Literary Daybook, April 16

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
Published April 16, 2002 7:00PM (EDT)

Today in fiction

On April 16, Ted Lavender is shot and killed outside Than Khe.
-- "The Things They Carried" (1990)
by Tim O'Brien

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
Know when something that did not really happen
occurred? Send it to

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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1962, Doris Lessing's "The Golden Notebook" was published. Though it is the most highly praised and still the bestselling of her two dozen books, Lessing regards it as "an albatross" hung around her neck by a feminist misreading:

"That novel had a framework made by thinking. The thought was to divide off and compartmentalise living was dangerous and led to nothing but trouble. Old, young; black, white; men, women; capitalism, socialism: these great dichotomies undo us, force us into unreal categorisation, make us look for what separates us rather than what we have in common ... That is why I have always seen 'The Golden Notebook' as a failure: a failure in my terms, of what I had meant. For has this book changed by an iota our tendency to think like computers set to sort everything -- people, ideas, history -- into boxes? No, it has not."

-- "Walking in the Shade" (Vol. 2 of her autobiography, 1997)

Instead, the book itself got compartmentalized: "Feminists discovered the book, in Britain, in the States, in Scandinavia, and it became the 'Bible of the Women's Movement.' A book that had been planned so coolly was read, I thought, hysterically."

Lessing's autobiography certainly confirms a lifelong rebellion against confinement: in flight from her parents at 15; from her husband and two children at 21; from Rhodesia, her Communist beliefs and her second husband at 30; from bourgeois living and predictable labels throughout. The conventional Martha Quest novels in the '50s became the experimental structure and Anna Wulf heroine of "The Golden Notebook"; later books explore Sufi mysticism and "inner space" science fiction. Reading recent interviews with her it is hard not to hear her impatience or to imagine her sitting still, though now over 80. When offered the title of Dame of the British Empire she refused, saying that there was no British Empire, and that being a Dame was a "pantomimey" tradition which she did not care to join.

-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

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