University of Sussex to open Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing's love letters after 23 years
Feb 13, London: An archive of love letters written by the Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing to an “erstwhile lover” has been opened by the University of Sussex - 23 years after it was first acquired.
According to the university, Leonard Smith, whom Lessing addresses as “Smithie”, was a 19-year-old cadet pilot in the Royal Airforce when he first met the aspiring novelist in 1944 in Southern Rhodesia. The 150 letters he received from her span several decades, reveal her views on sex, politics, and literature that were to inform some of her most celebrated works."The letters also give extraordinary details of her complex personal relationships. The sexualities of many in Lessing’s radical group were fluid," the university said.
In his own introduction to the archive, Smith admits he was captivated by the lively young writer (she was known as “Tigger” to close associates) and “…like all the other RAF men, I immediately fell in love with her”.Lessing and her then husband Gottfried, whom Smith describes as a “professional communist”, were at the centre of a group of “left-wing RAF men, various refugees, and a few local fellow-travellers”. Smith, together with two other young admirers of Lessing, were later to emerge as the characters of ‘Paul’, ‘Jimmy’ and ‘Ted’ in Lessing’s political masterpiece, 'The Golden Notebook'.
The letters had been purchased from Smith in 1993 by the University with support from the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund, but remained closed for research, in line with the wishes of Lessing and Smith, that they remain undisclosed till Lessing’s death. Lessing died in 2013, while Smith, had passed away just three years after selling the letters to the University.
The University of Sussex English faculty Dr Pam Thurschwell and Dr John Mastersonhave been digging into the boxes to get a first taste of what the letters might revea,l and according to Dr Thurschwell the letters dwell on diverse subjects such as Soviet Union and Communist party politics, her rejection of monogamy, race and racism, the homosexuality of many of her friends, the frustrations of being a typist, her feelings on discovering she is pregnant, her voracious appetite for reading (Donne to Hopkins to Proust to Joyce to always, a lot of Woolf), to her opinion of The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Lessing’s letters of the mid to late 40s are extraordinary; fierce, often bitchy, usually hilarious, and inevitably moving.
“In these letters to a close male friend, who was also her erstwhile lover, we find her adopting an unflinching take on conventional heteronormativity that informs both the style and substance of her later works.”
Dr Masterson says: “Her letters serve as rhetorical laboratories for the kinds of risk taking and rule breaking that would come to define her life and career. I am interested in her strained relations with the dogmas of the political left, British colonialism and prejudice and how her always perceptive and invariably prescient letters continue to resonate today.”
The Oslo Times