The Four-Gated City

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The Four-Gated City
AuthorDoris Lessing
CountryUnited Kingdom
PublisherMacGibbon & Kee
Publication date
Media typePrint (Hardback & Paperback)

The Four-Gated City, published in 1969, is the concluding novel in British Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing's five-volume, semi-autobiographical series The Children of Violence,[1] which she began, in 1952, with Martha Quest. The series Children of Violence follows the life of protagonist Martha Quest, from age fifteen in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, through adolescence and a marriage shaped by the Second World War. In The Four-Gated City Lessings moves the setting from Southern Rhodesia, southern Africa, to London, and this novel has a science fiction, dystopian ending, with Martha dying in 1997.

When published it created a stir with claims that it promoted communism.[2] The Four-Gated City is one of Lessing's most important works.[3] Lessing had moved to London, from southern Africa, with her son Peter in 1949, after divorcing her second husband Gottfried Lessing.

Plot summary[edit]

The Four-Gated City is set in post Second World War Britain. Martha is in London as the 1950s begin. She "is integrally part of the social history of the time - the Cold War, the Aldermaston Marches, Swinging London, the deepening of poverty and social anarchy". The volume "ends with the century in the grip of World War Three".[4] In the year 1997, Martha dies on a contaminated island off the northwest coast of Scotland. Most of the people of Britain have died before her, in 1978, of multiple afflictions: bubonic plague, nerve gases, nuclear explosions.


The novel "takes on the medical profession", which it is suggested is "destroying [...] that part of humanity which is in fact most sensitive to evolution". It "criticizes the scientists who have created and perpetuate a climate in which "rationalism" has become a new God"; the novel further explores the possibilities of people having " 'extra-sensory perception', in varying degrees, but "have been brainwashed into suppressing it, and that schizophrenia is the name of our blindest contemporary prejudice".[1]


  1. ^ a b From the dust jacket of the first edition of The Four-Gated City.
  2. ^ "The Four-Gated City; By Doris Lessing," by Mary Ellmann, 'New York Times, May 18, 1969.
  3. ^ Prof. Horace Engdahl, the Permanent Secretary at the Swedish Academy said that The Four-Gated City is Lessing's most important work. In Dagens Nyheter, October 12, 2007.
  4. ^ Dust jacket of the first edition,