Alfred and Emily by Doris Lessing

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This is an unusual book. In the first half, Lessing writes an imaginary account of her mother and father’s life without the horror and tragedy of World War I. In this imaginary life, they both have purpose and success but do not marry each other. In real life both were scarred by their experiences of WWI. Her father from his experiences in the trenches and her mother from frontline nursing injured soldiers with little medicine or hope.

Lessing, who had major mother-daughter battles, did not, in this imaginary life, give her mother a happy life. Interestingly, Lessing gives an explanation of where the threads for the tale originated. And for her mother’s unhappiness, Lessing drew on her mother’s longstanding depression.

The second half of the book gives snippets of Lessing’s family life in Rhodesia. The accounts of the monotony and struggle to farm go a long way to understand Lessing’s mother’s depression. The moth-eaten, never-worn dresses for different events (this dress for a garden party, that one for a dinner party) that never happened. The longed-for return to England with no means to do so after sinking all their funds into farming equipment. The nursing of her husband through debilitating illness to death. The deep trauma and damage to the soul from WWI.

I found both sections very interesting. The idea of an everlasting Edwardian summer and the descriptions of bucolic life were engaging. I did find the second half more interesting with descriptions for the struggle for whites settling in Rhodesia; the impact of WWII, Lessing’s authorial intrusions/reflections on the role of women, mother-daughter relationships, the change in medical treatments and the rise of black independence.

This has given me a desire to read more of Lessing’s work.

Today’s decluttered items = books that I will take to the second hand book shop. I don’t know if they will take them all, and, of course, I will come back with more!!!

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