The Golden Notebook

The Golden Notebook Summary and Analysis of The Notebooks, Part 3


The black notebook resumes with two headings, "Source" and "Money." In the "Money" column, there are a series of letters exchanged between Anna and a man named Reginald Tarbrucke, who contacts her about adapting her novel, Frontiers of War, for television. Anna is initially hesitant to meet with him, but she eventually agrees. The two of them meet for lunch and Reginald eventually explains his vision for the adaptation: he wants to set the adaptation in England and have the conflict in the romantic relationship revolve around class, rather than race. Frustrated, Anna sarcastically suggests adapting the novel as a comedy, leaving Reginald confused and startled. After they part ways, Anna resolves not to accept any more conversations about adaptations. However, a short time later, she meets with an American woman named Edwina Wright who wants to discuss adapting the novel, and Anna meets with her. Anna likes Edwina, although she is not receptive to the suggestion of adapting her novel as a musical. The relationship between the two women changes abruptly as soon as Anna admits that she is a Communist; the two part on uneasy terms.

The narrative picks up the red notebook in 1954, with Molly and Anna discussing the possibility of leaving the Communist Party. When Anna explains these ideas to Michael, he challenges the moral assumptions she is making. That night, Anna has a dream in which she sees a map of the world, with colors spreading out to signify the various political affiliations of different countries. She wakes up moved by the force of her love of Michael, and the surprising realization that she is happy with her life. The narrative then backtracks to an account of a Communist meeting in 1952, where Anna shares a story she has recently received from a fellow party member. The story describes a man named Comrade Ted who has been chosen to go to Russia as part of a delegation. He describes in proud and emotional terms the impact of meeting with Stalin. After she finishes reading the story, the members at the meeting laugh at its idealism and naivety.

The yellow notebook resumes with The Shadow of The Third. Ella's editor has suggested that she go to Paris, and Ella reluctantly agrees since she has been feeling depressed following the end of her relationship with Paul, more than a year ago. However, she finds herself unable to enjoy the experience of being in Paris alone, so she abruptly decides to cut her trip short and return to London. The flight is delayed due to mechanical difficulties; as she waits, she notices an American man waiting for the same flight. When they board the plane, it seems unclear whether the problem has been resolved, and Ella finds herself reflecting on the possibility of crashing, realizing she does not care if she dies. When they land, the American man, Cy Maitland, asks her to meet him for dinner the next night, and she agrees. When Cy and Ella meet up, she learns that he is a wealthy brain surgeon who is married, with children. Nonetheless, the two of them sleep together, and Cy is impressed by her independence and unabashed sexuality. The two continue to see each over the course of Cy's visit; when he leaves, Ella tells Julia that she is still not over Paul.

The blue notebook resumes in 1954. Michael expresses that he thinks his relationship with Anna is coming to end, suggesting she does not have an accurate perspective on the world around her. She responds by deciding to write down every detail of everything that happens for one day. September 16, 1954 is the day Anna documents, describing her spending the morning splitting her attention between Michael and Janet, planning for that evening's dinner with Michael, spending the day at the office of the Communist Party where she works unpaid, hurrying home to care for Janet, and preparing dinner for Michael, only to have him not show up. After writing this long and detailed entry, Anna crosses it out and replaces it with a much shorter entry, summarizing tersely that she has decided to leave the Party realized that Michael has resolved to end their relationship.


This section of the notebooks highlights Anna's difficulty in taking assertive action and being clearly understood. These actions crop up in her career, her relationship to Michael, and her membership in the Communist Party. The latter two are particularly intertwined, with this section making it clear that Anna's involvement with the Communist Party and her relationship with Michael collapse at almost the same moment. Despite Anna's intense feelings for him, readers learn relatively little about Michael, who seems to be a cold and often condescending presence in Anna's life. His abrupt failure to show up for a dinner that Anna has painstakingly prepared while also working and caring for her child suggests that he fails to value her attempts to care for him and create a life for the two of them. Likewise, the Party seems to be becoming an increasingly cold and cynical institution that mocks those who truly feel an emotional connection to the beliefs they are trying to spread.

This section of the yellow notebook seems to offer a window into what life will look like for Anna after her separation from Michael since it focuses on an episode after Paul and Ella have separated. Ella seems to also be playing the role of a contemporary free woman, focusing on her career while traveling and taking lovers as she pleases. However, Ella struggles to actually enjoy any of these experiences, and her experience on the plane ride home reveals that she is so numb that she no longer cares whether she lives or dies. This inability to feel is mirrored in her sexual relationship with Cy Maitland: he's a much more traditional and conservative figure who seems astonished by the prospect of a woman whom he could meet on terms of sexual and intellectual equality. Their affair brings him a great deal of pleasure, but it offers Ella virtually none. While a man like Cy can have the comfort and stability of domestic life and the pleasures of sexual dalliance, Ella does not seem to be able to access these benefits.

The notebooks also offer a window into Anna's struggle with the reception of her novel. While Frontiers of War sells well and brings her a solid income, Anna finds herself compelled to investigate options for selling its adaptation. Artistically, she is not inclined to do so, but she finds the prospect of money attractive. While Anna might criticize capitalist systems, she is also unable to exist outside of them, and the headings of the black notebook indicate that she sees her writing as deeply connected to exchange and profit. However, she is unwilling to sell out and see her fiction misrepresented. The conversations she has about adaptations highlight the extent to which others are uncomfortable with the political and social critiques Anna embeds in her fiction. They would like to treat the novel as a love story, which is frustrating for Anna, who can see that the plots are interconnected. While she compartmentalizes her life in different notebooks, she views her novel as a place where she explored ideas holistically.

Anna's struggle with writing and saying what she means is foregrounded in her attempt in the blue notebook to document a day in exact detail. This exercise highlights the way in which Anna is not living a truly honest and authentic life: she doesn't want to admit to some things, and she would rather use her writing to reinvent and redefine reality. Some of her misgivings stem from shyness and a concern about what is worth including, such as her hesitation about writing about having her period. To write frankly about her body still feels like a radical act to Anna, one she is tempted to omit. In the end, the honesty of the whole exercise proves to be too much, and Anna literally edits her experience, replacing one story with another one so that she can feel in control of what she is experiencing.