Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Rosamond Lehmann was only twenty-four years old when Dusty Answer, her first novel, was published. The book was generally regarded to be a splendid piece of writing, the sort of carefully crafted book that would, according to one notable critic, have delighted Henry James.

In 1927, the topic of homosexuality, female or male, was not much written about in England. Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928), which had not yet appeared, created a tremendous stir when it was published, but Dusty Answer was judged more as a work of art than as a book that dealt with a somewhat proscribed topic.

Dusty Answer led to Lehmann’s later book, Invitation to the Waltz (1932), which is thematically similar to it. Both books are centrally concerned with growing up and with the celebration of youth and beauty, upon which life makes its inevitable inroads. These inroads lead to the disenchantment that Judith finally experiences as this book ends and as she has lost all the people for whom she has really cared deeply.

Lehmann thrived in a period when several exceptionally gifted women writers were beginning to flourish in England’s literary circles. In the year that Dusty Answer was published, 1927, Elizabeth Bowen’s first novel, The Hotel, and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse appeared. Lehmann is often compared with both of these authors; she has the poetic delicacy of Virginia Woolf, and she employs many of the techniques of characterization and situation that distinguish Elizabeth Bowen.

Although her work never was innovative in the way that Virginia Woolf’s was, Rosamond Lehmann was meticulous in her craft in this earliest of her novels. The book is overwhelmingly feminine in its point of view, and it has had enormous appeal through the years. In the first twenty-five years after its publication, it had gone into eleven editions in English and had been translated into Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Romanian, Spanish, and Swedish.