The Pioneer Doris Lessing, The Unaccustomed Earth of Rhodesia

Women novelists or rather women who write know about pain as subject matter.

Pain. Nobody knows about pain or the memory of pain or that temporary desire of pain in unhappiness the way that I do. Nobody knows about heartache the way that I do. The passage of the adaptation of constellations beyond the selective branches of trees and the daylight yonder, the grace found in all the dimensions of the frozen wilderness and the decay in and of the earth, the dance of the wildflowers, a child’s scraped knee. I ask myself does the female novelist want a human connection or an emotional one. I think to myself of Doris Lessing’s goodness, that her shortcomings were nobody’s business but her own. That she was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen, like my mother, like my sister, like my Swaziland cousins with the straight and elegant texture of their hair and fair porcelain skin.

They made cooking and cleaning, settling down and having babies look effortless.

Made me feel like a failure for not doing the same and then I discovered Lessing and looked into the most intimate moments of her life. Realised that although I was always heartbroken at never having children, I was still hopeful because I was a gorgeous storyteller and a recorder of tales of both woe and redemption. I looked at, gathered all the significant hallmarks of Lessing’s life, her skilled expertise, her displacement and migration, her detailed awakening, her humanity. and found all my principled valleys, my thoughtful and pensive mountains, my reasons for becoming a novelist. I have to prove I too can impact the world, talk and write about the vulnerability and intimacy of women’s lives. I wanted to be tough. You see, you have to be to interpret the symphony of pain and the peaks and troughs and crescendo of loss. Lessing taught me about the fragility of existence and fading away into non-existence as you get older, and I gravitated towards the unshowy habits of tradition, towards devastating sentimentality, to intricate prose.

Every story became matters about and towards a kind of questioning intellectual treatise, an educative philosophy. The more I started to write, the more I turned away from the genetic pool of arrogance, fear, limited thinking, having a limited vision of the world, and the writing became the supreme. The impact I was having as creator and creating, this novel and perpetual progress towards awareness of ego, of self and reckoning became my responsibility. I looked at Lessing as a scientist, as astronomer. I remembered the imprint of my deepest wounds and began to write about every wounded feeling I have ever had in my life with authority and power, in much the same way Doris Lessing had. She wrote with bold authenticity and confidence, greatness and with a paramount awe and belief in herself. In writing the novel, the female writer must be self-aware and always find herself reconciling her command of language, mastery at her technique and sensing that her foundations are both chariot and messenger. In writing, that most difficult of pursuits for a woman, you have to be bold and cheerful and brave. You have to accept routine.

In my isolation, I have to answer the narrative and writing the novel becomes my support group. It becomes my secret to becoming mentally strong and staying fit. For me pain has always birthed creativity. It has always been the proof of the refrain of disorder in my life. It has been my motivator, my major influence, my calming antidote.

Lessing always makes me think of the beauty of language. That it is communication, human connection on the emotional and spiritual levels that makes us who we are. I thought of Lessing as pioneer, myself as anti-feminist. She made me think of African feminism and privilege and community feminism. I think of Lessing’s personal intentions with her first book on a surface level. The instruction and correction of her philosophy. How she inspired the realms of the wider society. why art mattered so much to her. She was an intellectual enthusiast when it came to gender equality and relations. She was an enthusiastic writer.

As a novelist all my imperfections become a psychological discourse.

The putting together of humanity into conceptualisation.

I have known like Lessing what it means to be emotionally devastated.

Becoming a novelist has become something of a possible fundamental truth to me, a certainty. The silence and existence I found in Doris Lessing, I find in myself now. A portal to another dimension, resonance in all of its glory and like the wildflowers and birdsong in this pandemic, I have substance too and have found salvation and redemptive love in writing.

The novel is the most sacred thing that there is to me. It is the sleeping wolf, the temple, even the days when I am a fragile and obsessive mess. It is writing that keeps me from going under, that keeps me most alive. The mother I had always wanted to be, became my own mother and she taught me to live my truth. That it is only our emotional connections that make us happy in the end. The female novelist is the pioneer. Whether she is feminist or anti-feminist.

The novel is the many things that I love about theory, the fact that philosophy is always present in my reality. Awareness, intuition and communication. Men have taught me. They have taught me well. It is the male writer that has taught me to be daring and inspiring and insightful with his genius perspective. In my physical reality it has always been man, the male writer that has been genius, but the female writer, the female novelist is the class salt of the earth.

Abigail George
Abigail George
Abigail George is a researcher and historian. Follow her on Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram @abigailgeorgepoet.