Like Nona I have been realizing things about the way I read. I seem to fall into a manhole of attention to a recurring theme or trope and then frantically underline anything that seems to pertain to it, adding exclamation marks and red stars as I see fit, never thinking, of course, to write anything beside these underlinings that will clarify things for me when I come back to that page later. Today I looked back and here are a couple of the things I’d underlined as connected:
“He flicked the cards over, without comment, replaced them in their boxes, and remarked loudly for the benefit of the other canvassers coming in: ‘There’s real support for our policy, we’ll get our candidate in yet.’ (page 161, UK edition)
‘She saw him putting money on to a mantelpiece. But he was not - that she knew - the sort of man who would pay a woman. Yet she could see him, clearly, putting money on a mantelpiece.’ (page 189, UK paperback)
The first quote, from Anna’s Red Notebook, addresses a farcical aspect of the political process, the element of doublethink required on the part of UK communists of the 50s to contend for votes that they know they won’t get; similar to their attitude towards Stalin: ‘…we all have this need for the great man, and create him over and over again in the face of all the evidence’ (page 158) - but here, as with the second quote, and others I’ll point out in the main text, I see Lessing presenting social and political exchanges as performances - in this novel we watch people take on a stance, a role, as if compelled. And they attempt to persevere with the adopted role even when there is a conflict with their already established ‘character’…what usually follows is that uncomfortable discrepancies between people’s behaviours and Anna’s perceptions of the people themselves. So much so that the men and women in the book, whether it is Ella, Anna’s alter ego in her Blue Notebook, suddenly seeing her lover in an adversarial light once they’ve parted after a night entwined together, or Anna noticing just what a wooden cage professed political conviction can be, the characters in this book seem…controlled, for want of a better word, by duality and the single choice it offers. Man or woman, communist or capitalist, &c &c.
So that’s how I’m reading the book right now. I’m trying not to be blind to the other aspects, but, not having read this book all the way through before, I’m hearing radical whispers from almost every page that Anna is going to strain away from the puppetmaster and become socially and politically free…a free woman!