Bentley, NP (2015) 'Unanchored fragments of print': Lessing’s Experiments with Drama and Poetry in the Late 1950s. Doris Lessing Studies. 19 - 26 (8).

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The latter years of the 1950s represent a period in which Lessing is experimenting with literary forms that extend beyond narrative fiction. In 1958 she produced the play Each to His Own Wilderness and the following year published Fourteen Poems. Both of these texts have been relatively neglected by Lessing criticism, but they offer an insight into her thinking at the time and the aesthetic, cultural and political contexts with which she is engaging in her work. In this paper I discuss the play and poems with respect to a number of issues and cultural contexts of the period. In terms of Each to His Own Wilderness, I will argue that Lessing is engaging with two specific contexts: the visit of Brecht’s Berliner Ensemble to London in 1956; and Joan Littlewood’s development of the Theatre Workshop in the fifties, both of which Lessing cites in her autobiography Walking in the Shade as important influences on her personally and on the New Left cultural milieu to which she belonged at the time. In terms of content the play, it engages with generational differences towards political engagement and in this sense negotiates dominant thinking about youth culture amongst the New Left as reflected most visibly in Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy. Secondly, the paper will discuss the way in which, in addition to the drama, her poetry can be seen as an attempt by Lessing to work through her increasing suspicion of the ability of the ‘conventional novel’ to portray accurately the contemporary world; a questioning that finds more developed articulation in The Golden Notebook (1962). Lessing’s engagement then with the politics of literary forms, especially as it was being debated during the 1950s with respect to realism and political commitment sheds light on Lessing’s decision to experiment in the dramatic and poetic genres, and represents an important step on her rejection of the realist form in much of her fiction of the 1960s and 1970s.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Doris Lessing, 1950s, British literature

Divisions: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Humanities
Depositing User: Symplectic
Date Deposited: 16 May 2017 14:18
Last Modified: 27 Nov 2020 09:57

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