Book: Walking in the Shade

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Walking in the Shade

Series: Volume 2 of My Autobiography, 1949-1962
Author: Doris May Lessing
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers

Walking in the Shade covers the years 1949 -1962, from Lessing’s arrival in London with her son, Peter, and the manuscript of her first novel, The Grass Is Singing, under her arm to the publication of her most famous work of fiction, The Golden Notebook.

This was the period of the Cold War, a poisonously political time, but Doris Lessing reminds us—in perhaps the book’s most striking achievement—of what has been forgotten: that it was a time also of idealism and hope, of a sense of personal responsibility for the world, and of generosity of the imagination. She describes how communism dominated the intellectual life of the ‘50s—it is hard now to appreciate how much—and how she, like nearly all communists, became disillusioned with extreme and rhetorical politics and left communism behind.

Walking in the Shade also evokes the bohemian days of a young writer and single mother in 1950s London: her early success as one of the new hopeful post-war writers whose novels and short stories received critical acclaim both in Britain and abroad; her work in the theater where she befriended Kenneth Tynan, John Osborne, Lindsay Anderson, Tony Richardson, and Arnold Wesker; her political activities through which she met such opinion-makers of the time as E.P. Thompson, Bertrand Russell, and Henry Kissinger; and her romantic liaisons with men on the Left.

Walking in the Shade ends in the winter of 1962-63. By this time, London—indeed Britain and all of Europe—had been rebuilt from ruins and poverty to newness and plenty. To the author it seemed that her life correspondingly climbed up from difficulty and dark.


More casually written and organized than Under My Skin, the second volume of Doris Lessing’s autobiography boasts the same acute, brutally frank insights. She begins with her 1949 arrival in London as a 30-year-old single mother from Rhodesia who is searching for a place and a means to write freely; Lessing closes in 1962 with the publication of her most famous novel, The Golden Notebook. In between, she covers love affairs, years of psychotherapy, and her increasingly disenchanted involvement with the Communist Party. Walking in the Shade is essential reading for anyone interested in mid-century British culture.

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