When facing scrutiny the institutions reacted in a rigid, defensive manner. It’s a common theme across Britain
Doris Lessing always asked awkward questions. She posed them in her novels on subjects such as sex, politics and illusion. She posed them in her journalism about nuclear weapons and migration. And she posed them in her table talk, as I know from occasional meetings in the 1990s in a West Hampstead cafe that also appeared in some of her fiction.
At one such lunch, Lessing – whose life and work take up the entire new issue of Critical Quarterly magazine – recounted the story, which she later wrote about in her autobiography, of one of the most enduringly awkward questions that even she ever asked. In 1952 she joined a group of leftwing British writers, including my father, on a cold war visit to Stalin’s Soviet Union. During the visit, she grew frustrated by the endless official Marxist rhetoric from her hosts. So she and my father devised a question they hoped would produce a more honest and human discussion.