Doris Lessing Archive

Scope and Content

The collection includes the Whitehorn letters, 1944-1949 (1 box) and general correspondence from 1969-2007 (29 boxes). The collection does not hold any manuscripts of published or unpublished works.

The Whitehorn series (DL/WHI) comprises 110 letters written by Doris to R.A.F. Pilot Officer John Whitehorn and his friend Coll MacDonald between 1944-1949. They provide insight into Doris's personal life in Rhodesia.

Administrative / Biographical History

Doris Lessing was born in Persia in 1919, her father being an employee of the Imperial Bank of Persia. The family left Persia in 1924, spent a year in England with relatives, then went to Southern Rhodesia. She was brought up on the Lomagundi district of Southern Rhodesia on a maize farm and attended schools in Harare.

At 19 she married a civil servant, Frank Wisdom, they had a son, John (1939) and a daughter, Jean (1941). This marriage ended in divorce in 1943. Doris's second marriage was to Gottfried Lessing, a German refugee. They had a son, Peter (1946). This marriage also ended in divorce and Doris and Peter moved to the UK in 1949.

Doris arrived in London with the manuscript of her first novel, The Grass is Singing , which was published in 1950.

Doris Lessing holds the title of Distinguished Fellow in Literature at the University of East Anglia and received an Honorary degree from the UEA in 1985. She received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007.


  • Correspondence
  • Prizes, Awards
  • Festivals, seminars
  • Works by Doris Lessing
  • Press cuttings
  • Reviews of & contributions to other writers' works
  • Tours & visits
  • Personal
  • Photographs
  • Afghanistan
  • Zimbabwe & Southern Africa
  • General subject files
  • Whitehorn letters

Access Information

Other than where a specific access restriction is noted, the collection is open for consultation in the Archives Department, by appointment, during its advertised opening hours.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

MS and typescript correspondence.

Archivist's Note


Conditions Governing Use

Reproductions can be supplied in hard copy or digital format subject to physical condition and the terms of deposit. A charge is made for this service. Copyright restrictions may apply and the advice of the Archives department should be sought for any use of reproductions other than personal research.

Custodial History

In 2008 Doris Lessing spoke to Professor Chris Bigsby, Professor of American Studies, and reminded him of the offer she had made some 10 years prior, of gifting her papers to the University of East Anglia. The papers were deposited in the Library Archives in March 2008.

The deposit comprised 32 randomly listed folders of correspondence, press-cuttings, printed ephemera, etc. The rest of the collection was in very rough chronological order.

The papers were subsequently sorted by correspondent. A number of series have also been introduced.

The Whitehorn Letters were deposited separately but integrated as a series within the Doris Lessing Archive.

Related Material

Other papers and manuscripts, 1940-1999 are at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin

Geographical Names