‘To Room Nineteen’ by Doris Lessing

Lessing’s fiction has gone out of fashion. Perhaps it’s her seriousness – her engagement with Marxism and the ideas of Freud – which makes her unpopular at a time when feminism is reduced to individual ‘empowerment’ and identity politics. This story, written a few years before the Women’s Liberation Movement took shape, shows what an indispensable writer she is. The narrative seems impersonal, a case history. Susan and Matthew are a privileged couple with a comfortable life. Yet Lessing shows us how they are bound together in a kind of growing incomprehension. It is simply not enough, as Woolf suggested, for a woman to have money and a room of her own, if she remains tied to familial expectations. Various means of escape are tried, but for Susan, ultimate freedom is only to be found in Room Nineteen. 

First published in A Man and Two Women, Simon & Schuster, 1963. Collected in To Room Nineteen: Collected Stories Volume One, Flamingo 2002. Available online here

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