I have to admit that I read "Alfred and Emily" backwards. I read the account of the actual lives of Lessing's parents before I read the story of the fictional lives that she gave them.
Alfred and Emily
I had read, in reviews, that the story of the fictional lives is unexceptional and the reviews are correct. Indeed, neither part of the book is brilliant but the book itself is a moving example of a woman Lessing in her old age coming to terms with memories of her parents and of the way they behaved towards her and towards one another. Those of us, in middle age and older, whose relationships with our parents were far from what we might have desired, would do well to ponder, as this book makes us, what our parents lives would have been like without, for example, the Depression, World War 2, or the Holocaust.
Lessing's fictional lives of her parents, her account of who they might have been and how they might have found satisfaction in life, should stimulate her readers to imagine other lives for their own parents. In these other lives, our parents might have been more loving and tolerant, less judgmental and withholding, and more satisfied and fulfilled.
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However, in Lessing's fictional account of her mother's life, she implies that her mother's greatest regret was that she never had a child. Thus, there is a lesson to be learned from "Alfred and Emily" that Lessing teaches us with skill and dignity.
I read this novel for a book club, and was very disappointed. I was shocked at the poor quality of writing, which I suppose can be largely forgiven for an author who is nearly 90 years old. I feel like I'm suposed to swoon for this marvelously insightful tale of the human spirit, but no one else sees what I see or won't admit what is plainly in front of them-- a book that would not have made it past an editor's desk had the author not been famous for some other work.
It is a fictionalized story of what the author's parents might have lived like had there never been a 1st world war and if they never married or parented the author. None of the characters are compelling or even remotely interesting; one never finds out what motivates either character, or what drives them to form their various relationships. Lessing can't really decide what to do with these people, so she basically does nothing at all with her father, and creates a.
Alfred and Emily is part novel and part memoir. In the memoir she recounts personal details of Rhodesian life of long ago, and her ongoing challenges with her parents and later, unhappy times in her own life. But for Lessing the war continued to be an emotional focal point: The trenches were as present to me as anything I actually saw around me. And here I still am, trying to get out from under the monstrous legacy, trying to get free. By creating happier lives and erasing her own existence, she hoped for peace, both for them and for herself.
Even fiction from a Nobel prize winner has its limits. Doris Lessing, brought up on an African farm, in what seems quite a tough lifestyle, reminisces on her parents. And her sporty, outdoors father was wrecked in the Great War. Their thoughts of a money-making farm in Rhodesia were doomed to failure In the first half of the novel, the author imagines a whole different story for them, if they had taken different paths. Her mother, devoting herself to social work though interestingly, still not happy ; her father healthy, married to someone else Then in the second half she takes us into what their real lives were like - the disappointment, the memories.
She recalls dressing the dog in her mother's gorgeous but moth-eaten dinner gowns - emblems of a world she would never know again. And with the wisdom of old age she analyses the difficult relationship she had with her mother. I hope to read 'Martha Quest', Ms Lessing's autobiography of her youth soon. See all 15 reviews. Most recent customer reviews. In this she is reflecting and Published on August 2, Published on May 25, Published on December 3, Published on January 4, Published on October 26, The absence of the war from this fictional portrait means that Alfred is spared his crippling war wounds and Emily is spared her real-life role as nurse, enduring the agony of nursing desperately ill soldiers without the aid of morphine.
Instead the couple flourish separately.
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Alfred becomes a farmer and shares a happy marriage with Betsy. Emily marries a doctor, but he soon dies, and she is left a childless and wealthy widow. She channels her financial resources into philanthropic projects such as establishing schools for the poor. At the end of part one, there is an explanatory section written from an authorial perspective, followed by two portraits of a man and an encyclopaedic entry  about the hospital that Emily worked in.
This reprint of an existing entry in turn is followed by a photo taken in a hospital room showing a patient and a nurse. The second part of the book transports Alfred and Emily to the stage in their married life when they were farming, unhappily, in Southern Rhodesia.
ALFRED AND EMILY by Doris Lessing | Kirkus Reviews
Their unhappiness is explained in a series of episodes from Lessing's own childhood. Tim Adams for The Guardian described the book as "perfectly crafted" and a "quietly extraordinary meditation on family", observing that between part one and part two there is a gap which "is the one in which the writer has always lived.
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She applauded the work as "a clever, moving coupling of fiction and nonfiction" to the effect that by "allowing her readers this insight into the connection between autobiography and fiction, between form and content, she reaffirms fiction's powers and possibilities. There is some disagreement about the significance of the book's structure and the respective reading quality of its parts. According to Susan Williams, Alfred and Emily is made up of two parts, or "rather, it is two books.
So far so plausible, with the narrative set up for Alfred and Emily to fall in love. But this isn't what happens. In Lessing's reimagining of her parents' lives, they don't become her parents, but flourish apart. The years pass quickly, in cameos. In , at the same annual cricket match, Alfred's the one disappointing his parents: Mrs Lane weeps, too, because her Daisy is off to train with Emily. All these headstrong children, frustrating their parents' ambitions for them - a Lessing theme. In , Alfred suffers a burst appendix.
This happened to the real Alfred in France, just before the battle of the Somme, and probably saved his life. But here it's peacetime, and his appendix bursts in London, where he is up seeing the girls now qualified nurses. The brush with death makes him realise it's time to be wed. Instead of marrying Emily, though, or Daisy, he marries their friend, a nurse called Betsy.
The marriage is a happy one.
Two strapping boys are born. Alfred proves a kind father as well as a good farmer. If Lessing gives her father his heart's desire, reattaching his severed limb, erasing the events that caused his shell-shock and allowing him to die "a very old man", she isn't so easy on her mother. There's a logic to that, not only because Lessing's relationship with her mother was difficult but because Emily was a complex woman, for whom a cosy marriage and simple life in the English countryside could never have sufficed.
The key to Emily is the career she never had - not just the job of matron at St George's Hospital, which she turned down in order to marry, but all she might have done beyond that. First, though, she marries a cardiologist, who expects her to give up work, nursing being too lowly an occupation for a middle-class wife. Sitting at home surrounded by servants doesn't suit Emily, and there's a sense of waste and frustration, but she's redeemed by her husband's sudden death.