The Golden Notebook

The Golden Notebook

by

Doris Lessing

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Ella Character Analysis

Ella is Anna’s alter ego and the protagonist of her novel in the yellow notebook, The Shadow of the Third. Like Anna, Ella is single and dissatisfied, with a child from a previous, short-lived, and ill-conceived marriage. Also like Anna, Ella is a novelist (her first book is about a man who commits suicide) and spends her days answering letters at the magazine Women at Home (like Anna at the Communist Party). Furthermore, her affair with the psychiatrist Paul Tanner reflects Anna’s long and intimate affair with Michael; both women later have a series of affairs with juvenile, emotionally distant married men. By projecting her own personality and frustrations onto Ella, Anna is able to process her mistreatment by men and frustrations with her creative and romantic failures. However, after Ella meets her father in the third section of the yellow notebook and Anna begins her relationship with Saul Green in the blue notebook, Anna abandons the story and instead begins writing Free Women, the novel’s frame story, replacing Ella with a different fictionalized version of herself. The fact that she uses her own name and finishes Free Women suggests that Anna’s relationship with Saul, while short-lived, allows her to develop a coherent sense of her identity and overcome her writer’s block.

Ella Quotes in The Golden Notebook

The The Golden Notebook quotes below are all either spoken by Ella or refer to Ella. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Simon and Schuster edition of The Golden Notebook published in 1962.
The Notebooks: 1 Quotes

“How can you separate love-making off from everything else? It doesn't make sense.”

Related Characters: Ella (speaker), Anna Wulf, Michael, George, Paul Tanner
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:

What Ella lost during those five years was the power to create through naivety.

Related Characters: Anna Wulf (speaker), Mrs Marks / Mother Sugar, Michael, Ella, Paul Tanner
Page Number: 201
Explanation and Analysis:

Literature is analysis after the event.

Related Characters: Anna Wulf (speaker), Ella
Page Number: 216
Explanation and Analysis:
The Notebooks: 2 Quotes

What is terrible is that after every one of the phases of my life is finished, I am left with no more than some banal commonplace that everyone knows: in this case, that women’s emotions are all still fitted for a kind of society that no longer exists. My deep emotions, my real ones, are to do with my relationship with a man. One man. But I don’t live that kind of life, and I know few women who do. So what I feel is irrelevant and silly … I am always coming to the conclusion that my real emotions are foolish, I am always having, as it were, to cancel myself out. I ought to be like a man, caring more for my work than for people; I ought to put my work first, and take men as they come, or find an ordinary comfortable man for bread and butter reasons — but I won’t do it, I can’t be like that …

Related Characters: Ella (speaker), Anna Wulf, Paul Tanner
Page Number: 300
Explanation and Analysis:

(At this point, Ella detached herself from Ella, and stood to one side, watching and marvelling.)

Related Characters: Anna Wulf (speaker), Ella, Cy Maitland
Page Number: 309
Explanation and Analysis:
The Notebooks: 3 Quotes

From this point of the novel “the third,” previously Paul’s wife; then Ella’s younger alter ego formed from fantasies about Paul’s wife; then the memory of Paul; becomes Ella herself. As Ella cracks and disintegrates, she holds fast to the idea of Ella whole, healthy and happy. The link between the various “thirds” must be made very clear: the link is normality, but more than that — conventionality, attitudes or emotions proper to the “respectable” life which in fact Ella refuses to have anything to do with.

Related Characters: Anna Wulf (speaker), Michael, Ella, Paul Tanner
Page Number: 429-30
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Golden Notebook LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Golden Notebook PDF

Ella Character Timeline in The Golden Notebook

The timeline below shows where the character Ella appears in The Golden Notebook. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Notebooks: 1
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...Third and is a manuscript for a new novel) begins with Julia calling upstairs to Ella, who is putting her four-year-old son, Michael, to sleep and has decided not to go... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Julia mentions that Ella wants to remarry and should go to the party—they are both “very normal” but lack... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Ella reads Julia one of her letters, which was addressed to the medical advice column but... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
The novel is hard not because of the writing but because of Ella’s shame at it—she knows Julia would respond badly, with some “judgment from the current communist... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Ella hates London’s “weight of ugliness” and decides to walk the last mile to the house,... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Mrs West brings Ella to the living-room, where Ella chats with the “editress,” Mrs Patricia Brent, about her letters... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Ella looks around, noticing the unusually large living-room and hideous blocks of color on the walls.... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Compared to Dr West, Paul Tanner is far more understanding about Ella’s frustrating work—she shows him a letter and explains that there is nothing to be done... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
After just an hour, with Paul Tanner claimed by Patricia and another captivated woman, Ella decides to go home. She flashes him a smile and leaves, but he chases her... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Julia invites Ella into her bedroom—the party was boring, Ella says, but a man whom she does not... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
The next day, Ella thinks about Paul Tanner’s voice while making lunch for her son, whom Julia has brought... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Paul Tanner notes Ella’s pleasure and she mentions how ugly she considers the city’s buildings, how unfair it is... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Ella hopes they might “get away from the villages,” and Paul Tanner is “frankly startled” (which... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
They lie on a rug in the field—Ella worries that Paul Tanner is already trying to sleep with her, but later he insists... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
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When he drops Ella off at home, Paul Tanner asks if she might see a film with him, for... (full context)
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Seemingly having forgotten “the episode in the field,” Ella brings Paul Tanner home, and they make love again. This is “the deepest experience Ella... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
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That next night, Paul Tanner is so sweet that Ella is “restored to happiness.” However, he then says that he has to spend the following... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
At work, Ella pays special attention to Patricia after offending her with a temperamental comment. Patricia’s husband left... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...Paul Tanner remarks that, “if you love a woman sleeping with another woman means nothing.” Ella does not fully process this comment until the following morning—it means that Paul has also... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Ella and Paul Tanner begin spending every night together—he thinks nothing of his wife, and Ella... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...is reading rather than writing it; she now sees naivety as the central theme in Ella’s relationship with Paul Tanner. Naivety is what Anna sees in her own relationship with Michael—but... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
The notebook returns to Ella and Paul Tanner: namely, “the end of the affair.” The first, crucial sign is his... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Ella’s novel gets published, and Paul Tanner “reacts with elaborate sarcasm.” He says that “the real... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
...relationship with Michael—it was “like a curving line on a graph.” Anna explains that, in Ella’s first months with Paul Tanner, because of their love and his need for her, she... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Around the same time, Paul Tanner tells Ella about a lecture at the hospital, during which a male professor insists that female swans... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Paul Tanner and Ella eat dinner, and he remarks that that he has not “succeeded in changing you in... (full context)
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Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
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Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
One day, Ella comes over while Paul Tanner’s family is away. She clearly sees that “this was his... (full context)
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Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Ella proposes what Paul Tanner’s miserable wife might write to her own advice column; he admits... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Then Paul Tanner suddenly goes to Nigeria—Ella is supposed to follow him in a few weeks, but the “painful grimace of his... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Ella feels a deep sense of depression and rejection, which she imagines Paul Tanner’s wife must... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Then Ella hears that Paul Tanner is back in London for two weeks. As though against her... (full context)
The Notebooks: 2
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
...novel The Shadow of the Third resumes in the yellow notebook. Patricia Brent recommends that Ella go to Paris for a week—she needs to free herself from Paul Tanner, who left... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
The next day, Ella visits the office of Monsieur Brun at Femme et Foyer. He is polite, if disinterested... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Robert Brun is frustrated but gives up on trying to change Ella’s mind when he sees a woman who looks much like her approaching. To Ella’s surprise,... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Ella decides to fly back at once and try and cure her heartbreak by writing another... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
An American man reading medical magazines nearby jokes with Ella about the plane, which they eventually board again, all ignoring the fact that the mechanics... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Ella shares a taxi with the American, who invites her to dinner. She visits her son... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
It is Ella’s turn to talk about herself, but she feels that she “could not be described by... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
At the hotel, Cy makes his twenty calls and shows Ella a picture of his beautiful wife and five boys, about whom he is exuberant. She... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Ella understands that “she would never come with this man” and realizes that her sexual integrity... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Ella leaves, and the next evening they eat at the same restaurant, where Cy talks about... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
After sex, they discuss Cy’s specialty, leucotomies. Ella disapproves and mentions that she “once had an affair with a psychiatrist” who was averse... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
At home, Ella tells Julia that Cy was “very nice” and she will be “extremely depressed in the... (full context)
The Notebooks: 3
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...“The third” in the novel’s title used to be Paul Tanner’s wife, then it was Ella’s alter ego based on “fantasies about Paul’s wife,” then her memory of him, and now... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Ella moves out of Julia’s flat, creating animosity between them. Ella realizes that Julia used to... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Ella feels “more alone than she ever has been,” as her closest friendship has fallen into... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Ella talks with Julia at a mutual friend’s house, and “their relations are chilly” until she... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Ella gets four phone calls from men at work in the next few weeks and tells... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Ella and one of the magazine’s subeditors, Jack, are coming up with articles about women’s emotional... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Ella sleeps with Jack, who is “the efficient type of lover.” She feels tearful and blames... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
At lunch the next day, Ella nevertheless tells Julia about her experience and decision to stop having sex. She worries that... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Ella starts going to parties again, and she meets a Canadian script-writer whose wife is “professionally... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Ella finds Julia “sardonic rather than bitter.” Julia explains that the impotent actor has made another... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
For some time, Ella “becomes completely sexless” and no longer feels any desire, but understands that this is “the... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Anna, who insists that she is Anna, declares that she is also Ella, but sometimes not Ella—she does not understand how “Ella separates herself from me and becomes... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Ella thinks of a story: a woman gives up her whole life, emotional and professional, for... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Ella thinks of another story that features a woman “over-ready for serious love,” and a man... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Ella visits her father, who is as solitary and unchanging as always. Ella wonders what her... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Ella’s father says that Ella was justification enough of his marriage. Family seems “pretty unreal” to... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Alone, Ella remembers her mother running when her father kissed her; he spent his days alone with... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Ella’s father thinks that Ella is especially wrong to demand happiness from life (he says it... (full context)
The Golden Notebook
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
The projectionist runs through various films: Mashopi, then Paul Tanner and Ella, then Michael and Anna, Ella and Julia, Anna and Molly. He laughs when it says,... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Anna wonders what it would take to fit Ella into this story; Ella would be more defensive now, and with Saul, she would be... (full context)