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Opening the Doris Lessing letters

  • The Keep Archives Woollards Way Brighton, BN1 9BP (map)

An archive of letters written by Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing to an “erstwhile lover” has been opened by the University of Sussex – 23 years after it was first acquired.

Leonard Smith, whom Lessing addresses as “Smithie”, was a 19-year-old cadet pilot in the Royal Airforce when he first met the aspiring novelist in 1944 in Rhodesia. The 150 letters he received from her span several decades, revealing her views on sex, politics, and literature that were to inform some of her most celebrated works.

The letters were purchased from Smith in 1993 by the University with support from the Arts Council England/Victoria and Albert Museum Purchase Grant Fund. In line with the wishes of Lessing and Smith, they remained closed for research until Lessing’s death. Lessing died in 2013.

To celebrate the opening of these letters, a free workshop, drinks reception and talks will be held by he University of Sussex Special Collections at The Keep on 3 March, in collaboration with the School of English.

Dr Pam Thurschwell and Dr John Masterson have been exploring this archive and will share their insights at this talk. Dr Masterson says: “Her letters serve as rhetorical laboratories for the kinds of risk taking and rule breaking that would come to define her life and career. I am interested in her strained relations with the dogmas of the political left, British colonialism and prejudice and how her always perceptive and invariably prescient letters continue to resonate today.”

For more information and to book your place (booking essential) please visit