The politics of loss
Melancholy cosmopolitanism
in Doris Lessing
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What must strike any reader of Doris Lessing's 1962 novel, The Golden Notebook, is the extent to which its protagonist, AnnaWulf, has been affected by the experience of loss. Anna's attempt to convince herself that her pain and that of other women like her represents ‘not much loss’ is belied by the experience of reading the entire novel and by Lessing's continuing preoccupation with the idea of loss in her later novels, Briefing for a Descent into Hell (1971) and The Memoirs of a Survivor (1974). This chapter explores how, in her work in the 1960s and the early 1970s, Lessing rewrites the experience of loss as potentially creative, productive and transformative. In her vision of what the chapter calls a ‘melancholy cosmopolitanism’, Lessing challenges the closed-off, paranoid legacy of the Cold War in the 1950s. In Memoirs and Briefing, she further develops the distinction between the claustrophobic, nostalgic relation to loss that is characteristic of mourning and the creative work of melancholia.

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