An Autobiography of Everyone? Intentions and Definitions in Doris Lessing’s “Memoirs of a Survivor”. [abstract].

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Dooley, Gillian Mary
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"Memoirs of a Survivor" was first published in 1974, and is the second of what Lessing has described as her “unrealistic stories”. The “real” setting of the novel is an unnamed English city in the near future, when for some unexplained reason civilization is crumbling. The narrator, a single middle-aged woman, is mysteriously put in charge of a young girl, Emily. The wall of her flat occasionally melts to reveal a large house. This is the “impersonal” world; however, shortly after Emily’s arrival, the narrator begins to be subjected, beyond the wall, to a child’s-eye view of an oppressive nursery where “personal” scenes from the childhood of Emily and her baby brother are played out. Meanwhile, in the “real” world, Emily passes with unnatural rapidity through the stages of adolescence, while outside cannibalism and violence become common among the gangs of young people. The narrator and Emily are besieged in the flat until the wall finally reopens and admits them to a new world. "Memoirs" is subtitled, in the early editions, “an attempt at autobiography.” Lessing complains, “curiously, no one noticed it, as if that precision was embarrassing”. This is not strictly true: of a sample of ten contemporary reviews, only half do not mention the autobiographical element.