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Editor’s Note

“A Coming of Age Classic...”

A female version of D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers, the first novel in Nobel-laureate Doris Lessing’s Children of Violence series follows a rebellious young woman’s coming of age in colonial Africa.
Scribd Editor

Intelligent, sensitive, and fiercely passionate, Martha Quest is a young woman living on a farm in Africa, feeling her way through the torments of adolescence and early womanhood. She is a romantic idealistic in revolt against the puritan snobbery of her parents, trying to live to the full with every nerve, emotion, and instinct laid bare to experience. For her, this is a time of solitary reading daydreams, dancing -- and the first disturbing encounters with sex. The first of Doris Lessing's timeless Children of Violence novels, Martha Quest is an endearing masterpiece.

Topics: Africa, Feminism, and Coming of Age

Published: HarperCollins on
ISBN: 9780061991264
List price: $10.99
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I have decided to re-read Doris Lessing's Children of Violence series which begins with Martha Quest and ends with the Four Gated City. I read these in my early twenties and was impressed. So far I have just read Martha Quest, so I have four or five more volumes to go.Lessing was writing about a time in the late thirties when she was between the ages of 14 to 19. I was that age in the late sixties, but I remember how much her somewhat autobiographical writing about the mother and daughter in the novel resonated with my experience. She is the daughter in this book. And, when I've read books (by her) that are from the point of view of a mother those have also resonated with my experience of being a mother, although she describes that relationship quite differently. In Martha Quest, people seemed locked in roles which cause them to act in ways that have nothing to do with their real feelings or their real selves. At the beginning of the novel she is on a farm in South Africa with her parents. There is a brother, little mentioned, because he was sent away to a good school though she is a reader and he is not. She is in a battle with her mother who tries to control her life, and also has all the typical English attitudes about native Africans. Her father simply wants to avoid conflict. Her only real relationships are with the two sons of a Jewish shop keeper, who is fairly isolated in the area because of his Jewishness. They lend Martha books and her association with them seems to be what allowed her to form opinions about the equality of people that are different from those of all the others around her. Her opinions are intellectual, however, and don't prevent her from feeling prejudice, and, in this book, she does not act on her ideals. What she does do is to finally break away from her parents, at the age of 17 or 18, helped to do so by Josh who arranges a job interview with his uncle, and moves to town and a job as a secretary. In the middle of discovering she is not really qualified as a secretary, and beginning to take classes to improve, she becomes part of a crowd that spends a lot of time at the sports club. Again there is the disjoint between who she really is, and the roles she plays in this group. In a short period of time, she drifts into three or four different relationship with people whom she doesn't really like. At the end of it at age 18 she is getting married. A few days before her fiance has asked if she really wants to go through with it, and she feels a sense that there is no stopping it, she knows she will get married. At the same time, a small voice inside her is telling her that she will not stay married.The point of view of the novel. It is third person, and, but though it stays in Martha's head, it seems to be of someone reflecting back on Martha rather than in the moment. Sometimes you see the current Martha and this other person's thoughts side by side, with the other person commenting on Matha's actions Martha, herself, has an inner voice, the real Martha, so in a sense there are three voices: Martha in her role; the real Martha; the future (also real) Martha - I'm guessing on the last.more
The first of Doris Lessing's Children of Violence series the book charts the coming of age of the eponymous heroine. Doris Lessing's writing is never less than excellent. We follow Martha from her early rural life under the stultifying care of her colonial parents to her struggles to come to terms with her own beliefs in a society that expects more acceptable conservative morals. The book, set in a fictional South African republic of Zambesi but heavily based on what was then Rhodesia, is always socially and politically aware.more
This first novel in the 'Children of Violence' series is a vivid, beautifully written, and at times uncomfortable account of a young girl, Martha Quest, growing up in a British colony in Africa just before World War II. Martha is a wonderful character; stubborn and resilient - and full of bitter adolescent resentment and self-consciousness. Although her ideas are radical for the time, Martha is also subject to her own uncertainty and insecurities, which allow her to be swept along with the tide. Without consciously meaning to, she conforms to the expectations of society and her contemporaries - as a result, she finds herself in a world she doesn't understand, and in the company of those she feels little but contempt for. Inevitably, she succumbs to the way of life that has for so long repulsed her. Simmering beneath the surface is the racism and hypocrisy prevalent in the colonies, and the gradual acceptance that elsewhere in the world, a war is brewing.This is a superb novel and makes for compulsive reading. There is much truth that can be taken from the book, and I highly recommend it: especially for all those who know that sometimes it can be hard to find your place in the world.more
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Reviews

I have decided to re-read Doris Lessing's Children of Violence series which begins with Martha Quest and ends with the Four Gated City. I read these in my early twenties and was impressed. So far I have just read Martha Quest, so I have four or five more volumes to go.Lessing was writing about a time in the late thirties when she was between the ages of 14 to 19. I was that age in the late sixties, but I remember how much her somewhat autobiographical writing about the mother and daughter in the novel resonated with my experience. She is the daughter in this book. And, when I've read books (by her) that are from the point of view of a mother those have also resonated with my experience of being a mother, although she describes that relationship quite differently. In Martha Quest, people seemed locked in roles which cause them to act in ways that have nothing to do with their real feelings or their real selves. At the beginning of the novel she is on a farm in South Africa with her parents. There is a brother, little mentioned, because he was sent away to a good school though she is a reader and he is not. She is in a battle with her mother who tries to control her life, and also has all the typical English attitudes about native Africans. Her father simply wants to avoid conflict. Her only real relationships are with the two sons of a Jewish shop keeper, who is fairly isolated in the area because of his Jewishness. They lend Martha books and her association with them seems to be what allowed her to form opinions about the equality of people that are different from those of all the others around her. Her opinions are intellectual, however, and don't prevent her from feeling prejudice, and, in this book, she does not act on her ideals. What she does do is to finally break away from her parents, at the age of 17 or 18, helped to do so by Josh who arranges a job interview with his uncle, and moves to town and a job as a secretary. In the middle of discovering she is not really qualified as a secretary, and beginning to take classes to improve, she becomes part of a crowd that spends a lot of time at the sports club. Again there is the disjoint between who she really is, and the roles she plays in this group. In a short period of time, she drifts into three or four different relationship with people whom she doesn't really like. At the end of it at age 18 she is getting married. A few days before her fiance has asked if she really wants to go through with it, and she feels a sense that there is no stopping it, she knows she will get married. At the same time, a small voice inside her is telling her that she will not stay married.The point of view of the novel. It is third person, and, but though it stays in Martha's head, it seems to be of someone reflecting back on Martha rather than in the moment. Sometimes you see the current Martha and this other person's thoughts side by side, with the other person commenting on Matha's actions Martha, herself, has an inner voice, the real Martha, so in a sense there are three voices: Martha in her role; the real Martha; the future (also real) Martha - I'm guessing on the last.more
The first of Doris Lessing's Children of Violence series the book charts the coming of age of the eponymous heroine. Doris Lessing's writing is never less than excellent. We follow Martha from her early rural life under the stultifying care of her colonial parents to her struggles to come to terms with her own beliefs in a society that expects more acceptable conservative morals. The book, set in a fictional South African republic of Zambesi but heavily based on what was then Rhodesia, is always socially and politically aware.more
This first novel in the 'Children of Violence' series is a vivid, beautifully written, and at times uncomfortable account of a young girl, Martha Quest, growing up in a British colony in Africa just before World War II. Martha is a wonderful character; stubborn and resilient - and full of bitter adolescent resentment and self-consciousness. Although her ideas are radical for the time, Martha is also subject to her own uncertainty and insecurities, which allow her to be swept along with the tide. Without consciously meaning to, she conforms to the expectations of society and her contemporaries - as a result, she finds herself in a world she doesn't understand, and in the company of those she feels little but contempt for. Inevitably, she succumbs to the way of life that has for so long repulsed her. Simmering beneath the surface is the racism and hypocrisy prevalent in the colonies, and the gradual acceptance that elsewhere in the world, a war is brewing.This is a superb novel and makes for compulsive reading. There is much truth that can be taken from the book, and I highly recommend it: especially for all those who know that sometimes it can be hard to find your place in the world.more
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