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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > Apr-18 > Experiments in honesty

Experiments in honesty

Doris Lessing helps a writer discover her womanhood, says Ruth Scurr
Free Woman: Life, Liberation and Doris Lessing by Lara Feigel (Bloomsbury, £20)

After Doris Lessing’s death in 2013, Lara Feigel reread The Golden Notebook (1962). Her older friends had begun to reminisce about how it had changed their lives. When Feigel first read it as a student, it had left little impression, but in her mid-thirties it proved revolutionary. Free Woman tells Feigel’s story, blending literary criticism, biography and memoir: “this book emerged as an attempt to understand freedom as Lessing conceived it and as we might apprehend it now—politically, intellectually, emotionally and sexually.”

This unconventional book celebrates a kind of ingenuous engagement with literature that academics like Feigel usually scorn. She reads Lessing, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2007, in a highly personal manner, comparing herself directly to the older woman, writing about her characters as though they were extensions of the author—all things literary critics are trained not to do. In disregarding her training, Feigel asserts her intellectual freedom. She refuses the straitjacket of her professional life and returns to the kind of free reading we associate with childhood. Unencumbered by the need to explain the novels as artefacts in a specific cultural context, she searches the texts for ideas and insights that speak to her personally.

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect's April issue: Four writers explain how our relationship with death has changed in as technological and medical advances have been made in recent years. Joanna Bourke explores how modern life is now able to live on through social media sites, Cathy Rentzenbrink explains how (referring to the case of her own brother) a “twilight zone,” in which someone is neither alive nor dead, has been created through medical advances. Michael Marmot argues that we are experiencing a change in regards to our life expectancy—over the course of a series of decades we have seen life expectancy increase, but what do recent decreases actually mean. Meanwhile, Philip Ball writes about his participation in an experiment to create a second brain from his own flesh. Elsewhere in the issues: Jane Kinninmont questions whether the Saudi Crown Price, Mohammed bin Salman, really knows what he’s doing, Daniel Howden charts how European attitudes to migrants might be changing and Jay Elwes asks: Does a Cornish mine hold the answer to questions about the UK’s green future?