Posts Tagged ‘rosamond lehmann’

Chosen by my book group at my suggestion, Dusty Answer was a re-read for me – more than ten years after I read it the first time. Rosamond Lehmann’s first novel – it is a novel of self-delusion, sexual awakening and the search for an understanding of one’s self. The rather odd title is explained by the novel’s epigraph.

“Ah, what a dusty answer gets the soul

When hot for certainties in this our life!”

(George Meredith)

That there are no certainties in life is something that we all learn sooner or later – and something that the novel’s central character Judith Earle is shown as she moves from late adolescence to young womanhood. This debut novel was published to great acclaim and some sensation in 1927, capturing the voice of an inter-war generation, albeit that of a particular class. One of the things my book group buddies and I discussed the other evening via Zoom – was how this privileged group of young people were essentially idle, they had no constraints upon their time or their movements and enjoyed the kind of freedom we don’t usually associate with the 1920s. I couldn’t help but think how different their lives and freedoms would have been had they been born into a working class environment.

Judith Earle is the only child of an elderly academic father and a socialite mother. Brought up in a large house in the Thames Valley overlooking the river, she has always been captivated and a little in love with the Fyfe cousins who appear from time to time in the house next door. They are all a little older than her – glorious enchanting creatures to her from early childhood – and they pass in and out of her life throughout her childhood and adolescence. As the novel opens Judith is eighteen, she will be going to Cambridge in the coming months, and now suddenly with the First World War at an end, the Fyfe cousins have arrived again in the house next door.

Inevitably things have changed – the war would alter that generation forever – and the Fyfe cousins are not unaffected. One of them – the most golden of all the golden boys killed in the war – but not before he married imprudently his cousin Mariella and left her with a child. Now, Julian, Martin, Roddy and Mariella are back, and Judith picks up the threads of her long held enchantment with them once more. The Fyfes are a difficult bunch for the reader – especially perhaps the modern reader – to like, but I like unlikeable characters. We wonder what they do – and what the point of any of them are. In fact, Judith herself is not wholly sympathetic, though we may recognise in her, that painful idealism that comes with youth. Judith fills her time waiting for a summons from next door – and as her relationship with the Fyfes is re-established she falls madly in love with Roddy, the most dissolute, unreliable, and feckless of them all.

“There was sadness in everything—in the room, in the ringing bird-calls from the garden, in the lit, golden lawn beyond the window, with its single miraculous cherry-tree breaking in immaculate blossom and tossing long foamy sprays against the sky. She was sad to the verge of tears, and yet the sorrow was rich—a suffocating joy.”

With her father newly dead, and her mother hotel hopping around Europe, Judith goes to Cambridge. It is a wholly new experience for her – having never gone to school but been educated at home. The depiction of a women’s college in Cambridge feeling much more like that of a boarding school – and Lehmann presents us with this new and fascinating world through the eyes of the inexperienced Judith. Here she meets Mable Fuller – a rather pathetic character – studious and unpopular she tries to persuade Judith into friendship, but Judith has already been captivated by another golden being. Despite still being firmly attached to her friends the Fyfes – longing for her infrequent meetings with them, Judith becomes fascinated by another student – Jennifer – with whom she falls in love. Probably more of an intense infatuation than a real love – but these things can feel pretty similar when you’re young – and Judith often seems a little younger than her years. Jennifer is beautiful and charismatic, hugely popular – her room is generally a mass of young eager bodies stretched out on the floor around her, talking earnestly and worshipfully.

One of the things Lehmann uses beautifully in this narrative is memory, throughout the novel Judith is held by her memories of the past. Often, the memory of things said and done with the Fyfes when she was much younger. Here though is Judith suddenly recalling Jennifer – after a period of time apart. Memory is such a powerful thing.

“And, in a flash, with the uttering of the last words, Jennifer came back, slipping the clothes down off white shoulders and breast, talking and laughing. A tide of memories; Jennifer’s head burning in the sunlight, her body stooping towards the water – the whole of those May terms of hawthorn blossom and cowslips, of days like a warm drowsy wine, days bewildered with growing up and loving Jennifer, with reading Donne and Webster and Marlowe, with dreaming of Roddy… Where had it all gone?”

With Cambridge behind her Judith returns to the family home – and the Fyfes who inevitably have re-appeared next door. She is longing for some quality time with Roddy – she is so certain of him it is almost painful to watch.

“Mamma was fast asleep at home, her spirit lapped in unconsciousness. Her dreams would not divine that her daughter had stolen out to meet a lover. And next door also they slept unawares, while one of them broke from the circle and came alone to clasp a stranger.”

The reader has little hope that either of these intense relationships will bring happiness or fulfilment to Judith – and indeed she has a lot to learn and a lot to suffer by the time the book ends. A beautiful, evocative novel of a generation that Lehmann thoroughly understood – here is a world of class privilege that can feel uncomfortable today, yet Lehmann presents it to us faithfully and as a social document of that world it is fascinating.

Rosamond Lehmann’s prose is gorgeous, many beautiful descriptions that can stop the reader in their tracks – assuming they like description. Very much enjoyed having the excuse to read this one again.

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1944 club

Karen and Simon’s 1944 club starts today – a week in which lots of you no doubt, will be reading books first published in 1944. I am afraid I have already failed this time around – I usually love to join in with these club events – but I haven’t quite got my act together this time. Unfortunately, I have already ticked off 1944 in my A Century of Books – and as I seem to be reading so slowly I was already wondering if I could squeeze in another duplicate. I had three to choose from Cluny Brown by Margery Sharp on my kindle, Liana by Martha Gelhorn a green VMC but the book which was calling to me loudest was Berlin Hotel by Vicki Baum. When I finally located my tiny little hardback in my tbr stacks, thinking it might not take long to read, I saw that the print was very tiny, and I was completely put off reading it (I may have to source another copy one day). So, I am bowing out this time, but looking forward to seeing what everyone else is reading.

However, I have read a few books published in 1944 before – and so here is a little taster of some of them.


The Bachelor by Stella Gibbons was the book I ticked off 1944 with in my A Century of Books earlier this year. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Set during the war, the Bachelor of the title – Kenneth Fielding, and his sister Constance own Sunglades; a large seven-bedroom house not far from London, though far enough to protect them from the worst of the bombing. An elderly cousin lives with them, and in the coming months they are obliged to take in various other house guests. One of these is Vartouhi Annamatta, a refugee from the fictional country of Bairamia, who comes to Sunglades as a kind of ‘mother’s help’. After her arrival, nothing is quite the same again.

Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham re-issued by Persephone books is a wonderfully poignant love story. Gwethalyn Graham explores the divisions and deeply entrenched prejudices which existed in Canadian society, through the story of Erica Drake and Marc Reiser who meet and fall in love. Set in Montreal during World War Two – Graham shows us its very divided society.

Love on the Supertax by Marghanita Laski. This is a novel that Persephone books have (so far at least) decided not to publish, and while I enjoyed it, I can understand why they haven’t. Described as a comic novel, I saw it more as a satire. I thought there was a lot in the novel that is in fact quite clever, savagely witty. There were moments when it felt a little Mitfordesque. Characters and the society in which they live, examined with Laski’s critically observing eye. I can’t help but wonder whether some modern readers would entirely ‘get it.’ Although, since reading this I have read Tory Heaven (1948) and really this could be a kind of companion piece to it. Laski’s use of language is brilliant. In this novel the impoverished, struggling aristocracy are to be pitied and the valiant working classes are intelligent and worldly with plenty of opportunities.

Our Hearts were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner. I have two more books by Cornelia Otis Skinner tbr and I really must get around to them, because this little volume was an absolute joy. Cornelia Otis Skinner, an American actress, writer and screenwriter co-wrote Our Hearts were Young and Gay with her good friend Emily Kimbrough, a memoir about their travels in Europe in the 1920’s. It is difficult to see where Kimbrough’s collaboration is exactly as the book is written in Skinner’s first-person narrative. None of that seems important however as the book is full of charm and humour, and both women come across quite hilariously full of adorably lovable quirks and eccentricities.

The Ballad and the Source by Rosamond Lehmann – A complex novel, but one that is beautifully written. I read it quite a long time ago, and my review is so short as to be practically non-existent. The story of Sibyl Jardine is told mainly in three long conversations, between Rebecca – who is ten at the start of the novel, and Tilly a sewing maid, Sibyl herself and later Maisie, Sibyl’s granddaughter. Sibyl; both saint and sinner is a fascinating figure, and one Lehmann was to revisit in her novel The Sea Grape Tree.

If you’re are still looking for inspiration for what to read this week – then here are a few more titles I have read before.

No More than Human by Maura Laverty
Yeoman’s Hospital by Helen Ashton
The Headmistress by Angela Thirkell
Death Comes toward the End and Towards Zero by Agatha Christie (two I read pre-blog and have no memory of at all).

So, are you joining in with the 1944 club? Tell me what will you be reading?

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One of the best things about social media is how it allows us to share our enthusiasms and discover new ones.

Over on Twitter just lately I have been very much enjoying the #NeglectedLadyNovelists tweets from writer Judith Kinghorn – and the conversations resulting from them. Now I do like a good bit of Twitter banter.

I found the World cup of #NeglectedladyNovelists particularly good fun. Several rounds and a semi-final have come and gone – with Twitter folk having to vote for who they consider the most neglected of the lady novelists in each round. Now, I have always taken my democratic responsibilities very seriously – and so I naturally thought very carefully over my choices. For women writers of a certain period – whether neglected or not – are very much my thing. It was really, really hard – and sparked a bit of debate – for instance in group 1 we had Elizabeth Taylor pitted against Anita Brookner, Jean Rhys and Rosamond Lehmann, while in group 3 the choice was between Sylvia Townsend Warner, Flora Mayor, Storm Jameson and EM Delafield, to me it seemed quite impossible to choose. In each group there were at least two writers I wanted to vote for. In all seriousness I want all these writers to enjoy a resurgence in popularity, that is why I love Persephone books and the VMC publications of the 1980 and 90s so much.

I began to wonder how people were voting – surely if we were looking for those women writers who have become truly neglected then I would have expected the likes of Flora Mayor, EH Young or May Sinclair to have made it through to the final. May Sinclair made it to the semi-finals but neither of the other two did terribly well. It’s hardly surprising that people ended up voting for writers they loved most – and I was guilty of this myself. I couldn’t help but vote for Sylvia Townsend Warner and Rosamond Lehmann as I love them so much. I do, also consider them to be rather neglected, however in truth some of their novels are still in print. Virago still publish three or four Rosamond Lehmann titles – and Selina Hastings’ biography of her is also available. VMC print on demand editions of some Sylvia Townsend Warner novels are available – as well as some NYRB editions (though why they felt it necessary to change the title of Mr Fortune’s Maggot is a mystery) – so are these writers truly neglected? Knowing all this I cast my votes – perhaps wrongly. In truth it is perhaps those writers who work is only to be found on second hand book sites, and on the shelves of (very good) second hand bookshops that are truly neglected – so in some rounds I voted with my heart and not my head. I do feel a little guilty – but at least it has got us all talking about these wonderful women writers, and that can’t be a bad thing. I didn’t vote for Elizabeth Taylor despite my great love of her writing because I can’t honestly say she is as neglected as she once was – that is definitely a good thing. How many of these writers’ works can be found in high street bookshops though is another matter – easily bought from a certain online seller perhaps – but how many times do readers get a chance to idly pick up Sylvia Townsend Warner or Rosamond Lehmann in their local branch of Waterstones I wonder?

When I start thinking about the list of #Neglectedladynovelists I would compile – it begins to get very long. Two writers I have been enjoying during this past week would definitely be on the list; Pamela Frankau and Pamela Hansford Johnson, both very good writers and excellent storytellers.

Many of the other novelists considered under that hashtag however – are exceptionally good writers, women who really did have something to say – they were not merely the tellers of good stories – although they did that too. When I consider the likes of Rebecca West, Olivia Manning, Antonia White and Winifred Holtby and others I am reminded what amazing, varied lives, they all lived. They each had so much to tell us – worlds to show us, so much to say – of course I want more people to read them.

I have wondered before how it is that some writers fall out of favour – while others endure – fashion and tastes change I suppose, and new writers come along. It is sad how many wonderful writers get forgotten during that process – when it comes to books I might sometimes be swayed by a pretty new edition, but I don’t much care about fashions. It is probably unrealistic to expect lots of these writers to be re-issued in shiny new editions – the cost for a publishing company would I suspect be prohibitive.

Still no reason why we who love these #NeglectedLadyNovelists shouldn’t continue to scour the bookshelves of second hand bookshops and celebrate our finds on our favourite social media sites. That way these wonderful voices will still be heard – at least by some of us.

Should you still want to get involved in the chat – the final of the world cup of #NeglectedLadyNovelists is at the end of the week. Make sure you are following @Judithkinghorn if you don’t want to miss it.

The original list has now been whittled down to Sylvia Townsend Warner and Jean Rhys – both truly wonderful writers – but I wonder if you can guess where my vote will be going? If neither of them take your fancy (and why wouldn’t they) who would be your choice of most NeglectedLadyNovelist?

(Incidentally, Sylvia Townsend Warner will be the Libraything Virago Group’s author of the month in December – and I am going to be re-reading Lolly Willowes as I have persuaded my very small book group to read it in December.)


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I have been wanting to read A Note in Music for a very long time, and yet for some reason I only acquired a copy about a week ago. Not able to wait, I began reading it right away, and fairly flew through it. It was worth the wait.

Rosamond Lehmann is certainly one of my favourite writers (the list is pretty long I admit). I came to her in a roundabout way, I first read a biography about her by the eminent biographer Selina Hastings back in 2009. It set me on a course to read everything she had written, and now, apart from a play she wrote in the 1930s I have. A Note in Music was the last of her books I had left to read, and I am sad there are no more. I suppose I shall have to begin re-reading (there is in fact one novel I have read twice). She is a quite exceptional writer, a fascinating woman who was very much a part of the Bloomsbury group.

A Note in Music was Rosamond Lehmann’s second novel. Her first novel Dusty Answer published three years earlier was an enormous success, and A Note in Music is a worthy successor to that extraordinary debut.

This is a gloriously nuanced novel, a portrait of marriage and the disappointments of an ordinary middle-class life.

Grace Fairfax is thirty-four, childless following a still-birth some years earlier, she is married to the dull, hard-working, conventional Tom. Living in a dull northern town, her life is one of unvaried routine. However, Grace has a glorious inner life, a woman of imagination, in tune with the countryside she loves so much, she knows herself capable of great love, and still misses the southern country of her youth. A year earlier, a fortune teller had told Grace that her life lacked purpose, Grace wasn’t surprised.

“The country haunted her still, she said to herself: not a day passed without bringing some picture remembered or imagined. Dawn and sunset were not in these skies, behind the slate roofs and red brick chimneys of the residential quarter – but in her mind’s eye, over country spaces; and spring and autumn still made her sick for home. How many times had she not thought of the summer evening when a bird had sung in the poor lilac tree in the front patch?… But that would never happen again, now that the trams came to the end of the avenue.”

Norah MacKay is Grace’s best friend, she too a woman living a somewhat disappointed life. Married to bad tempered university professor; Gerald, mother to two boys, Norah once knew great passion with Jimmy – lost in the war.

“It was such a great love, she whispered to herself: how could it be (for the thousandth time) that it had not availed to save him? That was his fault…so like him…just as everything was coming right at last. In spite of her, he would not, could not care to save himself. To her passionate feminine instinct for life he had opposed his masculine indifference; and somehow, in the general destruction of mankind by man, he had disappeared with a smile and a shrug, and defeated her.”

When brother and sister Clare and Hugh Miller arrive, temporarily, in the town they bring with them the sense of another way of life – a freedom, and independence that both Grace and Norah recognise and respond to similarly. Clare, an old friend of Norah’s stays with the Mackays for a time, infecting even the dour Gerald with the promise of unimagined possibilities. Hugh is passionate, exudes vitality, freedom and the ability to do just as he pleases. Clare is young, beautiful and irresistibly unconstrained. Hugh, the reader realises is perhaps not quite all Grace and Norah think he is, and while his charisma is not as obvious to the reader at times, (and I think this is deliberate – as it shows how we can respond most extraordinarily to the almost anyone if our imaginations can make them into something else) there is no doubting his effect upon Grace in particular.

Grace sees Hugh first when she in the cinema with Tom, the cinema one of the few pleasures in her life, has evolved into part of a weekly expected routine. Over the coming months Grace meets Hugh only a handful of times, yet each moment is imprinted on her mind, as she develops a gentle unspoken love for the young man who represents all that her life lacks. There is an unforgettable afternoon of tennis, fishing and summer fun at the house of Norah’s relatives – that seems to live long in the memories of those who were there.

Another character we meet is Pansy – a young woman living with her brother. She makes her living as both a hairdresser and a prostitute. She too, drawn to Hugh, who she met at the local dance hall, seeing in him that promise of another life. Pansy, engaging most of her energies in remaining respectable, striving to fool her neighbours into believing she is not what she is (as ever, in these cases, they are not fooled). When Grace goes away by herself on a holiday in the countryside – Tom, miserable, unable to cope, meets Pansy at the fair.

A Note in Music is quite simply a beautiful novel, exquisitely written, moving and revealing, it’s the kind of novel I love best.

rosamond lehmann

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Rosamond Lehmann (1901 – 1990) was a very distinguished British novelist who wrote eight works of fiction, seven novels and volume of short stories, of which I still have two to read. I really loved these books, one of which I have read twice and also enjoyed Selina Hasting’s biography (although she doesn’t come out of that book quite so well). I was therefore quite keen to read this book – Rosamond Lehmann’s only work of autobiography, however I must admit to approaching it with some slight trepidation. I was nervous of it I suppose, because I knew from the blurb that it relates Rosamond Lehmann’s psychic experiences that followed the death of her beloved daughter Sally in 1958. Now when it comes to all things psychic and spiritual I am not exactly what could be called a believer. However I do believe that things can happen to people that are difficult for the rest of us to understand, call it self-deceit or call it spiritualism it is no doubt real to them.

The Swan in the Evening is told in three sections , the first section about Rosamond’s childhood, the second section sets out her relationship with her daughter Sally, the third section is about the time following Sally’s death and Rosamond’s unexpected psychical experiences. I found the first two section’s very readable, written with Rosamond Lehmann’s beautiful gift for prose, the descriptions of Rosamond’s childhood quite poignant. Death is always present in this little book, in the first section of the book Rosamond tells of her family’s stableman William Moody – who’s adored little daughter Wilma died tragically of diphtheria – Moody’s grief so terrible and so memorable to her all those years later. Young Rosie was often concerned with death, the risk to pets and the demise of birds, trying to save them from raspberry nets and creating a little bird hospital. Beautiful Dora from the local sweet shop is murdered, which little Rosamond discovers only after having run there on a Wednesday to find the shop unaccountably closed.
I suspect that following the death of her daughter Rosamond Lehmann placed greater importance on events from the past – giving them the status almost of omens. Thus perhaps do the bereaved sometimes lie to themselves.

“Since Sally was nearly always in my thoughts it is no wonder that, as I prepared for bed in my hotel room, looking out over the sea towards the lights of the mainland opposite, another memory of her should have slipped, very quietly and clearly, into the forefront of my mind. Once, when she was five years old, as we walked together on the downs above Compton in Berkshire where we spent the war years she said, without the slightest warning:
‘One day…one day..’
‘What about one day?’
‘One day I might call you and call you and call you over the whole world. Over the whole world, and you might not answer. What shall I do then? Her voice seemed to toll. Taken aback, I quickly promised her that I would always answer.”

Rosamond Lehmann had two children, Hugo and Sarah known as Sally, but she seems to have a particularly close relationship with her daughter. The portrait that is painted of this relationship, and the dreadful tragedy of Sally’s death is very moving, Rosamond’s grief was naturally extreme.

“All the details I treasure of her beauty – the ravishing lines of her lips in smiling (the archaic smile –she really had it – its mysteriously subtle curve), her rather gliding walk, her odd slow buoyant grace when she danced, the something unforgettable about the modelling of her eyes and eyelids – their extended outer corners, the grey-blue large iris flecked with green, the cut of the luminous lids, like segments of magnolia petal …such images seem to set her in an antique world; in some golden age of plastic and poetic harmony, meaning beauty; startling me now only a little more profoundly than they always did.”

So although I admit I found the psychic element slightly disturbing and odd – making me re-evaluate a woman whose work I admire enormously, the whole book I found strangely beguiling and hard to put down. That though, is almost certainly because it was after all written by Rosamond Lehmann – and I just love the way that she writes. As I mentioned above – the Rosamond Lehmann who emerged from Selina Hasting’s biography is not a woman I would find it easy to sympathise with – selfish shallow indulging in affairs which she put ahead of her family, but although I find the woman who emerges from A Swan in the Evening, to be someone who thinks very differently from me – I do find her surprisingly likeable, and I am glad of that.

Rosamond Lehmann

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As it is the Rosamond Lehmann reading week, and as I have loved reading her work so much in the past (I’ve yet to read everything she wrote) I decided to take a short break in my month of re-reading when I found this in Waterstones just waiting for me. I popped in (never usually going to full price book shops) just to see if they had a copy of one of the Rosamond Lehmann books I hadn’t read – they had, this one – I decided it was meant to be.
This short collection of stories Rosamond Lehmann wrote during the Second World War. They concern primarily the minutiae of everyday rural life. These stories do seem to offer the reader a different view of the world than Rosamond Lehmann’s novels which are more concerned with romantic love and the women who are hurt or betrayed by it. The war looms large particularly in the last of these stories, the families are socially speaking like those of the novels I have read – yet their worlds have been shrunk by the war. A lost trunk could prove disastrous- there is no chance of just replacing everything during such times.
The title story – and “The red-haired Miss Daintreys” are narrated by Rebecca, the memorable narrator of Rosamond Lehmann’s brilliant complex novel “The Ballad and the source” which I read about a year ago. In “The Gipsy’s Baby” Rebecca and her sisters strike up a fragile, unlikely friendship with the Wyatt children, who live in a tiny cottage at the end of the lane. The social gulf however is just too hard to bridge and when the gypsies arrive the scene is set for tragedy.

“In October, the gipsies came back. They came twice a year, in spring and autumn, streaming through the village in ragged procession, with two yellow and red caravans; men in cloth caps, with handkerchiefs knotted round their throats, women in black with cross over shawls and voluminous skirts, some scarecrow children, and several thin-ribbed dogs of the whippet race running on leads tied, much to Jess’s disquiet, under the shafts of the caravans.”

In “The red-headed Miss Daintreys” Rebecca and her family meet the four Daintrey daughters and their parents while on holiday on the Isle of Wight. The relationship with the family continues for some years – seeing the eldest Miss Daintrey the subject of an unlikely romance.
The next three stories: “When the waters came”, “A dream of winter” and “Wonderful holidays “are each about Mrs Ritchie and her children Jane and John. A bee man arrives during winter to take the swarm living in the walls of the house; there are village amateur dramatics during school holidays, while a WW1 veteran misses his absent wife.

“I wrote to her yesterday and told her she better come back. I don’t like the idea of her being up in town. Those last raids were child’s play to what’s coming, so I hear. They might start any moment. I can’t have her exposing herself to them. Besides’ his voice went up his nose, weak with self-pity – ‘I can’t see to everything myself day in day out like this. There’s all the potatoes to go in. It means too much stooping for me”

I loved these wonderful stories – they are quite different to the novels of Rosamond Lehmann that I have read – but they are beautifully written, the characterisation just as well developed. The world of adults seen mainly through the eyes of children during those war years is brilliantly portrayed.

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 Upon first reading Invitation to the Waltz I thought it was a lively charming novel, which it is. This re-read of it however, has given me the chance to appreciate just how very good it is. First published in 1932, but set around 1920 Invitation to the Waltz is the story of a dance, seventeen year old Olivia’s first ever, which she will attend with her beautiful older sister Kate. On the surface there isn’t much to the story at all. Olivia wakes to her seventeenth birthday, is given some marvellous scarlet fabric to have a dress made for the coming ball, a ten shilling note, a diary and an ugly ornament from her sweet little brother. Then there are the days leading up to the dance, the dress which must be made and the anticipated arrival of Reggie who will accompany them to the dance, and provide a possibly much-needed partner for Olivia. Olivia and Kate’s family comprises a socially aware mother an elderly father, odd Uncle Oswald, and their endearing  7-year-old brother James. Olivia is a wonderful character – brought up to be polite, she is terrified of hurting people’s feeling, she is so overly conscious of herself as we so often are at that age – that her trials and agonies could belong to almost any young girl – even today.

“I want to do something absolutely different, or perhaps nothing at all: just stay where I am, in my home, and absorb each hour, each day, and be alone; and read and think; and walk about the garden in the night; and wait, wait…”

Then comes the evening of the party and the awful, exciting anticipation, of a longed for event. The flame coloured fabric that Olivia is given for her birthday has been made into a dress by local seamstress Miss Robinson, another wonderful creation from Rosamond Lehmann, as we are allowed a poignant glimpse of this sad woman’s life, her disappointments and inadequacies. The dress surprisingly not tried on in its finished form until the evening itself is inevitably a disappointment. The evening of the dance takes up three-quarters of the book with the people Olivia and Kate meet – especially Olivia, the conversations they have, and the feelings they awake in her. Olivia meets some interesting characters at the dance – a young blind man, a rather miserable poet as well as the son of the household Rollo Spencer.

“I’ve had a lot really, one way and another. What was it that, at last, had made almost a richness? Curious fragments odd and ends of looks, speeches…Nothing for myself really. Rollo leaving me to go to Nicola. Rollo and his father smiling at one another. Peter crying, saying “are you my friend?” Kate looking so happy…Waltzing with Timmy. Marigold flying downstairs to him. Yes, I can say I’ve enjoyed myself.”

The dance held for the effervescent Marigold Spencer – is both an excitement and an agony for Kate and Olivia. They just daughters of a middle-class businessman, while aristocratic Marigold and Rollo Spencer are from an altogether different world. A world of glamour, house parties, trips to London, fast cars and hunting. As they leave childhood behind them, they will inevitably become more separate from the glorious beings from the big house who they were once more equal to, as children. Rosamond Lehmann portrays the differences of class, and social position brilliantly in this novel. From the sad thirty-year-old dressmaker, aware she was too good to marry a bricklayer, left on the shelf and reduced to a life of tedium and ill-health. To the sweep’s bedraggled little children, to the selfish, vain young things who arrive for the party, she has a brilliantly observing eye.

I first read this novel about two and a half years ago and loved it – though after reading the sequel The Weather in the streets – I decided I prefered that one. Although of the two I think I still do like The Weather in the Streets best, I was glad of a chance to re-visit this one and see where it all began for Olivia. In re-reading Invitation to the Waltz I noted the finer points that I had forgotten, the class consciousness and the wonderful characterisations. Throughout the novel Rollo Spencer the glorious son of the Spencer family flits tantalisingly in the background – only finally appearing fully  in the last thirty pages or so. One of the things Rosamond Lehmann does so well is to leave the reader with the feeling that this glorious young man was present throughout. Leaving things as she does – there just had to be a sequel didn’t there? For anyone who hasn’t  read it yet – The Weather in the Streets is also really wonderful.

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echoing grove

Two sisters: Madeleine and Dinah. One husband: Rickie Masters. For many years now, Dinah, exotic and sensual, has conducted a clandestine affair with Rickie. Madeleine, calm and resolute, has accepted that her marriage has been of limited success. Rickie’s sudden death makes widows of both sisters in this highly imaginative novel that explores with extraordinary insight the sublimity, the rivalry and the pain of personal relationships.

I have come to really like Rosamond Lehmann’s novels, and although this won’t be my favourite of her books, it is an accomplished beautifully written novel. The central characters Madeleine, Dinah and Rickie are each given a voice, and as the narrative weaves back and forth in time, we see the complexties of thier relationship through their eyes. None of these characters are totally sympathetic, there is no victim – they each bear some responsibility in what happens. This novel certainly differs greatly to An invitation to the waltz or The Weather in the Streets, it is darker and more meloncholic, her characters deeply flawed. I did find the final third of the novel a tiny bit tedious – not helped by my tiredness – but I had loved the first half of the book particularly, Rosamond Lehmann’s writing is brilliant. This is a complex novel about human relationships.

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Ten-year-old Rebecca is living in the country with her family, when Sibyl Jardine returns to her property in the neighbourhood. The two families – once linked in the past – meet again, with the result that Rebecca becomes drawn into the strange complications of the old lady’s life.

This is a masterly piece of writing. The Ballad and the Source is the fourth of Rosamond Lehmann’s novels I have read, and I am enormously impressed with it. The story of Sibyl Jardine is told mainly in three long conversations, between Rebecca – who is ten at the start of the novel, and Tilly a sewing maid, Sibyl herself and later Maisie, Sibyl’s granddaughter. Sibyl, both saint and sinner is a fascinating figure. An unhappy marriage leads her to leave her home, and become cut off from her child. The consequences of this are far reaching and tragic. The young Rebecca is drawn to Mrs Jardine and determined to find out the story of her life. This story takes some years to unfold fully, and as it does Rebecca’s perceptions of Mrs Jardine and her story are challenged. The writng is powerful and hugely accomplished. This is in some ways a complex novel, but Rosamond Lehmann’s brilliant writing brings it all together, the story, so much of which is told through dialogue never gets lost among the speech. I found this an enthralling novel, beautifully written.

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weatherin the streets This book has not been rated.

Amazon Editorial Review:

Taking up where Invitation to the Waltz left off, The Weather in the Streets shows us Olivia Curtis ten years older, a failed marriage behind her, thinner, sadder, and apprently not much wiser. A chance encounter on a train with a man who enchanted her as a teenager leads to a forbidden love affair and a new world of secret meetings, brief phone calls, and snatched liaisons in anonymous hotel rooms. Years ahead of its time when first published, this subtle and powerful novel shocked even the most stalwart Lehmann fans with its searing honesty and passionate portrayal of clandestine love.

Absolutely loved this book. I finished it (very) late last night and have been thinking about the characters on and off all day today. Surely that is a sign of a great book.

Written in 1936 this novel was years ahead of it’s time, with it’s story of an extra marital affair, secret meetings and hotel rooms and the resulting consequences. Olivia is ten years older than when we last met her in the also brilliant An invitation to the waltz. Her marriage has broken down, and she lives with her cousin Etty in a small London house, works for a photographer and associates with other artists and writers in a somewhat bohemian style existence. Things begin to change when she meet Rollo Spencer, whom she had fantasised about in her youth, on a train. Like so many other authors of this period I have found the real brilliance of Rosamund Lehmann is in the detail – her writing is exquisite – but her sense of time and place, her characterisation, and the way in which those characters speak to the reader is just excellent. The way in which, for example, Rosamund Lehmann portrays Olivia’s sister’s children, as they play in the garden, in one small (not especially important) section is a fine example, it was just so beautifully written I was thoroughly impressed.

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