The Golden Notebook
First edition cover
|Media type||Print (hardback and paperback)|
|LC Class||PZ3.L56684 Go5 PR6023.E833|
The Golden Notebook is a 1962 novel by Doris Lessing. This book, and the two that followed it, enters the realm of what Margaret Drabble in The Oxford Companion to English Literature has called Lessing's "inner space fiction," her work that explores mental and societal breakdown. The book also contains a powerful anti-war and anti-Stalinist message, an extended analysis of communism and the Communist Party in England from the 1930s to the 1950s, and a famed examination of the budding sexual and women's liberation movements. The Golden Notebook has been translated into a number of other languages.
The Golden Notebook is the story of writer Anna Wulf, the four notebooks in which she records her life, and her attempt to tie them together in a fifth, gold-coloured, notebook. The book intersperses segments of an ostensibly realistic narrative of the lives of Molly and Anna, and their children, ex-husbands and lovers—entitled Free Women—with excerpts from Anna's four notebooks, coloured black (of Anna's experience in Southern Rhodesia, before and during WWII, which inspired her own best-selling novel), red (of her experience as a member of the Communist Party), yellow (an ongoing novel that is being written based on the painful ending of Anna's own love affair), and blue (Anna's personal journal where she records her memories, dreams, and emotional life). Each notebook is returned to four times, interspersed with episodes from Free Women, creating non-chronological, overlapping sections that interact with one another. This post-modern styling, with its space for "play" engaging the characters and readers, is among the most famous features of the book, although Lessing insisted that readers and reviewers pay attention to the serious themes in the novel.
All four notebooks and the frame narrative testify to the above themes of Stalinism, the Cold War and the threat of nuclear conflagration, and women's struggles with the conflicts of work, sex, love, maternity, and politics. However, Lessing herself in the preface claimed that the most important theme in the novel is fragmentation; the mental breakdown that Anna suffers, perhaps from the compartmentalization of her life reflected in the division of the four notebooks, but also reflecting the fragmentation of society. Her relationship and attempt to draw everything together in the golden notebook at the end of the novel are both the final stage of Anna's intolerable mental breakdown, and her attempt to overcome the fragmentation and madness.
- Anna (Freeman) Wulf: Writer. Main character of Free Women and writer of the Notebooks.
- Max Wulf: Anna’s ex-husband
- Janet Wulf: Anna and Max’s daughter
- Molly Jacobs: Actress, Anna’s friend.
- Richard Portmain: Molly’s ex-husband
- Tommy Portmain: Molly and Richards’s son
- Marion Portmain: Richard’s second wife
- Michael: Anna’s former lover
- Willi (Wilhelm) Rodde (Black Notebook): Anna’s boyfriend, refugee from Germany, based on Max Wulf.
- Paul Blackenhurst (Black Notebook): Royal Air Force Pilot
- Ted Brown (Black Notebook): Royal Air Force pilot, socialist.
- Jimmy McGrath (Black Notebook): Royal Air Force pilot. Homosexual.
- George Hounslow (Black Notebook): Worked on roads.
- Maryrose (Black Notebook): Paul and George's love interest, born in Southern Rhodesia
- Mr Boothby (Black Notebook): Proprietor of the Mashopi Hotel
- Mrs Boothby (Black Notebook): Proprietor of the Mashopi Hotel
- June Boothby (Black Notebook): Daughter of Mr & Mrs Boothby
- Jackson (Black Notebook): Cook at the Mashopi Hotel. Friend of Jimmy.
- Marie (Black Notebook): Jackson’s wife. Has an affair with George.
- Ella (Yellow Notebook): Based on Anna Wulf. Writes for a women's magazine.
- Julia (Yellow Notebook): Based on Molly Jacobs
- Dr West (Yellow Notebook): Writes a medical column under the name Dr Allsop for the women's magazine.
- Patricia Brent (Yellow Notebook): Editor
- George (Yellow Notebook): Based on Max Wulf
- Paul Tanner (Yellow Notebook): Ella’s lover
- Michael (Yellow Notebook): Ella’s son
- Saul Green (Blue and Golden Notebooks): American writer
- Milt (Free Women 5): American writer (= Saul Green from the Blue and Golden Notebooks)
- Mother Sugar: A psychoanalyst
- Tom Mathlong (Free Women): African political activist
- Charlie Themba (Free Women 4): Trade union leader, friend of Tom Mathlong
- "Full text of Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, with annotations for an internet reading group" – website created as an experiment in online collaborative reading
- Guarded welcome – an article by Doris Lessing
- Fragmentation and Integration. A Critical Study of Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook by Nan Bentzen Skille, Universitetet i Bergen 1977
- "But it is the same book": Ways of Reading Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook. A Podcast by Sabanci University.