Tuesday, 10 December 2013


Just watched a programme on the writer Doris Lessing.   She was being interviewed by Alan Yentob.

I recognised so much of why she writes. A storyteller about her life, turning down the paths in the book she didn't in life.  She writes stories around her own life, making good the mistakes, the smudges and creating barriers where there should have been some and opening doors which were closed to her in life.    I thought she was interesting but didn't like her.

I didn't like the fact she left her two children when they were young.   I understood the logic of it, how it enabled her to live an interesting life, how she found the stifling life of South African existence and politics repugnant to her.  I just didn't understand the emotion. She said she would have become an alcoholic or have had a mental breakdown if she had stayed. She would have fitted in very well in Richmond Upon Thames!

It reminded me of the philosophy of the mother who walked away from her two children in Virginia Woolf's The Hours and how highly intelligent women were stifled in restrictive roles being housebound wife and mother.  Being a wife and a mother is rewarding but it can also be extremely dull.  We even find it dull in this generation, think how highly intelligent women felt in previous generations when they were genuinely housebound.  But they stayed mainly because they focused on their children and they couldn't afford to look after them without the husband. They stayed for financial reasons.  The suppression in those days was financial.   Today it comes under different and more subversive guises.

First of all there is judgement, from other women, forget the media, society, 'men'. from our own species.  The expectation of what constitutes a good mother is ridiculously high.  And the expectation of what constitutes a good father, so incredibly low.  Women are judged for their baking, the motherly skills, their looks?  What era are we in for goodness sake?!  

Of course we still have some things they didn't have in the fifties.   Women in the fifties had to do the cleaning, cooking, no dishwasher, clean their own steps.   Everyone judging them for anything and everything.  Their aim was to marry well, or if they had a dream (actress, artist, writer) to follow it but still get married all the same.     No wonder women of that generation wanted to live through their children, especially mothers with daughters because they weren't able to do it themselves. So women who wanted to travel encouraged their children to do so, those who always wondered where the next penny was coming from, encouraged them to make money or marry money. I can see where it all came from, evolving from fear - and how one generations fear reverberates onto the next if you let it.

Women have so much choice these days, just that it's fear not finance that restricts us.     Lessing writes about things like this but leaves the edges in.  As she put it bluntly to one reader who wrote to her 'if you chose to travel on this journey, you will learn lessons you may not want to learn in ways you won't want to learn them."

I also interviewed a woman today who decided to stay with her children. A mother of three who has a severely disabled child.  She is a single mother, and sole carer and it was incredibly humbling listening to her story, and what she and her family has had to go through.  Perhaps I am guilty of this judgement too because I admire this woman more.

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