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Rubenstein, R. (1975). Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook: The Meaning of its Shape. Am. Imago, 32(1):40-58.

(1975). American Imago, 32(1):40-58

Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook: The Meaning of its Shape

Roberta Rubenstein, Ph.D.

Despite the sweeping inclusion of issues of social, political, sexual, and psychological import in The Golden Notebook, its real meaning, Doris Lessing has insisted, is not in its content but in its shape. Lessing described her intention in an interview with Florence Howe by saying,

You know, the ‘Free Women’ section, the envelope. I was really trying to express my sense of despair about writing a conventional novel in that. You see, actually that is an absolutely whole conventional novel and the rest of the book is the material that went into making it.

Since one must ultimately trust not the teller but the tale, it is surprising to find that very little critical attention has actually been given to the novel's shape. As Lessing remarked in an introduction to the novel written nearly ten years after it was published, “My major aim was to shape a book which would make its own comment, a wordless statement: to talk through the way it was shaped. As I have said, this was not noticed.” To understand The Golden Notebook as Lessing intended, then, one must see the relation of the numerous parts to the whole, and must notice the crucial relationship between the notebooks and the “envelope.”

At the most easily described level, The Golden Notebook is the story of Anna Wulf, the author of a successful novel who finds herself unable to write another, but whose commitment to words forms much of the novel about her.

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