Africa is not known for its intellect, but for its underground riches. No wonder Doris Lessing had to escape from Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and go to the UK when her Age Point was moving into the 6th house of work. Writing was her work, but she got no recognition for it in Africa. In the UK she was acknowledged for both her writing and her great intellect. In the course of her life, she received more than 16 literary awards, culminating in the Nobel Prize in 2007. (She was the oldest person ever to win the Nobel Prize for Literature – at age 88.)
This article focuses on her life in Africa which she left at age 30. Having lived in South Africa for most of my life, I can understand why Lessing got out as soon as she could despite her very fixed motivation (-10) which she describes thus in the autobiography of her years in Africa: ‘There is something in my Fate, or my destiny or perhaps my character, that takes me into backwaters where I lie becalmed. I wait.’
When she left, she took her sense of ‘underground riches’ with her: that which lies beneath the surface of her life in London. She would often draw on her African experiences for her writing.
The Bird Speaks Out
Lessing’s chart looks like the beak of a bird, not only open to the intrusion of the personal relationships of the 7th house, the demands of the 8th house, the vast views of the 9th house and the vocation of the 10th house. It was also a beak that could speak out against the wrongs in the world. Drawing on her childhood memories and her serious engagement with politics and social concerns, she would write on the injustices of racial inequality, particularly the dispossession of black Africans by white colonials, and expose the sterility of the white culture in southern Africa. But she was too outspoken for Africa and in 1956, she was declared a prohibited alien in both Southern Rhodesia and South Africa and would be banned from these countries for many years.
Her Inner World
With all but one (Uranus) of her planets on the I-side of the chart, her autobiography – Under My Skin – speaks volumes about where she was most active: not in the outer world of politics and social issues, but in her inner world. In addition, both her Sun and Uranus are on low points, giving her the tendency to withdraw into herself and into her innovative writing.
To deal with others, she created a persona called Tigger. (Or tiger, perhaps, because the social mask she wore was that of her rising sign, of Leo). ‘This personality was expected to be brash, jokey, clumsy, and always ready to be a good sport, that is, to laugh at herself, apologize, clown, confess inability. An extrovert (…). It was a protection of the person I really was.’
But then, she has 4 planets in the hidden world of the 12th house – Neptune conjunct Jupiter that fired up her Mercury with ideas to write about her creative travels. And thanks to the trine to Pluto, Mercury was constantly drawing on the higher authority of Pluto in the 10th house and its energy to transform the status quo in the world. Mars conjunct Saturn is also in the 12th house, but more about these two energies later.
Lessing also has four planets in the first quadrant which suggest she experienced the essence of their energies by the time she was 12. Although understandable to Astrological Psychology, she was considered ‘too old for her age’ by her mother, the nuns at the Convent, and the newspaper editor who published her first piece of writing at the age of 9.
This intense experience of planetary energies is reflected in her sense of time: ‘…in the story of a life if it is being told true to time as actually experienced, (…) seventy percent (..) would take you to age ten. At eighty per cent you would have reached fifteen. At ninety-five percent, you get to about thirty. The rest is a rush – towards eternity.’
Lessing has an overdose of earth (-10) in her temperament. No wonder her sensation function, particularly of smell and sound, is so pronounced in her writing. But she also had too much air (-3) and could thus think about the African bush so vividly that one has the sense of being there oneself. ‘My forearm smelled of the sun. The minute golden hairs flattened as I blew on them, like wind on the long grasses along the ditches. Silence. The dead, full contented silence of midday in the bush. A dove calls. Another answers.’
Mars conjunct Saturn
The views and experiences she describes in her autobiography are an uncannily accurate reflection of the energies of Mars conjunct Saturn and a self-assertive Venus in her life. For one, she was against the upbringing and expectations of her mother, represented by Saturn in her childhood. Fortunately her Moon was as strong as her Saturn (10), and the child in her could take the strict lessons of the Great Teacher, but she often felt her mother had restricted her self-assertion.
Obsessed with raising her daughter according to Edwardian values in a country ‘filled with savages’, Lessing’s mother enforced a rigid system of rules and hygiene at home. Lessing describes this experience of restriction when dressed by her mother for a photograph: ‘I felt low and nervous and guilty, because I was causing so much trouble: as usual it was as if my mother had tied, but too fast and awkwardly, a large clumsy parcel – me – and I did not fit in anywhere, and might suddenly become untied and fall apart and let her down. I felt weary.’
Her Lifelong Learning
Learning was the right way for her soul to go as indicated by her North Node in the 3rd house. As her AP entered this house at age 13, Doris left school – during the 3rd-house low point. It was the end of her formal education. But her Age Point also conjoined Mercury that same year (1932) and she read more prolifically than ever as parcels of books arrived from the UK.
‘I had begun, in short, to colour in the map of the world with the hues and tints of literature.’ This would become the guiding principle in her life. ‘I was clever, that was my attribute. Clever little Tigger (…). But being clever was not something I was prepared to go along with, for from the start, I was quietly sliding out (…) to where I belonged (…) the world of books.’ Her early reading included Dickens, Scott, Stevenson and Kipling. Later she discovered D.H. Lawrence, Stendhal, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky. She finally became a self-educated intellectual, assisted, no doubt, by the four Learning Triangles in her chart.
Venus takes the Lead
Her Venus is in the first house and she believed in her right to assert herself and her views, speaking out on issues ranging from apartheid to communism, the rights of women to, later in life, mysticism.
At age 15, between the AP/Venus sextile and before the AP/North Node conjunction, Lessing fled to Salisbury. Her Venus wanted to avoid the fate of her mother at all costs: ‘She had been in cold storage for twenty years on the farm.’ Lessing worked as a telephone operator for the first year, then as a nursemaid for a family who had many books on sociology and politics.
At nineteen, when her Age Point was in the 4th house of home and family, she married Frank Wisdom and had two children. A few years later, feeling trapped in a persona that she feared would destroy her, she left her family but remained in Salisbury. Soon she joined the Left Book Club and a Communist group ‘who read everything, and who did not think it remarkable to read.’ She was also writing stories, and sold two to magazines in South Africa A key member of the Left Book Club was Gottfried Lessing, a man she considered a like-minded partner. They married and had a son.
But she was still stuck in Africa. In her autobiography she describes the low point of the 5th house (1947), the inability to make an impression with her creativity, beautifully: ‘… this was certainly the worst time in my life. Bad times that seem to be endless make of the heart a kind of black hole, absorbing all life, all energy.’ And: ‘In fact I was in one of those periods in a life where nothing can move. It is a log-jam, a marsh, a quicksand, you have weights on your feet…There is nothing to do, but sit it out.’ (A wonderful description of the effects of a low point in one’s consciousness.)
At age 30, she finally went to London and felt as if her ‘whole being has been sprayed with an equivalent of cosmic wind.’ Wind is air, and air is thinking: here she found the intellectual stimulation she wanted.
She left two toddlers with their father in South Africa, but the young boy from her second marriage went with her. ‘For a long time I felt I had done a very brave thing. There is nothing more boring for an intelligent woman than to spend endless amounts of time with small children. I felt I wasn’t the best person to bring them up. I would have ended up an alcoholic or a frustrated intellectual like my mother.’ (With my Venus also in the 1st house, of course I agree with her.)
Her Age Point was on the cusp of the 6th house that same year and her work now took precedence. Her first novel, The Grass is Singing, was published the next year, in 1950. Children of Violence, a series written from age 32 to 40, when her AP was moving into the conscious hemisphere, deals with the growth in consciousness of her heroine, Martha Quest.
Lessing broke new ground with The Golden Notebook (1962), a daring narrative experiment, in which the multiple selves of a contemporary woman are rendered in astonishing depth and detail. (An excellent example of all those planets in the 12th and 1st houses.)
A year later, her Age Point conjoined the C2. This book was indeed the major shift in her consciousness: at long last she was recognised as an innovative writer. The main character, Anna Wulf, like Lessing herself, aims to free herself from the chaos, emotional numbness, and hypocrisy afflicting her generation.
Lessing’s assertive Venus would soon be attacked for being ‘unfeminine’ in her depiction of female anger and aggression, to which she responded: ‘Apparently what many women were thinking, feeling, experiencing came as a great surprise.’ One early critic noted, Anna Wulf ‘tries to live with the freedom of a man’ – an accurate description of Lessing’s Venus. Lessing believed she was freer than most people because she became a writer. For her, writing is a process of understanding the ‘raw, the individual, the uncriticised, the unexamined’ and moving it into the realm of the general.
Lessing would go on to publish 50 books in her long life. She died at the age of 94, six years after she had won the Nobel Prize, the perfect crown for a Great Lady of Literature. At last – when her Age Point was traversing the 4th house of home and family for the second time around – she was completely at home with the family she had always wanted: the intellectuals of the world. A major achievement for a person who was completely self-educated!
Interesting to see Doris Lessing’s chart and read about her life. I remember reading The Grass is Singing, the impassioned novel that brought her fame, when I was in my teens and it left a lasting impression.
I imagine Tigger, her adopted persona in childhood, was based on A. A. Milne’s bouncy tiger called Tigger in the Winnie the Pooh stories he wrote for his son Christopher Robin, later an embarrassment to his son but giving lots of parents and children endless pleasure.