Saturday 6 April 2013

Writer's Note 5 : The charming, narcissistic Rosamund Lehmann

(One of an occasional series here about writers and writing, inspired by my correspondence with my friend Virginia Hiller...)

I've  just finished the biography of Rosamund Lehmann by Selena Hastings. Fascinating. A life more strange than fiction. - A beautiful, talented girl and woman who knew intimately
The shy, clever, seductive
intensely self-aware young beauty,,,
just everyone in the literary world of the mid twentieth century - from the Bloomsburies and Ian Fleming to Laurens Van Der Post; from Edith Sitwell to Carmen Callil,

On the downside she was narcissistic and stunningly passive aggressive. Possessing enormous  and seductive charm she looked for admiration and obsession from those around her -men and women - and was a terrible enemy to those who - as she saw it - rejected her. (Most famously Cecil Day Lewis.) She was case-book paronoid and obsessed with the emotions of the people with whom she was intimate.

She was incontinently disclosive in her desire to express her pain at the way people -0 as she saw it -  were treating her. As she grew older (scenes of things to come for some of us ...) she became something of a monstre sacre, ballooning because of her child like love of sweet things but still seeing the woman in the mirror as the beauty she had been. 

This biographer was one of those  who admired and loved her but witnessed this ultimate decay of a unique personality. Her critical assessment of the few novels is admiring but very sharp in its insight regarding  the inferred autobiographical nature of the characters and their doomed emotional journeys.

Reading biographies is a two edged pleasure. On the one hand it gives an illuminating
Still beautiful, seductive, clever,
 and intensely self-aware in old age.
access to uniquely talented personalities. On the other it can show you that your angels have feet of clay. 

This biography, however, has sent me back to Lehmann's novels - particularly Weather in The Streets. Nobody does better than Lehmann a woman's yearning to be loved and her desolation at being rejected. 

In the light of the contemporary  Women's Prize for Writing,  there is much discussion about  whether there is such a thing as 'Women's Writing'. Lehmann - much admired by men - disliked to be known as a women's writer but I feel  this biography shows her as just that. 

And being a bit that way myself, I found her ill-fated late-life obsession with life after death fascinating....

- a good read on a cold dark day!

1 comment:

  1. Sounds fascinating, Im a Lehmann fan so this is going straight on my to-read list. Great review!



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