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by Doris May Lessing

The first book after Doris' Nobel Prize takes her back to her childhood in Southern Africa and the lives, both fictional and factual, that her parents lead. 'I think my father's rage at the trenches took me over, when I was very young, and has never left me. Do children feel their parents' emotions? Yes, we do, and it is a legacy I could have done without. What is the use of it? It is as if that old war is in my own memory, my own consciousness.' In this extraordinary book, the new Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing explores the lives of her parents, both of them irrevocably damaged by the Great War. Her father wanted the simple life of an English farmer, but shrapnel almost killed him in the trenches, and thereafter he had to wear a wooden leg. Her mother Emily's great love was a doctor, who drowned in the Channel, and she spent the war nursing the wounded in the Royal Free Hospital. In the first half of this book, Doris Lessing imagines the lives her parents might have made for themselves had there been no war at all, a story that has them meeting at a village cricket match outside Colchester as children but leading separate lives. This is followed by a piercing examination of their lives as they actually came to be in the shadow of that war, their move to Rhodesia, a damaged couple squatting over Doris's childhood in a strange land. 'Here I still am,' says Doris Lessing, 'trying to get out from under that monstrous legacy, trying to get free.' With the publication of Alfred and Emily she has done just that.
Download Alfred and Emily epub
ISBN: 0007233450
ISBN13: 978-0007233458
Category: Biographies
Subcategory: Arts & Literature
Author: Doris May Lessing
Language: English
Publisher: Fourth Estate; First Edition/First Printing edition (May 1, 2008)
Pages: 288 pages
ePUB size: 1627 kb
FB2 size: 1292 kb
Rating: 4.2
Votes: 513
Other Formats: lrf lit doc lrf

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. 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. 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 have never read any of Doris Lessing's books other than this one, but cannot not even remotely recommend Alfred & Emily. That it won the Nobel Prize makes me feel a bit like the little boy in "The Emperor's New Clothes": 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.

Alfred & Emily is the incoherent telling of 2 lives that "never were" in the 1st half. 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. Ms. Lessing can't really decide what to do with these people, so she basically does nothing at all with her father, and creates a
During this 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I, a summer project has been to read war related books/novels. One of the most intriguing must be Doris Lessing’s Alfred and Emily. Born in 1919, Lessing writes a book, published in 2008, that recounts poignantly the pain of growing up with parents who were traumatized by “The War to End all Wars.” Through her father’s wooden leg and the life-long impact of trench warfare, to her mother’s tales of trying to nurse hundreds of young men after battle, to their lives in Rhodesia where they went, ostensibly for a few years to farm and recover financially, the war and its effects plays some role in each succeeding tragedy and spiral downward.

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. Her chapter on her brother (“My Brother Harry Tayler”) is heartrending, pathetic in its ability to render such sorrow and pity.

Early pictures of the war, with men on horseback carrying lances, are anachronistic; trench warfare and no-man’s land was the new “face” of the war. Now, a hundred years later the war itself is seemingly anachronistic, with old footage long overwhelmed by WWII and the atomic/nuclear age. But for Lessing the war continued to be an emotional focal point: “That war, the Great War, the war that would end all war, squatted over my childhood. 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.”

In the first part of Alfred and Emily, her last book, she tries to do so through fictionally creating lives for her parents where they meet but don’t marry, where there is no Great War. By creating happier lives and erasing her own existence, she hoped for peace, both for them and for herself. It’s futile, of course. Even fiction from a Nobel prize winner has its limits. But Lessing shows that war’s aftermath in the lives of the innocents isn’t anachronistic, even 100 years later.
Doris Lessing, brought up on an African farm, in what seems quite a tough lifestyle, reminisces on her parents.
Both were British: her mother went against her father's plans for her to go to university, becoming a nurse instead. 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.
Wonderful novel/ autobiography: I hope to read 'Martha Quest', Ms Lessing's autobiography of her youth soon.