The Golden Notebook

The Golden Notebook

by

Doris Lessing

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Nelson Character Analysis

Nelson is an outspoken American communist entertainer, blacklisted from Hollywood during McCarthyism, who moves to England and has a brief affair with Anna in the last section of the blue notebook. She meets him when, at a British Communist Party meeting, he openly criticizes the Party’s efforts to hide stories of Soviet repression from its members and the public. She finds Nelson enthralling and passionate but soon learns about his “mortal terror of sex”—he becomes hysterical before bed, goes on misogynist rants after sleeping with her, and mysteriously disappears for weeks before Anna goes to his house for a party, where he and his paranoid, beautiful wife try to hide their obvious tension by drinking excessively and laughing publicly about their hatred for one another. He later calls Anna to propose marriage, then spitefully denigrates women on the phone before hanging up and calling later to demand that she tell him he had not hurt her. Like De Silva, Nelson appears in Anna’s nightmare about “joyful spite” and represents the paradox of men unable to reconcile their desire to objectify and need for emotional support from women; he insists that Anna lie to validate his skewed image of their relationship, which demonstrates how men unable to face their own contradictions instead push those contradictions and their emotional consequences onto the women in their lives.
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Nelson Character Timeline in The Golden Notebook

The timeline below shows where the character Nelson appears in The Golden Notebook. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Notebooks: 3
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...most of the attendees have left for the meeting’s “closed” second phase. An American named Nelson gets up and accuses Harry’s mendacity of destroying the West’s communist movements. (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
Anna ends up sleeping with Nelson, but feels unable to write about it and draws another black line. Then she continues... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
That night, Nelson is nervous and talkative, and he leaves abruptly at midnight. The next morning, he is... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
After a week, Nelson becomes “driven by a shrill compulsive hysteria.” The second time they sleep together, he speaks... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Anna is “ashamed and humiliated” to see Nelson’s huge but “tasteless, anonymous” flat, full of friendly, rich, and uninteresting Americans. Nelson’s wife is... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Nelson’s wife, and everyone else, seems “in some permanent, controlled hysteria,” the same as English couples,... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Everyone else starts dancing, and Nelson decides to dance with Anna instead of his wife. As a joke, he even propositions... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
That morning, Nelson calls to tell Anna he wants to marry her, but then starts yelling at her,... (full context)
Free Women: 5
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...resolves “that the remedy for her condition was a man.” She has little interest in Nelson, although she is still devastated to leave him and cannot bring herself to seek another... (full context)