at one point in doris lessing’s the golden notebook, a male character says to the narrator, anna wulf, regarding her one novel: “meretricious, that’s the word I would use, if asked.” if the complexities presented in this book can be in any way distilled (they cannot), then some attention should be paid to this brief bit of dialogue.
in this remendous and excursive novel, what primarily struck me was how, in the relationships between men and women, the word “meretricious” refers to both the way thinking women are afraid of being perceived (largely by men) and the way they in turn consider and disregard (a considerable number of) men. lessing, writing from the mecurial rise of women’s liberation, created the formidably intelligent female character who was stricken by the contradictions between demands from the “sex war”, and a woman’s personal inclinations of love, self-doubt, weakness, neediness, and all those other symptoms modernity was meant to change. conexisting with this myriad is this fear of posterity, or inanity, or madness. thinking women are intensely self-aware to the point of being vulnerable to insanity. there is no linearity, only discursion. we do not have the luxury of assuming importance; it seems that at least, in vulnerable states, we battle meretriciousness.
it has been over fifty years since, and little has changed in this web of inverse and obverse axioms by which a woman is meant to live by. in reading the golden notebook I felt occasionally shocked by what anna was willing to admit to herself— the pliant attitude towards a toxic male presence, the submissiveness in sex, the willingness to cook and make coffee on demand! it is all that the contemporary feminist constitution obliges one to reject. yet in a woman’s internal dialogue why must we dissuade such thoughts, and would it not be unfounded righteousness for the voyeur to pass judgment on them? the assignment of a hierarchy to a woman’s emotional life is, in fact, an acting limitation to liberation. all these methods that have been invented for women to doubt themselves, their value, and here we are using these weapons against one another, against ourselves.
the love of men is threaded throughout the various narratives of this book. love, and hatred, and dependence, and pity— it is a wonder that such a book exists, congregating all the terrifying ways the liberated women must face her world. all the patterns and tropes and tired routines that threaten a wildly living soul. all those ferocious dichotomies that turn truth into charade, turn rawness into stereotype. the threat of superficiality. anyone who reads the book carefully will understand why lessing refuted the caption of a feminist novel. it is art beyond agenda, and it is redemption, a record of greatness for those titans that populate our world, those thinking women.