Books: Tea & Tedium

CHILDREN OF VIOLENCE: MARTHA QUEST AND A PROPER MARRIAGE by Doris Lessing. 605 pages. Simon & Schuster. $7.50.

We are all prisoners of our mechanisms, of the harsh or easy tyrannies of our bodies and of society. Possession of intelligence does not change this galling truth; it merely makes us aware of it. The rebellious spirit is jerked short by the end of the chain.

This is the theme that slowly surfaces in these first two novels of what Doris Lessing plans as a five-novel-cycle. The heroine is a girl of middle-class English parents who was born and grows up in a...