In this full-scale portrait of a girl from adolescence to womanhood, Doris Lessing does for her sex what D. H. Lawrence and Arnold Bennett did for theirs in Sons and Lovers and Clayhanger. To feminine sensibility and perception Miss Lessing adds an unusual directness, vigour and energy to produce a remarkable combination of talents.
Martha Quest is essentially the story of a rebel. When we first meet her, she is a girl of fifteen living on an impoverished African farm with her parents; a girl of passionate vitality, avid for experience and for self-knowledge, bitterly resentful of the conventional narrowness of her home life. From this background she breaks away to take a job as a typist in the local capital, and here, in the world of the +big city,, she begins to encounter the real life she is so eager to experience and understand.
The background to Martha,s story is the Africa that was Doris Lessing,s birthplace: the tough, spacious and yet circumscribed life of the veld farms; the all-pervading, corrosive atmosphere of racial fears and antagonisms; the superficial democracy and sophistication of city life. As a picture of colonial life Martha Quest fascinates by the depth and realism of its insight; but always at its centre is the figure of Martha, a character in the grand manner, conceived in sympathetic understanding but drawn with an unerring objectivity.