She is not only the best woman novelist we have," the London Times has said of Doris Lessing, "but one of the most serious and intelligent and honest writers of the whole postwar generation." The brilliance and power of her writing have won the highest praise from critics on both sides of the Atlantic, some of whose comments are printed on the back of the jacket. It is with particular pride that we publish Mrs. Lessings Children of Violence, a series five related novels, of which the first two, written before The Golden Notebook, appear in the present volume.
The generation that was born of one world war and came of age in another - these are the children of violence whose abrasive relationships with their elders, with one another, and with society as a whole are here brilliantly understood and depicted.
The center character of Children of Violence is Martha Quest, a young woman of intelligence and passion, in open-nerved tough with herself of her fearful times. Raised in a narrow, provincial community in Central Africa, child of colonial parents committed to the old way, she has turned for direction and sustenance to literature, as previous generations turned to religion. But the moral standards that she has pieced together from her classic and modern writer-heroes are at odds with the life around her. Seeing her profoundest ideals denied by the people closest to her, she continually asks, How can they? (treat the Africans that way, act with such dishonesty toward one another, pretend to regard their defeats as victories, be content to drift with every ill wind from mindless youth to dreary old age). Continually outraged, she probes, argues, struggles to make them understand what they are doing. When she fails miserably, there is a final crisis; she leaves home.
But freedom provides its own shocks and confusions; in rapid succession - almost without volition - involvement with the smart young set, a ritual round of drinking and parties, a suitable courtship, a proper marriage, an immediate pregnancy, a young husband off to war, and the sudden realization that she is no more autonomous than her parents. The old question re-occurs but with an important change. How can I? And, jolted by this sudden insight, Martha begins a scrupulous scrutiny of self and society, of motherhood and love, of the city with its racial tensions, of power and politics.
Martha Quest is a true daughter of her century - the quarreling century in which the conflict between the generations reflects the conflict between old systems and new, between ascendant and ascending nations and races. Marthas personal history mirrors the convulsions and aspirations of our time: the successful rebellion, freedom and its tragic failures, and finally, despair transmuted into a relentless determination to understand life, and through this understanding discover a way to live.