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Amber Paulen

Doris Lessing

Martha Quest

Children of Violence, Book One

6 April 2007


As Doris Lessing writes, There are two ways of reading: one of them deepens and intensifies what one already knows; the other, one takes new facts, new views to weave into ones life. Reading Martha Quest, is a smooth flowing reiteration; I buoy on the surfaces of the words, taking their African images and meld with them. The prose of Doris Lessing at the coming-of-age has no need to touch or impact me: it’s there already.

Martha Quest grows up in the veld of Southern Rhodesia. She grows up with a dissatisfied mother and a hard-working father who struggled to get by. She grows up with the open bowl of brilliant blue sky always above her head and the endless plain of space stretching until the horizon. She has visions during the days spent in the bush, in exploration both physical and mental. She walks with her sensations peaked in broad inquisition. These scenes, before Martha leaves for the city, remind me of my own youth and the greater transparency of youth. I used to walk the forest for hours, listening and observing until the silence became too much then I pulled out a book and read aside the passing creek.

Any adolescent similarities end with Martha’s testiness, she is always on edge with her mother about a choice in clothes, about the books she reads. “Give up, either one of you,” I can’t help to think. Finally, Martha does and moves the the nameless district town, where the majority of the Children of Violence series resides. Martha rents an apartment and soon does as most do when they first move away from home: she parties. These were the years before World War II and they partied under the decisive quest for enjoyment, with desperation. The world was on the brink of crumbling, what better time to drink and smoke to ones exhaustion? So Martha does, to her exhaustion.

To tell Martha’s story is to tell that of generations. One can follow Martha into her forties, she becomes a timepiece, surfacing at decisive moments, moments we all share. I can’t read one book in the series without wanting to read the next. Doris Lessing’s writing causes me to feel that all doubts, whether experienced in my adolescence or now, are part and necessary to life. She makes me believe in my own ability to follow where I am led.

Martha Quest, so staunchly destroying the sacrament of marriage, is married at the end of the book, to a civil servant, of all people. All those disapproving vows seem only spit absorbed by dry dirt. Why did she repudiate marriage so adamantly if she was only going to enter a matrimonial situation. There is nothing we can prepare ourselves for; one day you may find yourself to be the last one on earth and every vow and disavowal becomes meaningless. Even as she’s getting married, as she stands along-side her husband-to-be, Martha refuses to see where she is. The marriage is happening to her, she had nothing to do with its coming about, why should she get involved? Perhaps that is the great transparency of youth? The ability to accumulate experience with few hang-ups, for as we get older, effect seems to be a direct result of cause.

There is a child perched high on the monkey bars. Between him and the concrete is six feet of air, quite a distance for a child. But he swings upside down without fear, consequences do not come rushing. There is only the action, pure and untainted. In comparison, Martha’s own actions are not as pristine, as her youth convinces. She reads books, has an emotional and knowledgeable political vein, she looks into her consciousness and analyzes what she finds. Martha is hungry for experience, there is the fire of the passionate soul burning within her.

It is not only the impressions of a kindred spirit that draws me to Martha Quest, the heroine, to the Children of Violence series as a whole. There are layers to Doris Lessing’s writing, layers pervasive in all good writing. The personal melds with the deeply critical, nature contrasts with the enclosed city, politics infuse her words and her adolescent ideals, ‘the color bar’ always evident. I believe Doris Lessing sits, the woman on high; her words and images, satiated with the juices of timelessness.



Commentary for Martha Quest


1 On Wednesday 19 November 2008 Aliaa wrote:

thank you for this information i,m really thank you these information help me in my study GOD HELP YOU


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