This essay argues for a fuller recognition of the key transitional status of The Four-Gated City (1969) in Doris Lessing’s career. As an attempt to recalibrate the basic coordinates of the realist inheritance, the novel develops a strongly spatial narrative mode that coincides with a desire to write a utopian collective. This is confirmed both by previously unstudied draft material for Briefing for a Descent into Hell (1971) and the published texts that followed. However, in The Four-Gated City this attempt to break from the destructive globalization of the postwar era becomes deeply problematic through its handling of history and time. Examining this struggle in Lessing’s writing can shed light on how the interplay of space and time informs the intertwined histories of realism and modernism in twentieth-century fiction, and on how Lessing’s work contributes to current debates about possible futures for the novel.

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