• CommentAuthoradmin
    • CommentTimeNov 25th 2008

    This thread is for discussions about Page 166 of the online edition of The Golden Notebook, and the readers' comments. Please show a courteous regard for the presence of other voices in the discussion. We reserve the right to edit or delete comments that do not adhere to this standard.

    • CommentAuthorKirsten
    • CommentTimeNov 25th 2008
    On page 188, Harriet asks whether one has to choose between politics and marriage - since politics is servicing "the public" within a certain region, and marriage is servicing a spouse. (I use the word "servicing" because Harriet points out that Lessing uses this term for it.) Is writing, then, simply servicing oneself? In Anna's eyes, it seems to be - hence her guilt and self-loathing. So Lessing's larger question here is, can one service the public and still service a spouse? Can one service a spouse and still service oneself?
    • CommentAuthorphilippa
    • CommentTimeDec 1st 2008
    Kirsten, this is interesting and it goes right to the heart of one of the book's themes, I think. I wonder what Anna's musings about mothering and her role in little Janet's life do to disrupt a more seamless read of the public/private divide, if anything?

    Also, the scene where Ella gives pleasure to the married American guy seems to me quite revealing in terms of thinking about who services whom, and how this is gendered (and by the way, if we think about Marie, we can also see the racial angles to this too, which seem to me critical in this novel). There's a clear distinction in this scene between giving and receiving, and how that operates between men and women. While we could easily read the man as a selfish buffoon who has no notion that a woman might also derive pleasure from sex, we also learn that he's in a marriage where the possibility of female pleasure simply isn't an issue. Again, easy to read this as a stereotype (unresponsive woman; demanding insensitive husband), but the passage is all about educating, about giving and taking, and their respective roles.

    So while Lessing is always ambivalent about marriage (and why not?!) and poses the question can women service (survive?) self and spouse, I think she also mixes it up and complicates what's at stake and what different kinds of things can happen within and without marriage.

    Hope that makes some sense...
    • CommentAuthorKirsten
    • CommentTimeDec 3rd 2008
    I think just as Anna is speculating what to record and what to leave out, she is trying to figure out what to see in someone she loves versus what to ignore. She tends to reserve an "unthinking" form of herself for the men she loves, and sees her own daughter as ordinary (but in a way she finds to be a relief); I don't know how this fits into the public/private divide. Perhaps Janet is the closest thing Anna has to a public face?

    It seems Anna has four forms of herself and they're all relatively private (as are notebooks, typically). There is a lot of tension between the different Annas - she gets frustrated when she's thinking too much to enjoy physical pleasure, or feeling too dirty to see her daughter, etc. It's this tension that seems to define Anna as a single being.

    As for the ambivalence about marriage: Molly and Anna open the book characterizing marriage as a state of dissatisfaction, but it seems everyone in this novel is rather dissatisfied - I think it may be their most interesting/endearing quality. This comment is becoming rather jumbled, but I hope we can keep developing a) giving and taking, b) the way Anna divides herself, and c) the question of public and private. Did you think any further about these in your reading this week? (Hooray, Philippa! Thank you for continuing discussion out here in the forums!)
    • CommentAuthorphilippa
    • CommentTimeDec 4th 2008
    Anna's (whether as Anna or as Ella) public face often misbehaves, no? All those scenes where she writes to producers and publishers with hilariously flip or icily dour comments, or where she's in a meeting with someone she despises and can't control the desire to make a comment she knows will be destructive. In the notebooks, she can reflect, control, even berate herself -- that is, in private -- but it seems to me, that there's sometimes a recklessness to her public face. Is Lessing trying to explore here how the private/public divide works differently for women and men as well as measuring its effect on Anna's own psyche? For me, the structure of the novel and especially the notebooks, makes thinking about the public/private issue a constant one while I'm reading.