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Alfred and Emily

Alfred and Emily consists of two parts: one fictional , one a memoir, both dealing with the lives of Alfred Tayler and Emily McVeagh, Doris Lessing's parents. In the first part the author gives her parents the lives they would have wanted for themselves if the First World War hadn't broken out. Alfred decides, against his family's wishes, to become a farmer while Emily becomes a nurse at the Royal Free Hospital in London instead of a doctor as her father would have like. The two protagonists meet but never marry. Alfred marries a nurse called Betsy and soon after two healthy boys are born . Alfred proves a kind father and a good farmer. Emily marries a cardiologist, a cold and distant man, but her life changes after her husband's sudden death. She establishes a charity and opens a number of schools.
In the second half of the work the reader is given Alfred and Emily's actual lives. The real Alfred and Emily are shattered by the war. The father has lost not only his leg in the trenches but also his comrades. The mother has lost her first love and her bourgeois identity. Back from Persia, where Alfred had been working for the Imperial bank , the
family visits the Imperial Exhibition in London. They are greatly impressed by the Southern Rhodesian stand. The couple leave for Rhodesia with the hope of becoming rich by growing maize. Alfred responds with great passion to Africa
but Emily, who has come to Rhodesia expecting an elegant life with "our class of people" , finds a hostile and unfamiliar country. She has to help her invalid husband choose land and build a house made of mud and thatch.
Lessing describes the Rhodesian bush ans narrates some meaningful childhood experiences. She also reports episodes referring to her conflicts with her mother, her father's death and the period she spent working as a married woman in Salisbury.
In the final part of the novel Lessing describes how her mother helped RAF Salisbury during the World War II.
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