Posts Tagged ‘Rosamond Lehmann’

A Few More Older Novels Written by Women that Are Too Good to be Forgotten

 

These are all novels that got my highest rating when I read them. For this article, I have intentionally steered away from novels and authors that have been discussed often recently already.

 

‘The Sin Eater’ (1977) by Alice Thomas Ellis (1932-2005) – The Welsh writer Alice Thomas Ellis had a dark and strange sense of humor. ‘The Sin Eaters’ tells of family strife as they all come for a final visit to their ailing patriarch.

 

 

‘Tirra Lirra by the River’ (1978) by Jessica Anderson (1916-2010) – Here is an Australian novel about a woman escaping a selfish sanctimonious husband and a failed marriage by relocating in London. The year it was published, the Washington Post said “There may be a better novel than Tirra Lirra by the River this year, but I doubt it.”

 

‘During the Reign of the Queen of Persia’ (1983) by Joan Chase (1936-2018) – No, this does not take place in ancient times in the Middle East. It is the story of a family in rural Ohio during the 1950s. It should be easy to find since it was reissued by NYBR in 2014.

 

 

‘Three Paths to the Lake’ (1972) by Ingeborg Bachmann (1926-1973) – OK, this is a collection of five stories, not a novel. Each of the stories is a portrait of an Austrian woman trying to make a go of it in a male-dominated society in the 1960s.

 

 

‘Invitation to the Waltz’ (1932) by Rosamond Lehmann (1901-1990) – I am enormously impressed by most of the writings by Rosamond Lehmann, and I could have mentioned several others here. ‘Invitation to the Waltz’ is a good example of her work. It is the story of a young woman preparing for her first society dance.

 

 

‘The Widow’s Children’ (1976) by Paula Fox (1923-2017) – Here is a powerful novel that takes place during a single night while a family goes out to dinner. Most of the novel is intense dialogue.

 

 

 

‘A Dubious Legacy’ (1994) by Mary Wesley (1912-2002) – An English novel about a bizarre marriage. While stationed abroad during World War II, a man marries a complete stranger at his father’s request. When the war is over, the man brings his bride back to his estate. Upon her arrival, she punches him in the eye and marches upstairs to her bedroom where she will stay for most of the time afterwards.

 

All of the writers mentioned here are worthy and deserving of being remembered by future generations.

 

 

Is it Time for Another Rosamond Lehmann Revival?

 

‘The Gipsy’s Baby’ by Rosamond Lehmann (1946) – 192 pages

When Virago republished all of her novels in 1982, there was a major Rosamond Lehmann revival. Is it time for another revival?

Rosamond Lehmann is sometimes considered a women’s romance novelist. Yes, her novels usually dealt with the close relationships of her characters. However she captured the emotional life of her women and men with such intensity and vivacity that guys would do well to read her too just as some real men read and enjoy Jane Austen. Lehmann used her own happy and unhappy romances and marriages to give her stories and novels more depth and feeling and humor than most writers achieve.

Rosamond was born in 1901 and brought up in well-to-do circumstances. Her first novel ‘Dusty Answer’ was published in 1927 and was a best selling scandalous success. Alfred Noyes lauded it as “quite the most striking first novel of this generation”. ‘Dusty Answer’ was an intense unhappy love story told with sparkle and verve, the type of story Rosamond Lehmann specialized in perhaps based on incidents from her own life.

There is a steady enduring quality to all of Lehmann’s early work. She followed ‘Dusty Answer’ with ‘A Note in Music’ and then she wrote the two novels ‘Invitation to the Waltz’ and ‘The Weather in the Streets’ which center on one heroine Olivia Curtis. If I were starting over to discover Rosamond Lehmann, I probably would begin with ‘Invitation to the Waltz’ which was called “a perfect novel” by her biographer Selina Hastings.

Mel u, editor of The Reading Life wrote the following of ‘Invitation to the Waltz’ and Rosamond Lehmann: “Her narrative methods are a mixture of devices, many of the sentences, even in the lesser novels, are pure gems.  The middle chapter of ‘Invitation to the Waltz’ is just hilarious, a perfect presentation  of the persons at a country dance.  The depiction of the pretentious young poet down from Oxford made me laugh out loud as I marveled at what a wonderful scene I was witnessing.“

And here is a quote taken directly from ‘Invitation to the Waltz’:

Advice to Young Journal Keepers: Be lenient with yourself. Conceal your worst faults, leave out your most shameful thoughts, actions, and temptations. Give yourself all the good and interesting qualities you want and haven’t got. If you should die young, what comfort would it be to your relatives to read the truth and have to say: It is not a pearl we have lost, but a swine?” – Rosamond Lehmann, ‘Invitation to the Waltz’.

Her strong literary career continued with two excellent fine novels in the ’40’s and early ’50’s, ‘The Ballad and the Source’ and ‘The Echoing Grove’. Like Graham Greene, Rosamond Lehmann not only had a strong literary reputation, but also her novels were best sellers. Her novels are straight-forward, accessible, and easy to enjoy.

Around the time of her daughter Sally’s death at 24 in 1957, Rosamond’s profound grief led her to take up psychic spiritualism, and both of her only two later works, the autobiography ‘The Swan in the Evening’ and ‘A Sea-Grape Tree’, were written under this psychic influence. If a reader wants to fully appreciate the fiction of Rosamond Lehmann, he or she should probably avoid these two late works.

I recently read all the stories in ‘The Gipsy’s Baby’. This collection was first published in 1946 and these stories are prime Rosamond Lehmann, but I would still start with the early novels which are quite short anyhow.

Let the second Rosamond Lehmann Revival begin.

 

Grade:   A

 

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