The 88-year-old is the 11th woman to win the prize in its 106-year history. Her best known works include The Golden Notebook and The Good Terrorist. “Thank you does not seem enough when you’ve won the best of them all. It is astonishing and amazing,” she said. Ill health prevented her from attending the Nobel prize ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden, last year. Instead the Swedish Ambassador to London Staffan Carlsson presented the award. He told her she was being “crowned with a prize you have long deserved”.
The ceremony was held at the Wallace Collection in central London. Actors Alan Rickman and Juliet Stevenson read excerpts from her new book, Alfred and Emily, which will be published in May. The author wore a red velvet outfit and had to be helped to the stage to give her acceptance speech. “I would like to say that there isn’t anywhere to go from here,” she said. But later she joked: “I could get a pat on the head from the Pope.” Lessing was less sure that her father would be impressed. She said she could hear his voice saying: “You’re getting above yourself my girl and I don’t like it.”
Lessing was born in what is now Iran and moved to Rhodesia – now Zimbabwe – as a child before settling in England in 1949. Her debut novel The Grass is Singing was published the following year. Altogether she has written more than 50 novels, plays, memoirs and collections of short stories. The Golden Notebook is considered by many to be a feminist classic, though Lessing has distanced herself from the movement. Her Nobel prize was announced in October 2007. In addition to the gold medal, she was given 10m kronor (£763,000) and an invitation to give a lecture at the Swedish Academy’s headquarters in Stockholm. When told she had won, Lessing recalled that, in the 1960s, she had been informed that the Academy’s judges did not like her and she would never win the prize. “They were probably thinking they had better give it to me now before I popped off,” she said. As she was not able to attend the prize ceremony, her lecture – titled On Not Winning the Nobel Prize – was delivered by her publisher, Nicholas Pearson. She implored society to remember the value of books despite distractions like the internet.