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Doris Lessing

  • It is terrible to destroy a person's picture of himself in the interests of truth or some other abstraction.

  • ... when a white man in Africa by accident looks into the eyes of a native and sees the human being (which it is his chief preoccupation to avoid), his sense of guilt, which he denies, fumes up in resentment and he brings down the whip.

  • ... it is quite easy to remark the absurdities and contradictions of a country's social system from outside its borders, but very difficult if one has been brought up in it ...

  • In university they don't tell you that the greater part of the law is learning to tolerate fools.

  • What of October, that ambiguous month, the month of tension, the unendurable month?

  • ... love lay like a mirage through the golden gates of sex.

  • The art of living in a small town is one of the most difficult to acquire.

  • For she was of that generation who, having found nothing in religion, had formed themselves by literature.

  • Charity ... has always been an expression of the guilty consciences of a ruling class.

  • What's terrible is to pretend that the second-rate is first-rate. To pretend that you don't need love when you do; or you like your work when you know quite well you're capable of better.

  • Growing up is after all only the understanding that one's unique and incredible experience is what everyone shares.

  • ... There's only one real sin, and that is to persuade oneself that the second-best is anything but the second-best.

  • ... behind every door, a nut like oneself.

  • Literature is analysis after the event.

  • Very few people have guts, the kind of guts on which a real democracy has to depend. Without people with that sort of guts a free society dies or cannot be born.

  • ... reformers must expect to be disowned by those who are only too happy to enjoy what has been won for them.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • 1971 preface, Golden Notebook ()
  • ... the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty — and vice versa.

  • ... the words that I, Anna, write down are nothing, or like the secretions of a caterpillar that are forced out in ribbons to harden in the air.

  • ... small things amuse small minds ...

    • Doris Lessing,
    • "A Woman on a Roof," A Man and Two Women ()
  • ... there are two kinds of humanity, those who dream and those who don't, and both tend to despise, or to tolerate, the other.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • "Two Potters," A Man and Two Women ()
  • Bed is the best place for reading, thinking, or doing nothing.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • "A Room," A Man and Two Women ()
  • But children can't be a center of life and a reason for being. They can be a thousand things that are delightful, interesting, satisfying, but they can't be a well-spring to live from. Or they shouldn't be.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • "To Room Nineteen," A Man and Two Women ()
  • ... this was life, that two people, no matter how carefully chosen, could not be everything to each other.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • "To Room Nineteen," A Man and Two Women ()
  • ... if you understand something, you don't forgive it, you are the thing itself: forgiveness is for what you don't understand.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • "To Room Nineteen," A Man and Two Women ()
  • You should write, first of all, to please yourself. You shouldn't care a damn about anybody else at all. But writing can't be a way of life; the important part of writing is living. You have to live in such a way that your writing emerges from it.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • in Roy Newquist, Conversations ()
  • Writers brought up in Africa have many advantages — being at the center of a modern battlefield; part of a society in rapid, dramatic change. But in a long run it can also be a handicap: to wake up every morning with one's eyes on a fresh evidence of inhumanity; to be reminded twenty times a day of injustice, and always the same brand of it, can be limiting.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • preface, African Stories ()
  • The white man has settled like a locust over Africa, and, like the locusts in early morning, cannot take flight for the heaviness of the dew on their wings. But the dew that weights the white man is the money that he makes from our labor.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • "Hunger," African Stories ()
  • After a certain age — and for some of us that can be very young — there are no new people, beasts, dreams, faces, events: it has all happened before ...

  • If a fish is the movement of water embodied, given shape, then cat is a diagram and pattern of subtle air.

  • Oh cat; I'd say, or pray: Be-ooootiful cat! Delicious cat! Exquisite cat! Satiny cat! Cat like a soft owl, cat with paws like moths, jeweled cat, miraculous cat! Cat, cat, cat, cat.

  • Knowing cats, a lifetime of cats, what is left is a sediment of sorrow quite different from that due to humans: compounded of pain for their helplessness, of guilt on behalf of us all.

  • ... that is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you've understood all your life, but in a new way.

  • Living in a small town anywhere means preserving one's self behind a mask.

  • On the news two dozen events of fantastically different importance are announced in exactly the same tone of voice. The voice doesn't discriminate between a divorce, a horse race, a war in the Middle East.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • in Jonah Raskin, "Doris Lessing at Stony Brook," New American Review 8 ()
  • You are young, and then you are middle-aged, but it is hard to tell the moment of passage from one state to the next.

  • The truth was, she was becoming more and more uncomfortably conscious not only that the things she said, and a good many of the things she thought, had been taken down off a rack and put on, but that what she really felt was something else again.

  • ... she set an attentive smile on her face, like a sentinel, behind which she could cultivate her own thoughts.

  • Laughter is by definition healthy.

  • One certainty we all accept is the condition of being uncertain and insecure.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • title essay (1957), in Paul Schlueter, ed., A Small Personal Voice ()
  • Artists are the traditional interpreters of dreams and nightmares ...

    • Doris Lessing,
    • title essay (1957), in Paul Schlueter, ed., A Small Personal Voice ()
  • The most exciting periods of literature have always been those when the critics were great.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • title essay (1957), in Paul Schlueter, ed., A Small Personal Voice ()
  • The Freudians describe the conscious as a small lit area, all white, and the unconscious as a great dark marsh full of monsters. In their view, the monsters reach up, grab you by the ankles, and try to drag you down.

  • ... for real pleasure a pleasure resort should have no one in it but its legitimate inhabitants, oneself, and perhaps one's friends.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • "The Eye of God in Paradise," Stories ()
  • Each time the need gripped her to give a dinner party for twelve, or an informal party for fifty, she filled a bag and took a bus to Regent's Park where, on the edge of the bird-decorated waters, she went on until her supplies ran out and her need to feed others was done.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • "A Year in Regent's Park," Stories ()
  • Having lunch with A, then tea with B, two men who between them had consumed a decade of my precious years ... moving from one to the other, in the course of an afternoon, conversing amiably about this and that, with meanwhile my heart giving no more than slight reminiscent tugs, the fish of memory at the end of a long slack line ...

    • Doris Lessing,
    • "How I Finally Lost My Heart," Stories ()
  • And it does no harm to repeat, as often as you can, 'Without me the literary industry would not exist: the publishers, the agents, the sub-agents, the sub-sub-agents, the accountants, the libel lawyers, the departments of literature, the professors, the theses, the books of criticism, the reviewers, the book pages — all this vast and proliferating edifice is because of this small, patronized, put-down and underpaid person.'

    • Doris Lessing,
    • in The Author ()
  • The human community is evolving. ... We can survive anything you care to mention. We are supremely equipped to survive, to adapt and even in the long run to start thinking.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • in New York Times Magazine ()
  • The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven't changed in seventy or eighty years. Your body changes, but you don't change at all. And that, of course, causes great confusion.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • in Sunday Times ()
  • Political correctness is the natural continuum from the party line. What we are seeing once again is a self-appointed group of vigilantes imposing their views on others. It is a heritage of communism, but they don't seem to see this.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • in Sunday Times ()
  • Women often get dropped from memory, and then history.

  • ... we have not yet developed a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination.

  • [On her mother:] I was in nervous flight from her ever since I can remember anything, and from the age of fourteen I set myself obdurately against her in a kind of inner emigration from everything she represented. Girls do have to grow up, but has this battle always been so implacable?

  • Capable people do not understand incapacity; clever people do not understand stupidity.

  • Is there any delight as great as the child's discovering ability?

  • Nicknames are potent ways of cutting people down to size.

  • You remember with what you are at the time you are remembering.

  • Dreams have always been my friend, full of information, full of warnings.

  • The whole process of writing is a setting at a distance. That is the value of it — to the writer, and to the people who read the results of this process, which takes the raw, the individual, the uncriticized, the unexamined, into the realm of the general.

  • It is my belief that children are full of understanding and know as much as and more than adults, until they are about seven, when they suddenly become stupid, like adults.

  • You have to be grown up, really grown up, not merely in years, to understand your parents.

  • Writers, and particularly female writers, have to fight for the conditions they need to work ...

  • Envy has always hidden behind moral indignation.

  • With a library you are free, not confined by temporary political climates. It is the most democratic of institutions because no one — but no one at all — can tell you what to read and when and how.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • Index on Censorship
    • ()
  • All one's life as a young woman one is on show, a focus of attention, people notice you. You set yourself up to be noticed and admired. And then, not expecting it, you become middle-aged and anonymous. No one notices you. You achieve a wonderful freedom. It is a positive thing. You can move about, unnoticed and invisible.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • in Abby Adams, ed., An Uncommon Scold ()
  • Advice to young writers! Always the same advice: learn to trust your own judgement, learn inner independence, learn to trust that time will sort the good from the bad — including your own bad.

    • Doris Lessing
  • There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there be.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • in Jon Winokur, ed., Writers on Writing ()
  • Think wrongly, if you please, but in all cases think for yourself.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • in Amanda Craig, "Grand Dame of Letters Who's Not Going Quietly," The Times ()
  • Writers do not come out of houses without books.

    • Doris Lessing,
    • "On Not Winning the Nobel Prize," Nobel lecture ()
  • A woman without a man cannot meet a man, any man, without thinking, even if it's for a half second, perhaps this is the man.

  • Everybody in the world is thinking: I wish there was just one other person I could really talk to, who would really understand me, who'd be kind to me. That's what people really want, if they're telling the truth.

Doris Lessing, English-Rhodesian writer, playwright

(1919 - 2013)

Full name: Doris May Tayler Lessing.