Alfred and Emily

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Alfred and Emily
First edition
Author Doris Lessing
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Publisher Fourth Estate
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
ISBN 0-00-723345-0

Alfred and Emily is a book by Doris Lessing, part fiction, part memoir, first published in 2008.[1] The book is structured in two parts and is based on the lives of Lessing's parents. The first part is a novella, a fictional portrait of how her parents' lives might have been without the interruption of the First World War. The second part is a retelling of how her parents' lives really developed.

Plot synopsis[edit]

The novella begins in England in 1902, when Alfred and Emily meet at a cricket match. However, as the story progresses to 1916, the pair do not marry, as they did in real life. The absence of the war from this fictional portrait means that Alfred is spared his crippling war wounds and Emily is spared her real-life role as nurse, enduring the agony of nursing desperately ill soldiers without the aid of morphine. Instead the couple flourish separately. Alfred becomes a farmer and shares a happy marriage with Betsy. Emily marries a doctor, but he soon dies, and she is left a childless and wealthy widow. She channels her financial resources into philanthropic projects such as establishing schools for the poor.

The second part of the book transports Alfred and Emily to the stage in their married life when they were farming, unhappily, in Southern Rhodesia. Their unhappiness is explained in a series of episodes from Lessing's own childhood.[2]


The Guardian described the book as "perfectly crafted" and a "quietly extraordinary meditation on family".[3] The New York Times praised the book: "In its generosity of spirit, its shaped and contained fury, Alfred and Emily is also an extraordinary, unconventional addition to Lessing’s autobiography."[4] The Washington Post applauded the structure: "allowing her readers this insight into the connection between autobiography and fiction, between form and content, she reaffirms fiction's powers and possibilities."[5]

In an interview with TIME published shortly before the book's release, Lessing revealed that Alfred and Emily was her final book.[6]

See also[edit]