British spies reveal file on Nobel winner Doris Lessing

Thu Aug 20, 2015 7:23pm EDT
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By Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) - Nobel Prize-winning writer Doris Lessing was under surveillance for more than 20 years during her youth by British spies who took a dim view of her Communist beliefs and anti-racist activism, declassified intelligence files have revealed.

Lessing first came to the attention of colonial-era intelligence agents in 1943 in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, where she grew up, and from then on spies kept tabs on her in Africa and Britain until 1964.

The author of "The Golden Notebook", one of the most influential novels of the 1960s, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007. She died in 2013 aged 94.

MI5, Britain's internal intelligence service, had built up a five-volume secret file on Lessing that has now been placed in the National Archives and was made public on Friday.

One of the earliest documents is an extract copied from a letter from an Air Ministry official, dated 1944, about the Left Book Club that Lessing ran in Salisbury, now Harare, with her second husband Gottfried Lessing, a German Communist.

"Most topics of discussion there usually end up in anti-British, anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist vapourings," the official wrote, noting with concern that "persons with foreign accents" mingled at the club with Royal Air Force personnel.

After her divorce from Gottfried, Lessing moved in 1949 from Rhodesia to London, where security agents picked up her trail.

In 1952, the external spy agency, MI6, took an interest in a visit she made to the Soviet Union with a delegation of left-wing British writers, providing a note kept in the MI5 file.   Continued...

British novelist Doris Lessing waits to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature at the Wallace Collection in London January 30, 2008.      REUTERS/Toby Melville