In Pursuit of the English: A Documentary
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In Pursuit of the English is a novelist's account of a lusty, quarrelsome, unscrupulous, funny, pathetic, full-blooded life in a working-class rooming house. It is a shrewd and unsentimental picture of Londoners you've probably never met or even read about--though they are the real English. The cast of characters--if that term can be applied to real people--includes: Bobby Brent, a con man; Mrs. Skeffington, a genteel woman who bullies her small child and flings herself down two flights of stairs to avoid having another; and Miss Priest, a prostitute, who replies to Lessing's question "Don't you ever like sex?" with "If you're going to talk dirty, I'm not interested."
In swift, barbed style, in high, hard, farcical writing that is eruptively funny, Doris Lessing records the joys and terrors of everyday life. The truth of her perception shines through the pages of a work that is a brilliantpiece of cultural interpretation, an intriguing memoir and a thoroughly engaging read.
daughter. She had just taken a bath, and wore a white wool dressing-gown. Her black hair was combed loose, and her face was pale, soft and young, with dark smudges of happiness under the eyes. Her mouth, revealed, was small and sad, She said, with formality, ‘Come in, dear. I’m sorry the room is untidy.’ The room was very small and neat; it had a look of intense privacy, as a room does when every-article means a great deal to the person living in it. Rose had brought her bed and her small easy
in, without make-up, looking young and excited. I never found out how old she was. She used to say, with a laugh, she was twenty-three, but I think she was about thirty. ‘Rose. I wish you wouldn’t put on so much make-up.’ ‘Don’t be silly. If I don’t wear plenty, Dickie says to me, what’s up with you, are you flying the red flag?’ ‘But you haven’t seen Dickie for weeks.’ ‘But we might run into him. That’s one of the reasons I’m taking you. He always takes me where we’re going, and if he’s got
people. You’d think about some lardyda person, they’re not so bad, when you gel to know them, they can’t help it, poor sods, it’s the way they’re brought up. I remember when I got scared and raids were bad, I used to go down to the shelters and the air was foul, and I couldn’t sleep and the ground was shaking all around, and I wished it would all end. But it was nice, too. You could talk to the man sitting next to you in the Underground at night, and share your blanket with him if he hadn’t got
‘Tall, dark, handsome.’ ‘Not enough.’ ‘Sinister.’ ‘No, no. It’s the distinguishing marks you have to go for. Take another look – right? He’s got a scar under his jaw.’ ‘Bayonet,’ said Bobby Brent, modestly. ‘Commandos. The man next to me – should have stuck the dummy, stuck me instead.’ ‘Right. Now. A tall dark handsome man – sinister is not the right note, it’s the wrong touch. With a scar down under his jaw. Now, what does this man do in your story? Right, I’ll tell you. He breaks the law.
their bloody heads. Do you know what they are? Slaves, that’s what. And like it. Let me tell you. Last week all the men were complaining about the tea in the canteen. It came cold every time, and the food was muck. There they were, grumbling their heads off. I said, All right then, who’s coming with me to complain to the boss. Oh, yes, they were all coming. The whole bleeding lot. So I walked out of the canteen and went to the office, and when I turned around, where were they? Yes, where were