Alfred and Emily

Doris Lessing

‘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, 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, Lessing imagines the lives her parents might have made for themselves had there been no war, a story that has them meeting at a village cricket match 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 hulking over Lessing’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.’

Reviews of Alfred and Emily

    • Praise for Doris Lessing:
    • ‘She’s up there in the pantheon with Balzac and George Eliot. We’re lucky she’s still writing.’ Lisa Appignanesi, Independent
    • ‘She has an extraordinary feeling for the peculiar vulnerabilities of the young and the elderly. And her portraits of human relationships are of quite staggering beauty.’ Ruth Scurr, The Times
    • ‘Doris Lessing has changed the way we think about the world.’ Blake Morrison
    • Praise for ‘The Story of General Dann and Mara’s Daughter, Griot and the Snow Dog’:
    • ‘Lessing pierces the heart with the half quotations that Dann’s scribes scribble down as the books fall to dust in their hands … Lessing has much wisdom to impart although she is astute enough not to preach but to pose some unsettling questions.’ Maggie Gee, Sunday Times

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