Lessing Wins Nobel

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Doris Lessing has won the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature. Not everyone is happy, of course. The Associated Press quotes Jabba the Academic, Yale University professor Harold Bloom, denouncing the choice as "pure political correctness." "Although Ms. Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities," Bloom said, "I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable … fourth-rate science fiction."

As the New York Times described Lessing in 1999, "She has been dubbed an African writer, a Communist writer, a feminist writer, a mystic writer, a psychological writer, now a science fiction writer." (Lessing broke with the party after the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary). So while Bloom might be partially right—there is always a political component to the Nobel choice, of course—credit Lessing for at least being embarrassed by her Red past, unlike previous prize winners Dario Fo, Elfriede Jelinek, Harold Pinter, Gunter Grass, Jose Saramago, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Pablo Neruda, and Jean-Paul Sartre.

The Noble Prize announcement here.

The Times on Lessing.

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  1. Of course, the Nobel Prize Committee would never choose an author that people actually read.

    (At least they haven’t since Kipling.)

    [Before anyone mentions Hemmingway, how many of you have actually read Hemmingway since you left college?]

  2. Jabba the Academic–ha. Right down to the sexual harassment. Lessing’s fiction tends to promote the theory that women have souls and brains and shouldn’t necessarily sell themselves as breeding machines, so I can see why Bloom wouldn’t like it. She’s really not all that left-wing–I remember reading a quote from her a few years back on how American feminism had turned into a religion and she didn’t envy American men at universities.

  3. A writer’s fiction should be judged by the quality of the writing and nothing else. Nobel Prizes are recognitions of achievement, not sainthoods.

  4. Aresen, I’m not really sure what you’re talking about. Nobody reads Garcia Marquez? Or Pablo Neruda? Or Sartre?

  5. Aresen, I’m not really sure what you’re talking about. Nobody reads Garcia Marquez? Or Pablo Neruda? Or Sartre?

    Academics and ‘critics’ read them. Virtually nobody else does.

  6. Count this household as “virtually nobody”.

  7. Aresen, I’m not really sure what you’re talking about. Nobody reads Garcia Marquez? Or Pablo Neruda? Or Sartre?

    Academics and ‘critics’ read them. Virtually nobody else does.

    I admit I’ve never heard of her myself, so I’ll refrain from comment on Mrs. Lessing’s work ’til I have.

    Shannon, I take it you have? Any works you’d recommend to the uninitiated?

  8. Academics and ‘critics’ read them. Virtually nobody else does.

    Translation: Aresen doesn’t read them.

    My 2 cents, I can’t think of a more deserving writer. Everyone should read Briefing on A Descent into Hell and The Marriages between Zones 3, 4, & 5 .

    And for all of you commie fighters out there, her autobiography is a great deconstruction of the communist movement.

  9. Aresen – I may be misunderstanding your claim here, but are you seriously saying that no one reads Lessing?

    The source of Bloom’s disdain for her – the science fiction material – has been in print for decades in multiple editions and sells quite well. The fact that you don’t read it doesn’t mean it’s not read.

    And Sartre? Come on, Sartre sold literally MILLIONS OF COPIES of his various works. OK, a lot of those copies were sold to college freshmen talking Philosophy 101, but a sale is a sale.

  10. Ottawa reader,

    It is hard to go wrong with Lessing.
    I have not read all of her work, but I haven’t read a bad one yet. If you like science fiction, her ‘Canopus in Argos’ series is available in a single volume and is quite interesting (think Samuel Delaney). Her “African Stories” is a great collection of early work. And if you want to read the most depressing book of your life, “The Fifth Child.”

    I do think her autobiography is one of the best I have read.

  11. Has PG Wodehouse gotten his prize yet? I realize it takes a long time…

    What contributes more to peace than laughter?

  12. I remember being assigned “The Grass is Singing” in school. I think Lessing is actually quite widely read compared to the usual run of literary fiction. “The Good Terrorist” is a great takedown of the delusional radical left.

  13. I’ve read Nobel laureates Faulkner, Hemingway, Camus, and Neruda, all since college. Admittedly, I can’t seem to force myself to read Garcia Marquez, although I do have a copy of 100 Years of Solitude around here somewhere.

  14. Before anyone mentions Hemmingway, how many of you have actually read Hemmingway since you left college?

    Yes. In fact, I didn’t like Hemingway until I reached my mid-twenties.

    If you want to sneer at self-indulgent, self-conciously ‘literary’ fiction, I’m right there with you. But the number of folks who do or do not read an author isn’t relevant to anything except the size of the royalty check.

  15. Franklin Harris,

    Force yourself…you won’t regret it.

  16. I can recommend this nobel prize winner also.

    http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1988/mahfouz-bio.html

    Naguib Mahfouz, Egypt

  17. Bellow, Singer, Golding, Kawabata, Morrison, Paz…

    Yeah nothing that anybody reads.

  18. Franklin – you might want to try Chronicle of a Death Foretold before Solitude, I thought it was an easier (and shorter) read.

    Garcia Marquez is a decent writer, but he definitely got some political brownie points to bag the Nobel.

  19. I wonder what he considers first-rate science fiction.

    Oh! Wait, now I understand. We were to read ‘science fiction’ as a terrible slur, substituting ‘feces’ in its place in that sentence as we read it.

  20. credit Lessing for at least being embarrassed by her Red past

    Not sure why that should even be germane. She got the prize for Literature, not for Peace or Economics. Either she can write, or she can’t.

    “There is no such thing as a moral or immoral piece of art. Art is either done well or not done well. That is all.”

    –Oscar Wilde

    Not being familiar with any of her work, I can’t say whether she deserved it or not, but I see no reason why the political views of artists should be a criteria for judging the merit of their art.

  21. Lots of people read Marquez, Sartre, Neruda, Faulkner, Hemingway, etc. Areson, I hate to break it to you, but you are way off base here. If you want to beat up on a Nobel winner, try Gao Xingjian. That guy can’t write worth shit. His selection truly baffles me. In main though, Nobel winners really are great writers.

    Also, seconding Mahfouz. He’s a terrific (and amazingly prolific) writer. Even better – VS Naipaul. The committee held off on selecting him for a long time because he’s kind of an asshole, and he has a habit of publicly making politically incorrect statements. However, they eventually caved because he is probably the greatest living writer of the English language. I bring up Naipaul anytime I hear someone suggest that the Nobel is only about politics.

  22. Next older lady writing in English that deserves this…

    Ursula K. LeGuin

  23. We used a Pablo Neruda poem as one of the readings at our wedding. I’ve read some Gabriel Garcia Marquez very recently.

    Not to mention Eugene O’Neill, Samuel Beckett, and Harold Pinter. My god, they’re everything to modern theater. For shame, Aresen. For shame.

    Looking at the list of previous winners. Wow. They’ve picked some of the greatest. No one since Kipling, my ass.

    Beckett and Pinter are two personal faves.

  24. I confess that while I have not read any of her works I do think (from what I have heard of her work) that Lessing is a good choice.

    Apparently the “smart money” (the London bookies) was on a feminist author this year. That it would be a leftist author was, naturally, a foregone conclusion (VS Naipaul in recent times being the exception).

    For all that, Lessing was nowhere in the book. Much more notable were the likes of Margaret Atwood. Look, The Handmaid’s Tale might be a great yarn but for my money Hillary-style nannyism (which as near as I can tell Atwood thinks would be a wonderful thing) is every bit as big a threat as evangelical/fundamentalist Christianity.

    Lessing does, for the most part, seem to leave her leftist orthodoxy behind. I must confess that I do find her inability to distinguish between the authoritarian Smith regime (which was most certainly not an apartheid regime on the SA model) and the TOTALITARIAN Mugabe regime a little troublesome. But that is a small matter.

  25. Lessing cant be that good, her works arent even listed here.

  26. well, lessing was nominated for nobel prize several times,but failed to achive it.why she was not awarded the prize last year?because there were better writers than her,and yesterday there were not any.If she was a good writer she would have achived it many years back.

  27. Lessing’s fiction tends to promote the theory that women have souls and brains and shouldn’t necessarily sell themselves as breeding machines, so I can see why Bloom wouldn’t like it.

    Shannon, I’m no expert on Lessing’s writings, but reading her short biography, it seems that she chose to “breed” more often than some of us, er, ‘traditionalists’ do.

    She rejected her family (feeling imprisoned) then promptly ran off and had… more children.

    Just sayin’.

  28. “Consistency is the last refuge of a small mind” Oscar Wilde

    “The arms of a small boy is the last refuge of Oscar Wilde.”
    Okay, I just made up that one.

  29. Oh, many people read Doris Lessing and other great authors. This is a well deserved award, but one that should have been given decades ago. Her stylistic range is phenomenal.

    The Golden Notebook, of course, is her most famous, and it’s astounding novel in form and content, tackling everything from communism, racism, gender relations, and mental breakdown. A very profound book.

    Her Canopus “SF” series is among the best of the genre, but curiously many SF readers have never heard of it. Deeply psychological, it provides a fictional explanation of our very natures. When the first book in the series came out, some found it so convincing they founded a religion, which of course dismayed Lessing.

    The Good Terrorist takes us into the mind of a communist women and very painfully details her distorted thinking. An amazing book.

    The Fifth Child is one of the most horrific books I’ve ever read.

    She’s written many more excellent books, including a two-volume autobiography which should be required reading for any one who wants to know what life was like in Africa and in England during the 20th Century. Written with grace and candor, it’s hailed as a monument of the form.

    As a previous commentator noted, Bloom’s dislike of Lessing is well known, though his statements are not accurate. In the last 15 years she’s written excellently in a variety of different modes. Bloom’s dislike for her did not prevent him from editing a book of criticism on her. Never forget that critics are secondary and depend on creative writers for their livelihoods.

    If you haven’t read Lessing, you’ve missed some of the best writing in English that the 20th Century has to offer. And at 88, she’s still writing; a new book is due out in 2008, I think.

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