‘To Room Nineteen’ by Doris Lessing

I first read this story, and The Golden Notebook, when I was in my early twenties. Re-reading it now I see most of it must have flown over my head. Certainly, I did not remember its analysis of an upper class intellectual mid-20th Century English marriage. But Susan’s craving for Room 19, the nothing that she did there, and the absolute necessity of that solitude—a life and death necessity—have been with me continually for more than thirty years now. Perhaps it was the first time I saw my own deep need to be alone on the page and began to understand the stakes of my refusal—already clear—to pursue Susan’s kind of life.

First published in A Man and Two Women, MacGibbon and Kee, 1963. Widely anthologized and available in the collection To Room Nineteen, Flamingo, 2002

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