2 minute read

Rosamond Lehmann (Rosamond Nina Lehmann) Biography

(1901–90), (Rosamond Nina Lehmann), Dusty Answer, A Note in Music, Invitation to a Waltz

British novelist, born in Buckinghamshire, educated at Girton College, Cambridge; she married her first husband, Leslie Runcimann, in 1924. Her first novel, Dusty Answer (1927), a frank account of a young woman's first emotional involvement, brought her instant success, tinged with scandal; A Note in Music (1930) was less enthusiastically received. Invitation to a Waltz (1932) and its sequel The Weather in the Streets (1936) centre on the figure of Olivia—with whom Lehmann, in later life, explicitly identified herself. An ingenuous adolescent in the first book, in the second she painfully acquires maturity after an adulterous love affair, the collapse of her marriage, and a traumatic backstreet abortion. The novel was far ahead of its time in its honest, unsentimental treatment of the truths of women's lives. Lehmann continued to explore feminine experience in her only collection of short fiction The Gipsy's Baby (1946), and the novel The Ballad and the Source (1944), which introduces the enigmatic and compelling figure of Mrs Jardine. An innovative reworking of the myth of Demeter and Persephone forms the structural core of the novel: Lehmann herself ascribed her use of myth to the writer's connection to the collective unconscious and its symbols as theorized by Jung, in whose works she later developed an interest. Lehmann's second marriage to the Communist peer Wogan Phillips had dissolved in 1940, and she had started a long, happy relationship with Cecil Day Lewis; her own favourite work, The Echoing Grove (1953), was written in the aftermath of the end of this relationship. The novel concerns the love of two sisters for the same man, to whom one of them is married, and brilliantly displays Lehmann's imaginative transformation of personal pain. The death of her daughter Sally in 1958 led to a long silence broken by the publication of The Swan in the Evening (1967), fragments of autobiography which revealed her growing preoccupation with spiritualism and psychic phenomena. A Sea-Grape Tree (1967), which reintroduces the figure of Mrs Jardine, is also permeated with insights into the occult. Neither of these works were received with the enthusiasm of her earlier novels which had long been out of print, as the fashion for social realism, political comment, or avant-garde experimentalism had placed her incandescent explorations of sensibility at the margins. The republication of her major works by Virago Press once again brought her renown. A new generation of critics and readers finally recognized Lehmann's contribution to literature and hailed her as one of the century's foremost English novelists. In her long life she received many honours: she was a Vice-President of International PEN, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and in 1982 was made a Commander of the British Empire.

Additional topics

Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Mary Lavin Biography to Light Shining in Buckinghamshire