Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Because The Weather in the Streets is about a woman in love with a married man, its author had to find a way to deal in some original way with this somewhat threadbare theme. Lehmann succeeds because of her attention to detail and because of the care with which she has drawn her central character, Olivia.

The book is more about a decaying social class than it is about the adultery of two people. The aristocracy is struggling to maintain its position, but it is quite obvious that the struggle is in vain. Yet the middle class, which Olivia represents, and the intellectual and artistic class that Simon, Colin, Jocelyn, and Mrs. Cunningham represent offer no more promise than does the decaying aristocracy, and Olivia’s personal disillusionment suggests a social disillusionment of much greater proportions.

Weather has much to do with the book, as its title suggests. When Olivia’s affair with Rollo is going well, the weather is clear and agreeable; when the affair is deteriorating, the weather is stormy and thunderclaps are heard. During Olivia’s tense meeting with Lady Spencer in August, the air is heavy, and before the meeting is over, the sky has opened and the rain comes pouring down.

Yet the weather also represents Olivia’s inner self and her reactions to her relationship with Rollo. He protects her from the weather, drives her in his car or gives her money for taxicabs so that she can escape the weather in the streets. Bad weather is threatening to her, and Rollo, while their affair is going well, reduces that threat, that insecurity, primarily by helping her to overcome her feelings of inferiority. The superiority that Olivia feels at Simon’s party because she is attached to Rollo clearly reflects the way in which he insulates her from her own insecurities.