The Golden Notebook: Summary, Quotes & Characters

Instructor: Ginna Wilkerson

Virginia has a Master's degree in Curriculum and Development and a Ph.D. in English

Well-known British author Doris Lessing published her most ambitious novel, 'The Golden Notebook', in 1962. The novel chronicles the writing of Anna Wulf, a memorable fictional character, and her use of multiple notebooks to sort out her troubled mind.

Plot Summary

Understanding the structure of The Golden Notebook will help a great deal in your enjoyment of this rather complex novel. Essentially, Lessing tells the story of troubled writer Anna Wulf as a frame story, which means that the chronological plot frames other pieces of writing contained in the text. In the case of Lessing's most recognized novel, the chapters that are not the current plot line come from the notebooks kept by the protagonist. These notebooks each focus on a different aspect of Anna's life. Before the final chapter of the frame story, ''Free Women,'' Anna adds the golden notebook of the title, in which she hopes to integrate not only past events, but her current sense of mental fragmentation.

The Power of Writing
writing hand

The Notebooks

Perhaps you have kept a journal at some time, hoping to understand more about yourself and your life. Anna uses her notebooks in the same way. Anna's black notebook covers the time she spent in Africa, which was the basis of Anna's best-selling novel ten years before the current plot begins. In the yellow notebook, she keeps writing ideas for future projects. The red notebook chronicles Anna's experiences and disillusionment with the Communist Party in England.

Symbol of the Communist Party
Communist Symbol

Anna's blue notebook is her diary - the events of her life as she lives it. Both Anna and the reader, in the course of the contemporary plot line, discover how dysfunctional this separation of the self has become. This realization leads to the addition of the golden notebook.


The entire reading experience that is The Golden Notebook centers on the character Anna Wulf. The sections of the narrative not taken from her fictional notebooks can be read separately as a novel, according to the author. In these sections, the reader sees Anna as she is in 1962: a single woman getting by on diminishing royalties from her first successful novel and attempting to hold together her increasingly fragmented personality.

The other main character in the narrative is Anna's friend Molly, a long-term participant in Anna's life. Together, they tried to remain free of the ordinary domestic life for which most women of their generation were destined. Molly, a small-time actress, also deals with her ex-husband, Richard, and her unmotivated adult son, Tommy.

In the main plot sections, Tommy shoots himself in the head but survives, though now blind. The adult characters, including his father's second wife Marion, all attempt to help Tommy adjust. Sometime in this period of the plot, Anna realizes that the separate notebooks are actually preventing her from integrating the aspects of her life and her self.

Many other characters appear in and out of Anna's past in the context of the notes she makes in her notebooks. Unable to either start a new novel or make sense of her life, Anna begins the golden notebook just before the last chapter of, ''Free Women.''

Memorable Quotes

''Words. Words. I play with words, hoping that some combination, even a chance combination, will say what I want … The real experience can't be described …''

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