Over the course of more than half a century, Lessing has used fiction to explore racial, sexual and social divides. She was born in 1919 to British parents in what is now Bakhtaran, Iran, but six years later, the family moved to farm in Southern Rhodesia – now Zimbabwe – an event that would inform much of her work. Although she moved to England in 1949, her first novel, The Grass is Singing, which was published a year later, examined the relationship between a white Rhodesian farmer’s wife and her black servant. Africa also formed the backdrop to her semi-autobiographical Children of Violence series of five books spanning 1952 to 1969.Her outspoken opposition to apartheid in South Africa made her persona non grata there and she was banned from the country between 1956 and 1995. Never afraid to embrace politics, she became a member of the British Communist party in the 50s and campaigned against nuclear weapons.
It is also reassuring to see the tradition of the Nobel prize for literature going to someone from the Left. This year, like in the past few, I was almost afraid that it would go Mario Vargas Llosa, a writer whom I much admire, but one who fought the Peruvian elections as a candidate of the Right.
Update: A fine review of Lessing’s political engagement in her works: The Political Doris Lessing at The Nation.