Following the success of Simon and Harriet‘s Muriel Spark Reading Week in April and the anouncement of a Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week to be hosted by Annabel/Gaskella in June, I thought I’d add another log to the fire and hold a Rosamond Lehmann Reading Week this summer.
I first discovered Rosamond Lehmann (1901-1990) six years ago, when I was looking for something new to read and picked up Dusty Answer. Quite unexpectedly – for my reading tastes at the time favoured the Victorian – I was engrossed. I had never thought a twentieth-century writer could be so intensely readable. The discovery re-shaped the entire course of my studies, for my Masters dissertations, and now my P.h.D., have been devoted to Lehmann’s work.
I have naturally been keen to share my enthusiasm. But to my disapppointment, even in academic circles, there are few who have heard her name, let alone read her books. Yet this has not always been the case. Her first novel was a succès de scandale and made her famous practically overnight, and each of her subsequent books was greeted with warm praise both in her native UK and in the States, but also in France, where the first translation of her work appeared as early as 1929.
Identified by her contemporaries as a member of the Bloomsbury Group, Rosamond Lehmann herself felt a bit of an outsider. She certainly wasn’t as obsessed with Cézanne as Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, as eager as Virginia Woolf to deconstruct the workings of the Victorian plot, or even as keen on raucous drinking parties as the rest of the set, including her own husband. But her personal life was as unconventional, her work as experimental and innovative, as any of the better-known Bloomsberries.
She is remembered best for her empathetic portrayal of women in love, but to reduce her to that is to overlook the many other wonderful aspects of her writing. She skillfully captures the pain and confusion of growing up in the wake of the Great War, and is an unparalleled chronicler of the changes affecting women’s lives between the wars, dealing with such delicate topics as education, divorce, and illegal abortion. She also paints a vivid portrait of the bohemian and artistic circles she moved in, and when Mayfair meets Bloomsbury, the situation is rife with social comedy. Lehmann’s constant experiments in style and technique make each book different from the last, but each reveals great dramatic power and lyricism, and is a unique and fascinating experience.
Rosamond Lehmann Reading List:
Dusty Answer (1927)
A Note in Music (1930)
Invitation to the Waltz (1932)
The Weather in the Streets (1936)
The Ballad and the Source (1944)
The Gypsy’s Baby and Other Stories (1946)
The Echoing Grove (1953)
The Swan in the Evening: Fragments of an Inner Life (1967)
A Sea-Grape Tree (1976)
Rosamond Lehmann: A Life, by Selina Hastings (2002)
Any and all are welcome to participate in Rosamond Lehmann Reading Week. Those who have a blog and wish to post reviews or discussions, be sure to add your name to the comments box so that I will be able to link back to you when the time comes.
And happy reading to you all!
© Florence Berlioz 2012