work, Feigel decided that there seemed an “urgent and personal liberation to be found in pursuing Lessing herself: in hunting her down as a way of giving the side of me that identified with her the space and time it needed to emerge.” Combining memoir, biography, and sensitive close readings of Lessing’s fiction and autobiography, Feigel creates an unusually intimate exploration of the intertwining of Lessing’s life with her own. As much as she admired Lessing, two facets of her life were problematic: her abandonment of her two young children, which Lessing saw as “a necessary condition” of her pursuit of freedom; and her continued membership in the Communist Party. Lessing’s “love affair with communism,” Feigel writes, “left me both envious and shocked”: shocked by her attempts to defend Stalin; envious of the reckless excitement of a love affair as well as “her determination to be always complicated: to question everything—not only what those around her thought, but what she herself thought.” Despite all of Lessing’s “energy and talent,” her life inevitably “narrowed” in ways she could not control, leading Feigel to redefine freedom for herself as a “surprisingly joyful knowledge of my own powerlessness.”
A graceful, absorbing meditation on two lives.