‘Mrs. Fortescue’ by Doris Lessing

Mrs. Fortescue by Doris Lessing, 1972

The magic trick:

Layering disturbing psychology behind disturbing actions

Welcome to Doris Lessing Week on SSMT. It’s not going to be an easy trip. She pulls no punches, and as a result, we enter some dark territory here.

Case in point: “Mrs. Fortescue,” the story of a teenaged boy using the prostitute who lives in the apartment upstairs as a means to sexual awakening.

It’s brutal and awful. What might be even more disturbing is the way the story ties in his family dynamics, particularly an envy and admiration of his older sister that borders on incest.

Harrowing stuff.

And that’s quite a trick on Lessing’s part.

The selection:

“Oh, Fred, I’m late.” This bad temper meant she had finished her face and wanted to put on her dress, which she would not do in front of him.

Silly cow, he thought, grinning and thinking of her alter ego, the girl of his nights; does she think I don’t know what she looks like in a slip, or nothing? Because of what went on behind the partition, in the dark, he banged his fist on it, laughing, and she whipped about and said: “Oh, Fred, you drive me crazy, you really do.” The being something from their brother-and-sister past, admitting intimacy, even the possibility of real equality, she checked herself, put on a sweet contained smile, and said: “If you don’t mind, Fred, I want to get dressed.”

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