The Golden Notebook

The Golden Notebook

by

Doris Lessing

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Richard Portmain Character Analysis

Richard is Molly’s ex-husband, Marion’s current husband, and Tommy’s father. He is an arrogant, impatient, power-hungry, and well-respected businessman who looks down on Anna and Molly for their left-wing political beliefs (even though he met Molly during a brief socialist phase of his own in the 1930s) and their indifference to marriage and work. He tries to control the lives of everyone in his family, especially Tommy, whom he tries to dissuade from writing and encourage to enter the business world. Richard cheats constantly and openly on Marion with a series of seemingly interchangeable younger mistresses who are often one his secretaries—he even tries to sleep with Anna and, after she refuses, becomes even more furious and aggressive toward her whenever she dismisses his attempts to control his family. At the end of Free Women, he amicably divorces Marion and moves his new mistress into his house. He scarcely appears in the notebooks, but when he does, he appears to have three daughters rather than three sons, as in Free Women. He represents not only the prototypical bumbling, cheating husband but also the classic conservative businessman, who feeds the cycle of accelerating social inequality under capitalism by prioritizing profit above people, happiness, and character.

Richard Portmain Quotes in The Golden Notebook

The The Golden Notebook quotes below are all either spoken by Richard Portmain or refer to Richard Portmain. 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.
Free Women: 2 Quotes

“It seems to me like this. It’s not a terrible thing — I mean, it may be terrible, but it’s not damaging, it’s not poisoning, to do without something one wants. It’s not bad to say: My work is not what I really want, I’m capable of doing something bigger. Or I’m a person who needs love, and I’m doing without it. What’s terrible is to pretend that the second-rate is first-rate. To pretend that you don’t need love when you do; or you like your work when you know quite well you’re capable of better. It would be very bad if I said, out of guilt or something: I loved Janet’s father, when I know quite well I didn’t. Or for your mother to say: I loved Richard. Or I’m doing work I love …”

Related Characters: Anna Wulf (speaker), Molly Jacobs, Tommy, Richard Portmain, Willi Rodde , Max Wulf
Page Number: 256
Explanation and Analysis:
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Richard Portmain Character Timeline in The Golden Notebook

The timeline below shows where the character Richard Portmain appears in The Golden Notebook. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Free Women: 1
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...in the London flat,” and Anna tells Molly that “everything’s cracking up.” Molly reports that Richard is about to visit, probably to chat about “another crisis with Marion.” In the past,... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...for beer, in fact, and Molly wants to know the whole story, and especially whether Richard had been coming over, too. (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Both the children of 1920s intellectuals, Richard and Molly had been married for a few months, years ago, and had one son,... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Richard comes to the door; Molly tosses down the key and he comes in, overdressed in... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Molly and Richard still argue about Tommy—especially after she left him at home for a year while she... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Anna did get Molly and Richard to agree that he should give Tommy a job in “one of your things,” but... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Richard calls Anna and Molly “extraordinarily naïve” and they joke about his business—Anna has learned he... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Molly asks about Marion—Anna reveals that Marion, too, had visited her, but Richard has nothing to say. Anna and Molly lament how Richard “makes [Marion] feel stupid,” and... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Anna reveals that Richard visited to ask whether he should “send Marion away to some home or something,” because... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Returning to their original topic of conversation, Richard suggests that Tommy stay with him and Marion, and then Tommy walks in, takes some... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
...are not defined by what they do; they are “several things,” and flexible people, whereas Richard could “never be different.” They are all unhappy, but Anna and Molly are “much happier... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...insists he would “like to go on doing nothing for a month or two,” and Richard leaves, promising to “drop in one of these days.” Tommy returns to his room, leaving... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
...the last year, which Anna admits was full of “complicated living,” including a near-affair with Richard—he brought her to a tedious, terrifying dinner with other businesspeople and their “popsies.” Afterward, she... (full context)
The Notebooks: 1
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
...argues with Molly, which has been happening frequently since his first visit to his father, Richard, after which he accused her of “being a communist and ‘bohemian.’” A few weeks later,... (full context)
Free Women: 2
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...Anna call Tommy in an hour and hopefully learn what happened during his visit to Richard’s office that afternoon. A few minutes later, Molly calls again—Marion, drunk, has called and said... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
...lets out a “harsh, uncontrolled, and malicious” giggle when she asks about his visit to Richard. He turned down his father’s offer to oversee workers during construction projects in Ghana or... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Tommy is surprised to see Richard as more than “ordinary and second-rate” at work—Tommy can be a successful tycoon himself, too,... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
...Anna being fortunate to be so free and asks for a drink. Marion asks about Richard; Anna realizes Marion is jealous of her and insists that Richard had been lying about... (full context)
Free Women: 3
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
...When he awakens, he realizes he is blind and goes silent after Molly confirms it—afterward, Richard scolds her for telling Tommy the truth. She suggests that Tommy had been awake the... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...Marion has started visiting Tommy every day, for hours. She has also stopped drinking, and Richard is incredibly angry. Anna goes to visit him one day at the office—she is glad... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Richard complains that Marion is spending too much time with Tommy, talking about politics, and not... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Richard is considering divorcing Marion and sending her “off on some holiday” with Tommy, while he... (full context)
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Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Richard complains about Marion “outwitt[ing]” him and “cheat[ing him] out of a normal life.” Anna assures... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
...she wonders about “all these people, caught by the terrible pressure of the city—all except Richard and people like him.” She forces herself through the ticket line and onto the train,... (full context)
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
...that could mean—perhaps it means the “whole area of tension” with men like Michael and Richard.  Ivor’s friend Ronnie has “moved into Ivor’s room and to his bed,” and Anna does... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
...normally is braver than giving up alcohol altogether—and Anna mentions that she has just seen Richard as Ivor finishes his story for Janet upstairs. Marion looks like “an abundant, happy, lively... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
...family with her interest in politics, she feels like “a new person.” Marion asks whether Richard is serious about the divorce—he is, Anna explains—and they agree that his secretary looks just... (full context)
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Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...girl” that Marion has became, asks what Tommy thinks; he has told Marion to “make [Richard] face up to his responsibilities,” she reports, by simply ignoring him and focusing on “bigger... (full context)
Free Women: 4
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
...Ronnie has seemingly moved back into the flat without permission, Anna waits for Molly and Richard to come over. They are coming to discuss Marion, who has already begun renting Molly’s... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
...to his blindness. Marion attacked the policeman, “shrieking hysterically,” and ended up in the papers. Richard called Anna to accuse everyone of orchestrating the scandal to take him down—she hung up... (full context)
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
Marion declares that she hates and could not return to Richard, and then fills a glass of whiskey and said she hopes to stay with Tommy,... (full context)
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
...and affirms that he is good for her, but reminds him that her divorce from Richard will be difficult, and also not “to be so hard on us.” Tommy jokes that... (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
When Molly and Richard finally come to Anna’s flat, they are not arguing but “almost like friends.” Anna tells... (full context)
Free Women: 5
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Fact, Fiction, and Authorship Theme Icon
...in Sicily, Molly is alone in her house, too, and has started taking care of Richard’s sons, while Richard does business in Canada with his secretary. (full context)
Fragmentation, Breakdown, and Unity Theme Icon
Gender, Labor, and Power Theme Icon
Love and Sex Theme Icon
Communism and Disillusionment Theme Icon
Action, Freedom, and Moral Courage Theme Icon
...wealthy philanthropist with a house in the country. Tommy is “all set to follow in Richard’s footsteps,” although he seems to believe business can change the world, and Richard seems happy... (full context)