A young girl reading: Martha's quest through literature and realism in Martha quest

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This paper examines the young heroine’s ambivalent relationship with books in Doris Lessing’s coming-of-age novel Martha Quest. Martha, a young British girl growing up in the British colony of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in the wake of World War II, is a voracious young reader who reads extensively in order to make sense of the world in which she is living. Sometimes the books she reads lead her to think critically and challenge the canonical authorities and patriarchal society; however, at times her reading experience is also unsettling and frustrating because the books she reads are mostly produced within a biased system she intends to go beyond. The paper analyzes how Martha relies on books to reshape her national identity and personal life, and how she deals with the discrepancy between the world represented in books and reality in terms of Benedict Anderson’s concept of an ‘imagined community’. Furthermore, this paper also discusses how Martha’s portrait as a bewildered reader of realist literature mirrors Lessing’s own ambiguous relationship with her realist narratives.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of literature, culture and literary translation
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Martha Quest
  • realism
  • imagined community
  • readers
  • identity


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