Passionate,beautiful and Ever an Outsider
Lively, Penelope, Daily Mail (London)
Byline: PENELOPE LIVELY
THROUGHOUT this compelling biography, Selina Hastings provides glimpses of her subject through the eyes of those who knew her.
'No sense of humour, and is desperately intense and serious', 'Rosamond wore her beauty modestly and with humour', '[one for whom] the personal life is the beall and end-all', 'a big, tall woman with fair hair and a strikingly large face and long neck', 'like a gorgeous peach with hoarfrost on its head', 'a crashing snob', 'insatiably vain', 'egomania'.
And, in a sad coda from Anita Brookner at the end of Rosamond's life: 'a woman sitting alone, inconsolable.' The views are sometimes conflicting, but there emerges from them and from the author's own fair but firm interpretation of the life - a picture of a woman who is both tragic and exasperating. Her own worst enemy, you find yourself muttering. But actually, the enemy was her looks. Beauty can indeed be a poisoned chalice.
She dazzled men, apparently. But at the same time she was diffident, always felt herself to be an outsider,
craved love and affection. And as for the effect of all this on her writing well, if ever the life is reflected in the work, surely Rosamond Lehmann is the prime example.
At her best - Dusty Answer, The Weather In The Streets - she writes of betrayed passion with devastating effect. Women readers wrote: This is my story exactly.' BUT it was also Rosamond's story, from her rejection by a young man in her Cambridge days until the terrible saga of her nineyear affair with Cecil Day Lewis and his eventual abandonment of her.
Two husbands, several lovers; spells of ecstatic happiness, years of discontent and insecurity. 'Being in love was a vocation,' says her biographer. And from it sprang some of the most deeply felt fiction of the last century. She became a bestseller and celebrity with her first book, aged 26, and was propelled into the centre of the literary life of the day - feted and admired.
But there were reservations in some quarters - her work always had its detractors, seen as slushy, romantic, 'a sea of toasted marshmallow'.
Selina Hastings is a bracing critic of the novels, acknowledging deficiencies but pointing to their great strengths by way of accuracy, immediacy, masterly construction.
And their powerful emotional charge, which overrides such irritations as the author's infatuation with the upper classes and the appalling moral unsoundness of her male heroes.
Interestingly, it seems that she did not see them thus herself - she saw her handsome, selfish betrayers as muddled rather than callous, victims in some way of their own privileged circumstances. …