Critical approaches to Doris Lessing's Children of violence

Whitlock, Gillian, 1953- (1978). Critical approaches to Doris Lessing's Children of violence M.A. Thesis, School of English, Media Studies and Art History, The University of Queensland.

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Author Whitlock, Gillian, 1953-
Thesis Title Critical approaches to Doris Lessing's Children of violence
School, Centre or Institute School of English, Media Studies and Art History
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1978
Thesis type M.A. Thesis
Open Access Status Not Open Access
Supervisor Carole Ferrier
Total pages 180
Language eng
Subjects 20 Language, Communication and Culture
Formatted abstract
The aim of this thesis is to appraise the value of two quite different critical approaches to Doris Lessing's Children of Violence series and to bring these approaches together into a close reading of the five novels. 

The chronology and contents of Children of Violence have resulted in this series of novels becoming a seminal force in the gestation and development of neo-feminism. This role is examined more closely to assess the degree to which the ideas in the series have anticipated and affected the development of this social movement. From this viewpoint the protagonist, Martha Quest, may be seen to represent the archetypal twentieth-century feminist, trying to practice an alternative set of values about marriage, motherhood, love and the family; trying to meld political and personal commitment. 

Yet this critical approach fails to demonstrate the unity of this series of novels. It is not through this approach that the coherence of patterns of action and imagery in Children of Violence is explained. The unity of the series may be seen to emanate from a quite different tradition: through the archetype of the quest. 

Thus the second critical approach examined below studies the form of Children of Violence more closely, placing the novels in the context of the literary tradition of the 'Bildungsroman'. A close reading of Doris Lessing's writings about literary theory and practice reveals the .conservatism of her ideas about literature. Despite the structural experimentation in novels such as Briefing for a Descent into Hell and The Golden Notebook, Lessing's commitment is to the realist tradition of the 'great' novels of the nineteenth century. It is this conservatism which is generally underestimated in critical approaches to her work. 

The close reading of the five novels which follows attempts to illustrate the unity of this series of novels through the progression of the quest. It is argued that Martha Quest may most accurately be seen as a member of a clearly defined elite rather than "Everywoman". The protagonist must move forward and fulfill her destiny, the observation of social phenomena along the way is not as 'lifelike' as it may at first appear. 

The inadequacy of the traditional feminist approach in relation to this series of novels calls into question the practice of feminist literary criticism as it is presently defined. In the Introduction below it is argued that the feminist critic must begin to develop new directions and a more sophisticated theory about the situation and social function of the literary text. Through this process of revision we may continue to see Doris Lessing's fiction anew, to understand that in her work there are threads of conservatism as well as radicalism, there is a deep commitment to preserve the past as well as provide for the future.
Keyword Lessing, Doris, 1919-2013. Children of violence

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (non-RHD) - UQ staff and students only
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