During the 1970s, at the height of the feminist movement, Doris Lessing's novel The Golden Notebook became required reading for women's studies students.
But despite writing one of the great feminist bibles, Lessing, who died Sunday in London at age 94, rejected the "feminist" label for herself.
The Swedish Academy had a different view when it awarded Lessing the Nobel Prize for literature in 2007. Then 87, she was the oldest writer to win the prize.
"The burgeoning feminist movement saw (The Golden Notebook) as a pioneering work, and it belongs to the handful of books that informed the 20th-century view of the male-female relationship," the academy said.
The academy also praised Lessing's "skepticism, fire and visionary power."
That skepticism and fiery personality were on full display when reporters gathered outside the British writer's home to tell her she had won the prize worth $1.5 million. She replied, "I couldn't care less."
"I can't say I'm overwhelmed with surprise," she told reporters. "I'm 88 years old (it was a few days before her birthday) and they can't give the Nobel to someone who's dead, so I think they were probably thinking they'd probably better give it to me now before I've popped off."
In The Golden Notebook (1962), a writer named Anna Wulf keeps notebooks to record her struggles with motherhood, work, sex and politics.
But in an introduction she wrote for a 1993 reissue, Lessing claimed the novel was not a "trumpet for women's liberation."
In a 2006 interview with the Associated Press, Lessing said feminism was often an excuse for bad behavior, and said of women: "We don't seem go in very much for self-criticism."
Lessing wrote more than 55 works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. Her first novel, The Grass Is Singing (1950), looked at racism in Southern Rhodesia through the prism of a loveless marriage. In 2008, she wrote Alfred & Emily, which reimagined the lives of her British parents as if World War I had never happened.
In the 1970s, Lessing began writing science fiction, which was unpopular with some critics. After she won the Nobel, critic Harold Bloom carped: "Although Ms. Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities, I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable."
Lessing was born on Oct. 22, 1919, in Persia (now Iran) where her father was a bank manager. She moved to Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) at age 5 and lived there until she was 29.
She was married and divorced twice. After her first divorce, she became involved with a group of literary communists and socialists headed by Gottfried Lessing, her second husband and father of her third child.
But after becoming disillusioned with the communist movement, Lessing in 1949 left her husband and moved to Britain.
Lessing's early novels were critical of the treatment of black Africans by white colonials and South Africa's apartheid system, and Southern Rhodesia and South Africa barred her in 1956. Those orders were later overturned.
Charlie Redmayne, CEO of HarperCollins UK, said Lessing had a "a fierce intellect" and "was not afraid to fight for what she believed in."
In 1952, she began her autobiographical "Children of Violence" series with the publication of Martha Quest, and ending in 1969 with The Four-Gated City.
She is survived by her daughter Jean and granddaughters Anna and Susannah.
Contributing: Associated Press