Book Review

a proper marriage by Doris Lessing (Children of Violence #2)

lessing's children of violence continues to be excellent unlike my mood

cw: suicide ideation, self-harm, depression, financial mismanagement, sexual assault, colonialism

July 27th, 2022, Tottenham

The peaks and the troughs are so relentless.

Do all the rest of you get that?

One week everything feels fine – never (rarely) good, but sometimes fine – and then the next you’re back at the point where it just feels impossible to get out of bed, let alone do something, make something, be something?

I made some money last week selling writing for the first time in a very long time (not very much money and not writing that was new lol), & tho I thought that would work as a motivator to send out more writing it just, well, it didn’t.

I have hundreds of thousands of words on my computer – enough for another couple of poetry collections, probably enough for a short fiction collection, I have an incomplete manuscript for a nonfiction book about reading the Bible as literature, I have those two novels I wrote about a decade ago, I have two 75% finished novellas (one from 2010 & one from 2020), I have a basically finished travel journal from 2013, I have four more good to go TRUTHER PRESS manuscripts I just need to format & get printed, I have extensive diaries I could probably tidy up or use for erasure poetry or something, I have correspondence ongoing with three different people about guesting on podcasts, which I should really do, I should figure out where I can go and read poems, I need to catch up with social correspondence too, I should probably do something to earn some money, I I I I I I I-

It’s all just too hard. Or too easy.

There’s too much work to be done & too much time to do it in.

///

A prominent Twitter leftist killed themselves yesterday. A prominent & incredibly talented poet I don’t know well enough to feel comfortable reaching out to is having a very public breakdown on social media and seems to be on the edge of suicide & may well be dead by the time I get round to posting this and I’m on the fucking edge of suicide but there’s no likelihood of anything hurting me enough to push me over – I’m too medicated to care enough, to feel enough.

I read beautiful literature & struggle to cry. 

Last week – for the second time in a year – the Canadian government made me pay additional taxes of $2,000 – I should care about that, I should have challenged that, but I just don’t care enough, & also it felt kinda strange & not quite right for me to – briefly – have a little bit of cushioning savings anyway, & being back at net zero (if we’re not – as I’m not – counting student debt as real debt) feels a more apt place for me (as in me as me) to be.

I had three leads for jobs when I first got here that all slowly fizzled out.

I didn’t want any of them, but I suppose the money would be nice, so too would be the excuse of time poverty to not actually finish & find publishers for all of these literary projects I’ve got on my hard drive. Some of those projects, yes, are largely comprised of filth my younger, angrier, depressedier, intoxicatedier self wrote from a pit of despair that was five miles deep & didn’t have a stair, but some of it’s not!

I should play with making some music, too. That’s something I like to do.

I have free time and no expensive habits that I struggle to repress, but I also have terrible mental health & terrifying fears that I will never quite be able to escape from a psychologically unsustainable life, i.e. anything other than some kind of return to those near-perfect six months in Spain where I taught English for a few hours a day & worked on my writing basically full time.

I gotta get back to that. But how??? [Serious answers appreciated!]

///

Anyway.

I read more Doris Lessing.

This one, the sequel to Martha Quest, takes us through the young heroine’s first (perhaps only?) marriage waaaaaaay down in colonial Southern Africa during the Second World War.

Martha has married a young civil servant, finds out she is suddenly & unexpectedly pregnant, never considering that the child could, perhaps, have been conceived in one of the other trysts she enjoyed during her brief & wild period on the colonial party scene.

Soon after the child is born, Martha’s dull husband signs up to join the wartime army as soon as possible and disappears. While he is gone, Martha builds herself a pleasant life in which she is both socially & intellectually satisfied & – one hopes! – sexually, too. (It’s basically exactly the same narrative as the wife of the pirate Stede Bonnet goes through in the recent HBO series, Our Flag Means Death, which is currently my lover’s favourite ever television show.)

When Martha’s dull husband is sent back home before even reaching the fighting because he has a stomach ulcer, Martha & he are unable to return to the same patterns & relationship they had before he went away, & tho the dull husband wants this to happen, Martha is – understandably – unwilling to give up the good things she finally has in her life.

Alas, the dull husband fails to behave like a grown up & politely – if not amicably – break up, & he forces confrontation & bitter acrimony & won’t stop until Martha reveals she has written evidence of a brief affair the dull husband had & she won’t hesitate to use it to force through a needlessly bitter divorce.

Martha’s mother – who is a massive bitch written without by Lessing without any redeeming qualities at all – keeps trying to make Martha feel guilty for not acquiescing to a shit life and her husband – who’s written by Lessing as a pathetic loser and a dickhead – keeps threatening to rape Martha without her diaphragm in so that she will get pregnant & be “forced” to stay with him due to practicality and propriety. Though the dull husband doesn’t follow through on this, threatening a forced, unwanted pregnancy is depicted – as it should be – as an unforgivable act.

///

The title Lessing gives this novel says a lot: if Martha’s is “a proper marriage” – as it is when judged by Martha’s parents & peers (who are all very socially conservative except for the local communists (the only people Martha wants to hang out with)) – then such a marriage is shit. If propriety is all that this society cares about, nothing else matters – to be “proper” is to acquiesce to unhappiness, to accept psychological abuse, to be tied to the unnecessary repercussions of foolish decisions made in haste. This is a society that explicitly tells a young woman that she must forgive – and tolerate living with forever – a man who has directly and unequivocally threatened to rape her into a forced pregnancy as a means of coercive control.

I, for one, was very happy for Martha when she walked out of the awful marriage at the novel’s end, with most of her twenties still to go. She left the child behind, but so what – she didn’t really like it anyway?

///

A Proper Marriage differed from Martha Quest in that the perspective often shifted into the lives of other people, this is not just tight third person centred on Martha. Most of the other characters, tho, are fucking awful, and a recurring theme is the pervasiveness of normalised sexual assault amongst the middle class men of this time and place. Sexual assault, sexual harassment and domestic abuse is rife, as too is financial and legal abuse of native servants and labourers.

Lessing in unequivocal in her condemnation: she wants her reader to know who these men really are/were, what colonialism is/was and how it impacts on those who perpetuate it, too: to dehumanise any other human dehumanises the self, too.

///

Martha Quest is on an intellectual journey, and tho this volume doesn’t return to the fantasies she dreams in Martha Quest of an egalitarian society living in a five-gated city (the title of the final book in the series), she goes much further towards being in a position where her life is no longer controlled by the dispassionate, cruel & dickheaded pricks of her environment. 

More Children of Violence posts coming soon!


my latest – and imo best – book hip-hop-o-crit available now

sad prose book the pleasure of regret from Broken Sleep Books.

Humour ‘n’ Full Frontal Nudes in Because Earth Is Flat (with Sean Preston)

Listen to my novelty XXXmas song on Spotify

Order my raucous poetry collection via Open Pen.

Order my sad prose chapbook via Selcouth Station Press.


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1 comment on “a proper marriage by Doris Lessing (Children of Violence #2)

  1. Pingback: A Ripple From The Storm AND Landlocked by Doris Lessing (Children of violence #3 AND #4) – Triumph Of The Now

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