British novelist, brought up in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). She was an active communist and a feminist in her youth, and social and political conflicts, especially as they affect women, are a dominant feature of her work.
Mrs Lessing was born Doris May Tayler in Kermanshah, Persia (now Iran), where her father was a captain in the British army. In 1924 the family settled in Rhodesia and Doris Lessing was educated at schools in Salisbury (now Harare). Between 1939 and 1949 she had two short-lived marriages and in the latter year moved to England. The novel The Grass is Singing (1950) and the short stories This Was the Old Chief's Country (1951) reflect her experiences of Africa. Martha Quest (1952) was the first in a series of five novels published under the general title Children of Violence. The last was The Four Gated City (1969). Her best-known novels are probably The Golden Notebook (1962), which is now regarded as a landmark of feminist fiction, and The Good Terrorist (1985), which won the W. H. Smith literary award in 1986 as well as the Palermo Prize and Premio Internazionale Mondello in 1987. Her philosophical preoccupations were explored in an ambitious series of novels with a science fiction setting called Canopus in Argos: Archives – Shikasta (1979), The Marriages between Zones Three, Four and Five (1980), The Sirian Experiments (1981), The Making of the Representative for Planet 8 (1982), and The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire (1983). Lessing's most recent novels are The Fifth Child (1988) and Love Again (1996).
Besides her full-length novels, Doris Lessing also wrote the short novels published under the title Five (1953), which won the 1954 Somerset Maugham Award. Her several collections of short stories include A Man and Two Women (1965), The Story of a Non-Marrying Man (1972), and The Real Thing (1993). In Pursuit of the English (1960) describes her impressions on first coming to England. She has also published poetry, essays, travel writings, and two volumes of autobiography, Under My Skin (1994) and Walking in the Shade (1997).