The Golden Notebook takes one back not only in time but in consciousness. It is just 20 years old, and yet, reread from the standpoint of 1982, it seems to belong to an immensely confusing period, weighed down by the anxieties of a decade that now seems remote, incomprehensible to those for whom the Sixties signify permissiveness, euphoria, liberty, and pleasure. It reminds us, among other things, that the Sixties inherited the dilemmas of the Fifties, surely the dreariest decade this century, and made an all too conscious attempt to bury them. Reading The Golden Notebook when it first appeared, I remember being impressed by its entirely grown-up seriousness; it connected in my mind with its not dissimilar counterpart in France, Simone de Beauvoir's Les Mandarins. Both were concerned, overwhelmingly, with the lives led by thinking women, in and out of politics; both had to do with loyalty, disillusion, the fragmentation of beliefs formerly held to be indissoluble, and the effects of such fragmentation on the personality. More significantly, both had to do with the paradox of the thinking woman's attitude to love and expectation in her personal life, and it is salutary, and not a little shocking, to reflect on how much has been gained, and how much more lost, in the 20 years of The Golden Notebook's history.
LRB 2 September 1982 | PDF Download