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The Golden Notebook

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Aaron Clark

on 20 May 2014

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Transcript of The Golden Notebook

About the Author

Doris Lessing was the daughter of British maize farmers in Southern Rhodesia. Though she never finished high school, she made herself into a self-educated intellectual. In 1937, she relocated to Salisbury, in England, and joined a group of young leftists. She soon embarked upon a literary career that was to earn her equal measure of praise and criticism, with much of her semi-autobiographical works being deemed controversial and innapropriately earnest.
Title and Author
Point of View
The true novel (Free Women) is in the third person omniscient point of view. The black and red notebooks are written in the first person, from Anna's perspective. The blue notebook, being intended as a diary, is also written in the first person, though much of its space is occupied by newspaper clippings and magazine snippets. The yellow notebook is an ongoing, semi-autobiographical novel written by Anna in the third person limited. The titular golden notebook returns to the first person, to Anna's own perspective.
Anna Wulf
Anna Wulf is the main character of the "Free Women" section of the book, and the writer of the four Notebooks. She once lived in Africa as a member of a group of young leftist intellectuals. She is also a former member of the British Communist Party. She was married for two years to Max Wulf, and had a daughter, Janet, with him. She did not, however, love him, and she divorced him a year after Janet's birth. She was in a relationship with Michael, a political refugee from the continent, in spite of his being married. She became very dependent on him, and when he left her to remain with his wife, she was severely emotionally traumatized. She became frigid, leading her to seek the guidance of a psychoanalyst, Mrs. Marks. Though she learns a good deal from Mrs. Marks, she gives up on treatment and becomes more and more fragmented, engaging in a number of torrid affairs. Finally, with the help of an American boarder, Saul, who is equally disturbed, she manages to consolidate the fragments of herself into a single Golden Notebook.
The Golden Notebook's unusual narrative structure winds through several different time periods and locales. The reader follows the disorganized and fragmented life of one Anna Wulf, from World War II-era colonial Africa to 1950s London. The novel examines many of the social, political, and societal problems of the time in which it is set, including militarism, Stalinism, anti-communism, and women's rights.
By Doris Lessing
The Golden Notebook
The Golden Notebook
was written by Doris Lessing, and published in 1962. It is one of her works of "inner space fiction," as it explores mental, personal, and societal breakdown. As a work, it also criticizes militarism and Stalinism, while also providing a realistic examination of the young women's liberation movement.
Molly Jacobs
Molly Jacobs is Anna's best friend. She is also a "free woman"--until she decides to get married at the end of the story--and a former communist. She was married to Richard Portmain, and had a son with him, Tommy. Because she raised Tommy, Richard often blames her for their son's depression and unwillingness to accept any of the jobs he has offered him. After Tommy's suicide attempt, Molly becomes afraid of him and has Anna intervene. In the end, she decides to marry, leaving the ranks of the "free women."
Marion Portmain
Marion is Richard's current wife. The stresses of her relationship with Richard, who is a domineering serial adulterer, have driven her to alcoholism. However, after Tommy's suicide attempt, she begins spending time with him and learning the tenets of socialism. Eventually, she breaks off from Richard, becoming a "free woman" of sorts.
Richard Portmain
Richard is the husband of Marion, the former husband of Molly, and the father of Tommy. He dabbled in communism in his youth in order to rebel against his wealthy parents before becoming a successful businessman himself. He is described as a "tycoon," and he is also a philanderer, having had dozens of extramarital relationships. He prefers women he can keep under his thumb, leading to friction with Molly and Anna. He blames Molly for Tommy's melancholic behavior, and later for not putting an end to Marion's spending time with Tommy. In the end, he divorces Marion, marries his secretary, and sends Tommy and Marion on a holiday to Italy.
Tommy Portmain
Tommy is the son of Richard and Molly. He is in his early twenties at the time of "Free Women," and is suffering from a prolonged episode of depression. He continually rejects his father's offers of work, rather spending time alone in his room. He claims he does not want to become a "failure" like Anna or his mother, but he also does not want to become a capitalist businessman. After speaking with Anna one night, he attempts suicide, accidentally blinding himself. Rather than sinking further into depression, however, he becomes more involved in socialist activities. He also begins mentoring Marion, and his presence and seemingly-unnatural "sixth sense" begin to disturb Molly. Eventually, Anna has a talk with him and Marion, bringing the situation down and calming their socialistic fervor. In the end, Tommy and Marion take a trip to Italy, payed for by Richard at Anna's suggestion.
Michael is Anna's lover. He is a married professional from the continent, as well as a communist. Many of his friends were executed in Czechoslovakia as "traitors to the party," and he is ostracized by many continental communists for having associated with them and for living in Britain, rather than in a communist country. Though Anna loves him, he is not particularly attached to her, and is jealous of the attention she gives to her daughter. He admires her status as a "free woman," but loses interest in her when she starts acting like a wife. He leaves Anna to return to his wife, leaving her emotionally traumatized.
Janet Wulf
Janet is the daughter of Anna and Max Wulf. She lives with her mother. In spite of her mother's revolutionary tendencies, Janet is perfectly content with being "normal." Her fondest desire is to attend a traditional English boarding school, an idea which is absolutely repugnant to her mother. In the end, however, Anna submits, allowing Janet to attend a girl's boarding school with her friends.
Rising Action
The novel's rising action includes Anna's struggle with writer's block, her early experiences in Africa, her involvement with the British Communist Party, her relationship with Michael and the string of affairs that followed, her life as a career woman and mother, and her visits to Mrs. Marks, the psychoanalyst.
The novel's climax occurs during Anna's time with Saul, when she endures a complete mental collapse. As she recuperates, Saul manages to convince her to start writing again, even giving her the first line of her next novel. This experience takes place within the Golden Notebook, which is actually not a notebook, but a section of the novel, and which represents Anna's success at consolidating the parts of herself trapped in the other Notebooks into one, complete self, a single Anna.
Falling Action
The novel's falling action occurs in the final "Free Women" section of the novel during a conversation between Anna and Molly--one which mirrors the novel's open. In this friendly visit, Molly mentions she is getting married, and Anna discusses her most recent affair with an American writer named Milt. Anna closes by enumerating her plans to become a social worker and teacher of delinquent children. The novel ends as the two women separate.
Selected Passage
"Knowing was an 'illumination.' During the last weeks of craziness and timelessness I've had these moments of 'knowing' one after the other, yet there is no way of putting this sort of knowledge into words. Yet, these moments have been so powerful, like the rapid illuminations of a dream that remain with one waking, that what I have learned will be part of how I experience life until I die"
--Anna Wulf, "The Golden Notebook"
Published Reviews
Personal Review
"The Golden Notebook" was written by British authoress Doris Lessing and published in 1962. Though it is often touted as a token text of the feminist movement, I feel that it is more of a period piece, a commentary on the societal breakdown of the Cold War years, as well as the breakdown of the individual which was the result of, or at least an accompaniment to, the aforementioned societal degradation. The novel is concerned with the trials of the artist, and of the woman, and it is highly introspective and casual in tone, bordering on the stream-of-consciousness style of Faulkner. The dual focus on the deterioration of the macrocosm (society), and the main character's inscape provides a thorough examination of the terrors and tribulations of the period, as well as of those more persistent adversities which were acknowledged by such literary greats as Dostoyevsky and Stendahl. For this depth of examination, I would rank this novel as one of the "greats" and definitely as one of my all-time favorites. I would gladly recommend it to anyone interested in psychology, literature, politics, or feminism, as they are sure to learn from and enjoy it.
Saul Green
Saul is an American writer in London. He left the States after he began to face persecution for his leftist views. He rents a room from Anna and begins an affair with her. It soon becomes apparent that he is mentally unstable, as he suffers from mood swings and a faulty perception of time. Together, he and Anna confront their neuroses, starting them both down the path to healing themselves.
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