After The War
I watched a brief interview with Doris Lessing, the British author who learnt she had won the Nobel Prize for Literature as she alighted, disheveled, from a London black cab.
Doorstepping cameras were there to record the event for me.
Lessing’s son, having gathered the groceries up off the taxi floor, emerged to join her on the roadside. Agreeable. Hand in a sling. Carrying an artichoke.
‘Oh Christ’, was the Laureate’s sardonic response to the news from Stockholm. She was not yet on the footpath. ‘I’m sure you’d like some uplifting remarks of some kind’.
I instantly took a triple decision. That I liked her. That I would read her. And that I believed her.
Before downloading an audiobook (which I classify as reading, though I feel sure my brain does not), I skipped to another interview, more formalised now, in which Lessing seemed of similar age. So I assume it was from around 2007.
Here, the author spoke of the mid-1940s, and what England was like coming out of war. Back then, every second person you’d meet had returned from a front, or managed through the blitz, or had liberated a death camp.
The country reeled from fatigue and hardship.
‘England was so grim and poor and unpainted’, she said, ‘which is the thing I minded so much. Nothing had been painted for the entire time of the war’.
Her pauper milieu was of writers, artists and communists, or used-to-be communists. And their talk about war, after the war, was incessant. Around every Formica table in every subsidised restaurant, where grizzle stew was daringly rescued by pudding, the experience of war was kept alive by those who had suffered through it.
But the new generation, arriving into adulthood, were having none of it.
They rejected the war obsession, Lessing explained. They rejected the morose stories and the navel gazing. For the young, war was the great unmentionable – an idiot’s tale, signifying nothing.
They were bent on progress, and on finding sunshine.
Bit by bit, they painted England’s walls and put out window-boxes. Lest the virus of past struggle consume them.