Free Woman: Life, Liberation and Doris Lessing

Bloomsbury, March 2018

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“The most intriguing and certainly the bravest work of literary scholarship I have ever read”
Deborah Levy

How might we live more freely, and will we be happier or lonelier if we do? Re-reading The Golden Notebook in her thirties, shortly after Doris Lessing’s death, Lara Feigel discovered that Lessing spoke directly to her as a woman, a writer, and a mother in a way that no other novelist had done. At a time when she was dissatisfied with the conventions of her own life, Feigel was enticed by Lessing’s vision of freedom.

Free Woman is essential reading for anyone whose life has been changed by books or has questioned the structures by which they live. Feigel tells Lessing’s own story, veering between admiration and fury at the choices Lessing made. At the same time, she scrutinises motherhood, marriage and sexual relationships with an unusually acute gaze. And in the process she conducts a dazzling investigation into the joys and costs of sexual, psychological, intellectual and political freedom. This is a genre-defying book: at once a meditation on life and literature and a daring act of self-exposure.

From the reviews

‘An extraordinary meditation on what it means to be a clever, engaged woman two generations after Lessing […] Her technique is scrupulous, sparing neither herself nor others in a chronicle that is physically and intellectually intimate, in the manner of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.’  Patrick French, Guardian

‘A fascinating mix of literary criticism, cultural history and memoir so exposing that it can almost make you blush. Feigel writes with singing clarity in prose that sometimes verges on the hypnotic. Her reimagining of Lessing’s home and childhood in what was then Rhodesia is vivid and enthralling […] Absorbing and highly enjoyable.’  Christina Patterson, Sunday Times

‘Free Woman is a valuable and brave contribution to a discussion that shows no sign of resolution – and perhaps this continuous sense of reinvention is part of what freedom means.’ Stephanie Merritt, Observer

‘Ironic, beautiful and rather moving’ Joanna Kavenna, Literary Review

‘Free Woman is not a biography, but the same artistic process is at work: as a biographer, you think you are going to possess your subject, but they always end up possessing you. It’s fertile ground, and Feigel a fine explorer. I really enjoyed this book.’  Sara Wheeler, Spectator

‘Lara Feigel’s Free Woman has taken on the formidable Doris for a new generation […] Feigel has the gift of converting complex thoughts into coherent sentences that delight’ Paula Byrne, The Times

‘Wholly engaging […] Free Woman is a brave book, written by and about a brave woman. Feigel’s willingness to lay bare her own life allows the world of Doris Lessing, in all her complicated, contradictory, self-centred, generous genius, to come to life.’  Julie Parsons, Irish Times