The Golden Notebook

The Golden Notebook Summary and Analysis of The Notebooks, Part 2


The red notebook contains Anna's musings about her participation in the British Communist Party. The dates begin in 1950, suggesting that these entries were written after Anna returned from Africa and before she published her novel. Both she and Molly experience doubts and misgivings, but they continue to work diligently in service of the political goals of the Party. Anna mentions repeatedly that she intends to leave the Party, but she never actually does. She also mentions Michael a few times, suggesting that this is the period where the two of them were romantically involved.

We then move to the yellow notebook, which contains what appears to be a novel entitled The Shadow of the Third. The novel focuses on a woman named Ella, a divorcee with a young son named Michael. Ella is living with her close friend Julia; she works at a woman's magazine, but she also aspires to write a novel. One evening, Ella reluctantly agrees to go to a party, where she meets a psychiatrist named Paul Tanner. The two of them meet up again the next day and begin an affair, even though Ella knows that Paul is married and has had children. Ella and Paul's relationship lasts for the next five years, gradually becoming tainted by Ella's jealousy towards Paul's wife and Paul's lack of support for Ella's novel. Paul eventually moves to Africa and the relationship ends, leaving Ella devastated.

The blue notebook seems to exist as a kind of diary. Anna describes watching Molly and Richard quarrel about their son, and she notices how it reminds her of her own relationship with her ex-husband, Max. She mentions that the figure of Willi from the black notebook refers to Max. She and Max had a three-year relationship and then decided to have a child, at which time they got married. A year after their daughter, Janet, was born, they separated. Anna describes the episode, in 1946, when she and Max, who are already struggling with unhappiness in their relationship, decide to have a child; they conceive Janet in a hotel room in Africa.

The notebook then presents a series of entries from the years 1950-1954, in which Anna talks about her experience undergoing psychoanalysis with Mrs. Marks. At this time period, Janet is a young child and Anna is romantically involved with Michael. Her experience with psychoanalysis leads her to grapple with fears of intimacy, vulnerability, and fragility. There are also a series of entries noting geopolitical events, with an emphasis on death and destruction.


The black notebook seems to have been a relatively straightforward narrative in which Anna describes a specific time of her life in a fairly linear way. In contrast, the other notebooks show more messy and complex realities. The red notebook shows Anna's political ambivalence: she clearly has a long history of engaging with Communism and leftist ideas, but also often finds herself unsatisfied with the reality of how the Party works. Anna is often torn between her idealism of how she would like to see the world work and her acute observation that people can be hypocritical and have mixed motivations. Anna's inability to come to a clear and definite resolution about what her relationship to the Party will be reflects her ambivalence about her romantic life and her writing. Her membership in the Party is closely aligned to her relationship with Michael: while she is intelligent and acute enough to know there are problems with both, she doesn't seem to be able to extricate herself because she has a hard time imagining what her life would look like without these anchoring realities.

The yellow notebook shows Anna using her identity as a writer to process and work through personal traumas. Readers actually learn relatively little about Anna and Michael, mostly making inferences about this relationship through the more detailed discussion of Ella and Paul. There are strong parallels between characters, with Anna aligning with Ella (note the similarities in their names), Molly aligning with Julia, Michael aligning with Paul, and Janet being transposed into the figure of Ella's young son, Michael (Anna will later reflect on her choice to give her fictionalized child the same name as her actual lover). It may also not be a coincidence that Paul shares the same name with the young man with whom Anna had a brief relationship in Africa before he is killed. However, the fictionalization of the content of the yellow notebook makes it hard for readers to know if the thoughts, feelings, and actions of Ella can actually be ascribed back to Anna herself. Even if Anna and Ella can be seen as direct extensions of one another, it is interesting that Anna cannot write openly about her own emotional experiences. She takes refuge in fiction, displacing her feelings onto a storyline.

The question of fictionalization surfaces further when Anna reveals that Willi is actually a fictionalized representation. Max, the man with whom she had actually had a relationship and brief marriage, seems to have been much like Willi, but it is interesting to wonder why Anna didn't call him by his actual name in the black notebook. She may have wanted to protect his privacy, but she may also have been protecting herself. The blue notebook seems to be the one where Anna writes most openly and directly; it is the one that most closely resembles a traditional diary or journal. Because similar storylines and figures show up repeatedly spread across different notebooks, readers have a difficult time ascertaining where Anna is being more or less honest. Her identity as a writer means that she is drawing on her experiences as fodder for her fiction, but that her fiction is also the place where she most honestly and openly works through her experiences.