Rosamond Lehmann Lehmann, Rosamond

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Lehmann, Rosamond

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Lehmann, Rosamond 1905–

Rosamond Lehmann is an English novelist and short story writer. Although Ms Lehmann has published little since the early 1950s, critics urge rediscovery of her skillful and convincing studies of young women growing up and mature women in love.

Rosamond Lehmann has limitations which are severe enough to exclude her from the first rank of novelists of her period. More importantly, they have affected her productivity, so that after The Ballad and the Source, the Everest of her career, she had nowhere to go but down, and back, to The Echoing Grove. She is a demanding and scrupulous writer—her slight critical writing attests to that—and, when the source was running dry, as it obviously was in The Echoing Grove, she stopped, perhaps permanently.

But there is a reverse side to the coin. Some of the qualities [critics have termed] limitations—"reminiscence, whimsy, delicacy, unfulfillment," "memories of childhood and youth"—are the very qualities that distinguished Invitation to the Waltz and Dusty Answer and that contributed to The Ballad and the Source. They became limitations only when Miss Lehmann could not reach beyond them to the more vigorous qualities necessary for a mature and wide vision of life. One expects a Bildungsroman of a young writer, but not of a mature writer, and certainly not a continuous one. Her world may be a "half-world,"… it may be limited in theme and vision; but within its bounds it is real. Within her range, narrow as it admittedly is, Rosamond Lehmann has done superb work; and at least two of the novels, the third in time, Invitation to the Waltz, and the fifth, The Ballad and the Source, are genuine works of the imagination.

To attempt to place Miss Lehmann in relation to other novelists of the between-the-wars period poses a difficulty, for she is not easily categorized. Unlike the majority, she has no discernible moral or intellectual, social or political philosophies. She is not a satirist of the contemporary scene, as are Huxley and Waugh. She does not rail against the destructiveness of the industrialized world to the individual, as did Lawrence. She is not preoccupied with the problem of good and evil, as is Greene. If she has a religion, it does not reveal itself in her novels, nor does her political attitude. Although she has experimented with technique, she is not an innovator in the sense that Joyce and Virginia Woolf were. And, although she greatly admires the work of Forster, she can hardly be said to share his interest in intellectualizing the novel.

There is in one sense, however, a link between Miss Lehmann and E. M. Forster: their shared belief that it is personal relationships that matter most in life and in art. Forster's "only connect" philosophy permeates Miss Lehmann's work, not in an explicit philosophy, but in a concentration on personal relationships to the exclusion of practically everything else. (pp. 22-4)

There is nothing narrow in this concept of the principal concern of the novelist. On the contrary, it places Miss Lehmann in the mainstream of the English novel. (p. 24)

Rosamond Lehmann has, generally, three themes. The first, though not in importance, centers around the romantic relationships between men and women, or, more specifically, women in love. This theme dominates The Weather in the Streets and The Echoing Grove. Her second theme, adolescence or the celebration of youth and beauty, is the basis of Dusty Answer and Invitation to the Waltz. Her third theme, growing out of the second, can best be termed loss of youth or nostalgia for lost youth. This is the principal theme of A Note in Music, but it also informs Dusty Answer and The Echoing Grove.

In fact, one can almost conclude that the disillusionment implied in nostalgia for lost youth is her principal theme, and the other two merely variations on it…. Even in The Ballad and the Source , the one novel in which Miss Lehmann breaks the bonds of her normal visionary world, the innocence of the child-observer Rebecca...

(The entire section is 6,177 words.)