(réf. Etudes Britanniques Contemporaines n° 1. Montpellier: Presses universitaires de Montpellier, 1992)
The Lehmann Woman
In contrast to the interior of the nursery she writes that the " 'outdoors' remained idyllic," a belief that is much evidenced in her novels by peaceful descriptive passages of lawns and flowers, trees and rivers, lakes or the sea.
Like Lehmann herself, her heroines also feel loving towards an older father, but remain distanced from their mothers. In Dusty Answer Judith adores her mother but appears to have a much closer relationship with her father. However he, like many of Lehmann's fathers, must die. It is interesting to note that Lehmann's real father died in 1929, a time just after the publication of Dusty Answer when Lehmann especially needed his approval. Dusty Answer, written in 1927, foresaw his death and perhaps acted as a "writing out" of the pain. While not strictly autobiographical, Dusty Answer is obviously based in part upon Lehmann's life. The house with the long lawn running down to the river in which Judith lives is most likely modelled on Fieldhead and the house next door perhaps modelled after Taplow Court near Maidenhead.
Like Lehmann's own mother, Judith's mother has some affection for her daughter but shows what little there is of it with great detachment. The mother/daughter relationship is sometimes friendly, and always polite. But as she thinks of her mother Judith feels a little unwanted :
As Judith announces her desire to return to London, she again describes her mother as "acquiescing," and unable "to conceal her relief' (DA 280).
Although it is her father whose approval Lehmann sought the most, her father whom she adored and idealised, she was far from feeling indifferent to her puritanical and strict mother, who possessed a tremendous power to hurt, Lehmann describes an incident from her childhood when her mother takes her alone,
3. LEHMANN, Rosamond, Dusty Answer, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1936. 194. Subsequently referred to as DA.
She is left out, or purposely distances herself as "cruel children fly all over the lawn, casual and sharp as birds." She conceals herself "appropriately beneath a weeping willow and watch[es], despairing, from a distance." She continues :
In Invitation to the Waltz and The Weather in the Streets Olivia's relationship with her mother and father is again not dissimilar to Lehmann's own, Olivia adores her father, although he again will assume the role of the sick and dying. Mrs. Curtis' presence, like Alice Lehmann's, is firmly felt by her family, but her love remains undemonstrative. If Olivia's relationship with her mother is formal in Invitation to the Waltz (her mother preferring Kate), it deteriorates further in the sequel.
By contrast, from an early age the men in Lehmann's life appear to represent protection, kindness and security. One example is :
He is markedly contrasted with Dickie (whose portrait Lehmann drew as Tilly in The Ballad and the Source, "a tiny black antique fairy, almost a midget, in the serving room... Her room smells of camphor and liquorice..." (SE 22)
Women figures throughout Lehmann's works either are minimalised (mothers), stand for
authoritative power (Lady Spencer), or generally hint at something slightly mysterious or sinister (Mrs. Jardine, Ianthe). In The Echoing Grove and The Ballad and the Source, the tension and rivalry between mother and daughter reaches its epitome. Mrs. Burket, although later reconciled with them, has at first a close relationship with neither daughter, preferring instead her son-in-law. And Mrs. Jardine, who in a monstrous distortion of what the Lehmann-woman could become, deserts and destroys her only daughter who, in turn, abandons her own children. In contrast men are the dispensers of salvation, redemption, and marriage is the hoped-for end.
Lehmann's great need for love and approval, especially from her father (4) is translated into her novels in the form of an idealised, and often unobtainable, lover. In her own life Lehmann idealised the men most important to her, just as her heroines seek idealised lovers. In Dusty Answer Judith says of Roddy :
In Lehmann's life the romantic (represented by her father) and the pragmatic (represented by her mother) stand in opposition (5). In her novels it is clear that romance takes precedence over pragmatism. But was Lehmann throughout her life continually searching for her beloved, but dead father ? Her novels suggest this with their recurring father figures. Perhaps what was denied to her as a child by her father Lehmann seeks in her lovers (characters) (6), and the results are always the same : repeated forbidden relationships - forbidden to her either because of their adulterous nature (Rollo, Ricky, Mrs. Jardine, Johnny) or forbidden because of the boundaries of class (Rollo) or the limitations of sexuality (Roddy, Hugh, Jennifer).
Invitation to the Waltz unwittingly presents the beginning of Olivia's affair with Rollo. After a somewhat disastrous evening at the dance, Olivia meets Rollo outside on the terrace and suddenly life takes on an unreal, fairy-tale aspect. But it is not until a few minutes later when Rollo takes Olivia into the library to meet Sir John Spencer that she feels so much at
4. From interview with Anna Philips-Woodhouse, Rosamond Lehmann's
ease and content. Ironically it is as if it takes Mr. Spencer, the father figure, to give his blessing to this illicit relationship to come. In A Note in Music, the only novel where the heroine's mother dies, Grace's father, genuinely looking after his daughter, urges her towards Tom explaining, "He's a good man, my dear. He'll look after you.'" Thus he condones a relationship which is in its own way more wrong than Olivia's illicit but fulfilling liaison with Rollo.
Because Lehmann's characters are based on a certain kind of life style (her own) with which she was familiar, her characters remain limited. Lehmann writes not with contempt or condescension, but rather with a sense of curiosity verging on the romantic and exotic as she describes the Wyatt family in The Gypsy's Baby. For in both short stories, 'The Gypsy's Baby' and 'The Red-Haired Miss Daintreys', class becomes an issue to be examined and a dominant theme.
Her novels are paradoxical for on the one hand they were quite radical for their time, confronting abortion and homosexuality, but at the same time since Lehmann is limited by her own upper middle-class background, her characters too remain limited. The importance of class throughout Lehmann's novels cannot be underestimated. One cannot understand or fully appreciate her novels unless familiar with class structure in English life especially before the First World War. Her characters are very much representative of their respective classes even when as different in social class as Ricky and Rollo are to Tom Fairfax. And, while they may pursue hobbies not one of Lehmann's heroines really works.
Thus, social class is translated into each of Lehmann's female characters. The Lehmann-women experience difficulty growing up for they are continually faced with the dilemma of conflicting needs: the need to please others, be they parents or lovers, and the need to fulfil themselves. They are on the one hand the first generation of liberated women, wanting to break away from their mothers' or grandmothers' moulds. When adult Olivia, for example, first meets Rollo again on the train, there is an awkward moment when the question of who should pay for a coffee arises. Supposing herself to be a liberated woman Olivia refuses to accept his offer to pay and drops a shilling into his palm. In 'Wonderful Holidays' Mrs. Ritchie, separated, single parent, is another example of this "new woman"; but more importantly her situation is one that was not that common at the time, and even less written
7. LEHMANN, Rosamond. A Note in Music. London : Virago, 1982, 246. Subsequently referred to as NM.
about. Masie in The Ballad and the Source is also an example of the liberated woman in that she refuses to become tied down by the tired social roles expected of her and other women of her class, explaining she wishes not to marry and will become a doctor instead, Dinah in The Echoing Grove represents this new post-war woman in yet a different way. She represents the liberated woman in her freedom to choose to or not to marry, but the reasons for her choices remain different from Masie's. She realises more about the sexes than previous attitudes had allowed and states :
But even with all this so-called liberation Lehmann's heroines are anachronistically drawn back by their "good upbringings." Even Dinah fundamentally cannot escape her "upper-middle stock" :
And in The Weather in the Streets Olivia says to Kate :
8. LEHMANN, Rosamond. The Echoing Grove. Harmondsworth : Penguin,
1958. 31 1-312.
This feeling is further complicated by Olivia's yearning for "something important enough to be forever" (WS 44), which she fails to find.
Thus while Lehmann's subject may be advanced, her heroines often remain innocents in the world around them: she manages very cleverly to write on two levels, creating a greater depth to her novels. In A Note in Music, for example, although Lehmann writes frankly about homosexuality, Grace has no idea that Hugh is not in the least bit interested in women sexually. Likewise in Dusty Answer, Judith is just as unaware of either of her two loves' sexual proclivities. Jennifer confirms Judith's complete sexual innocence, saying before they part, "There are things in life you've no idea about... I always think of you as the most innocent thing in the world" (DA 218). Thus, while not all Lehmann's characters are as naive as Judith, they all seem to retain their traditional values and an innocence in the face of the modern world.
Lehmann's characters all remain limited then not only because of her own limited life, but also because of her tendency to focus so much on the subjective experiences of each of her characters hence confining her heroines. If her heroines are similar because they all grow up in similar family situations and social backgrounds, they are also all products of a greater force - their historical period. Growing up before the first World War or between the wars, Lehmann's heroines are an example of how living during a time of uncertainty and violence greatly affects the display of feeling surrounding love. Samuel Hynes notes that such "history of violence and betrayal alters and inhibits love... (and that) in a time of catastrophe, private lives will be catastrophic too (11) " (A point illustrated with exception in The Echoing Grove.)
Perhaps the two most pervasive traits that all Lehmann's heroines share are that they all feel at some point, no matter how pretty or intelligent, that they are outsiders, and that there is no permanence in love, that their love is somehow doomed to failure from the beginning.
10, LEHMANN, Rosamond. The Weather in the Street. London : Collins,
1936. 44-45. Subsequently referred to as WS.
In Dusty Answer Judith is the lonely and romantic girl next door; she is in awe of, and in love with, the Fyfe cousins. She feels this way primarily because she believes they are beyond her grasp. They are better than she in every way. But of course the reader sees this is not true, for in physical beauty, social position and class, and presumably money, Judith is every bit their equal, yet she continues to feel the outsider. She slights herself and thinks of them as "mysterious and thrilling children who came and went" and wonders :
Of course they remember her, and each in his fashion and in his turn also desires her. Yet Judith still remains unconvinced of her beauty and charm. It is possibly this insecurity that leads her to believe that love and passion are impermanent, or at least not for her. In the end none of her "loves" last. None of the cousins turn out to be right for her, and even Jennifer finally deserts her in the end. Judith is left to discover the self that was always there beneath, a strong and independent self, stronger than any of the Fyfes' and quite possibly what creates her attractiveness to them. Dusty Answer is not a pessimistic first novel, however. In the end of it we are left with the image that Judith has gained something. Like all Lehmann's heroines Judith is both strong and vulnerable.
At Girton, Judith evidently belongs (and happily so) to Jennifer; but when she participates with her contemporaries in the group discussions, it seems that it is Jennifer who has attracted the girls and not Judith. Even with Jennifer close by Judith still feels an outsider :
This passage, as well as illustrating Judith's distance also evokes the artist in her. She represents the Lehmann-heroine at her earliest state with a "poet's sensibility, a delight in sensuous concretions (12)," wondering, "What is this mystery?" She already holds the qualities for a novelist. Like the poet she is self-conscious and lives in her imagination most of the time.
The same feelings of isolation are felt by both Kate and Olivia in Invitation to the Waltz. Both feel desperately that they never do anything, never go anywhere, and that the handsome, upper class men of their neighbourhood are somehow beyond their grasp, although while they may not be of quite the same social class as the Spencers, they certainly are in no way poor neighbours. The ball at the neighbouring Big House, therefore, assumes the utmost importance for both Kate and Olivia. But once there Olivia, like Judith, feels an outsider, excluded from a world where everyone knows everyone else and knows what to say, Olivia thinks, "I'm different from them though they don't know it (13)." And she will continue to feel this distinction throughout her adult life. Marigold and Rollo are seen through her eyes resplendent and magnificent, and of course far beyond her reach. Ironically, Marigold will turn to drink and promiscuity and Rollo will become her lover in The Weather in the Streets. Thus, the Lehmann-woman actually appears to be the strongest of all those surrounding her, whom she perceives as her betters. Judith, who worships the Fyfe children, will later realise that she had "taken them one by one for herself. She had been stronger than their combined force, after all" (DA 375). Likewise Grace in A Note in Music will remark to herself, "No she was not weak... Somewhere inside her was power." And in The Weather in the Streets, Lady Spencer will say to Olivia, "Make it easy for Rollo. You're not weak" (WS 305).
Despite obtaining the God-like Rollo of her adolescence, Olivia is no less insecure of herself. Similarly, Lehmann wrote The Weather in the Streets when she was well established in a supposedly happy second marriage, bearing children - yet still a form of recurrent Lehmann-woman surfaces in each successive novel.
Of all Lehmann's heroines, Grace Fairfax would seem the most likely not to fit the stereotype, but a close examination reveals that she too is of the Lehmann-woman mould.
12. BUCKLEY, Jerome. Season of Youth : The Bildungsroman from Dickens
to Golding. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1974. 37.
Outwardly she is not attractive, indeed she is "lazy - greedy - secretive." However, like Judith, Olivia, or Rebecca it is her sensitivity and the intensity of her emotions which save her from being particularly dull.
Grace, like young Olivia, is able to transcend her depressing environment and life through an inner world of her own. After Kate goes off to the Hunt Ball with the Heriots, Olivia reverts to her inner world and curls up in bed reading Tristam Shandy, thinking, "I'm not bereft. I've something too: not Tristam Shandy, but a link with the grown-up world, the world of romance - of Rollo." (WS 18)
Likewise, Grace's idea of fun is to look forward all day to eating chocolate cake, or when the servant "threw the curtains, heaped the fire, and left her with a great cup of coffee and a toasted bun, and a new novel from the library." (NM 7)
Grace differs markedly from Judith, for while Judith clings to her unreal image of Roddy, refusing to accept him as he is :
she does at least by the end of the book acknowledge her illusion of him and vow to go beyond it. Grace in contrast by the end of A Note in Music is still living for Hugh. It is Hugh miles away (and presumably permanently) who will allow Grace to call on, and give her a purpose for living. Hugh was, in her words,
Hugh is an illusion, for Grace had seen him at most four times. Thus living on this unreality we see that Grace limits herself. Judith realises her mistake and will learn from it, hence go forwards. Grace is still living hers by the end of the novel. And while it is clear she has changed (slightly), she remains still trapped, limited in herself. The irony, however, is that although Grace says to Hugh, "You're not afraid of anything," Hugh is revealed to be far more fearful of life than is Grace.
If she is redeemed partially through her intense inner life she is also saved by her love of nature. At one point she stares out of the window and thinks, "How many times had she not thought of the summer evening when a bird had sung in the poor lilac tree in the front patch?... But that would never happen again..." (NM 11) She fails, however, to do the one thing that would give her lasting happiness. Why, with her interest in others and her vivid imagination, does she not (like her creator) transcend her suffering through art ? She even comes as far as to consider it, but fails. (14)
One feels that Judith, on the other hand, will make something of her life - through writing. Judith, abroad in France, suddenly asks her mother to go home: "sluggishly it stirred but it remained ; she must go home, be alone, find work, write a book, something..." (DA 280) And it is this that redeems her, makes her admirable in the reader's eye, whereas it is hard to feel more than pity for Grace.
Grace's inability to find love further gives her that particular Lehmann-woman status. Unlike Judith who chases an elusive Roddy, or Olivia who becomes the broken-hearted "other woman," Grace is married - although not happily. The first few pages in the novel make it clear that Grace has never been in love with Tom; she often thinks of him as a stranger, or worse, with contempt. She knew from the start that marriage was a mistake. Later she feels guilty for having trapped him in a loveless, childless marriage :
Is Lehmann implying that passionate love can exist only beyond the bonds of marriage only when it is obvious that it can never be permanent ? Passionate love in Lehmann's novels reaches an intensity of extreme happiness, yet always ends in tragedy. Olivia and Rollo, Ricky and Dinah, Ricky and Georgie, Judith and Roddy, Mrs. Jardine - nowhere does love last. Even with Rebecca and Johnny in The Sea- Grape Tree the reader is not at all
14. There is a moment when she realises she could (and should) create: when she is on her solitary holiday and Tom has written to her, "[she thinks,] 'I'm a poet, almost - a suppressed creator -' (surely it was to be a poet, almost to see hollyhocks as music)." (NM 225)
sure that Johnny will join her in England at the end. When marriage does last it is portrayed as unexciting and provincial as between Tom and Grace, Norah and Gerald, Ricky and Madeleine, or Kate and her husband. For example, Kate was
The feeling is that Kate's life is over, that it will never go beyond what it is now, while Olivia, divorced and childless, still has a future, an adventure before her.
Each of these Lehmann-women seem to be seeking love at all costs but in each case the love fails, except to bring suffering, almost as if it is doomed from the start, and also almost as if each heroine expects this as its outcome. Echoing Hynes' expression of love foiled because it is a product of the times, Gillian Tindall proposes that it is the war that is partly responsible for this, for not only had it killed off many of the men who would become eligible husbands, but also it had killed "faith in the nature of permanence as well (15)."
In The Weather in the Streets it seems for a moment that this past pattern may be broken, Rollo and Olivia fall passionately in love and have an affair - but here the novel again takes on Lehmann's basic theme of the traumas of love. An unsuccessful (or many unsuccessful) relationship(s) is the heart of each novel. For mot - Olivia and Rollo, Dinah and Ricky, among others - being together only exists in the intensity of the present; they are neither helped or hindered by a common past, or the prospect of a happy future.
When every Lehmann heroine has in common feeling terribly sensitive and insecure about herself and her relationship, except in the height of passion or peaks of happiness which as stated are never lasting, it is difficult not to draw similarities with the characters' creator. Speaking about her second marriage to Wogan Philips, Lehmann said, "This marriage looks as if it's going to collapse. But outwardly I suppose I was considered a happy young mother with beautiful children. It was hard to make sense of it all (16)."
15. TINDALL, Gillian, Rosamond Lehmann : an appreciation. London :
Chatto & Windus, 1985. 33.
What is easy to make sense of is that although these heroines all feel insecure, what is revealed to the reader is in fact that they are the stronger person in each relationship. Ricky, somewhat symbolically dies, while both his wife and lover, the two sisters, are left to carry on, to trudge through with their lives and try to make sense of it all.
What glimpses we are given of Roddy and Rollo towards the ends of each novel reveal that they have not changed, whereas both Judith and Olivia have grown, however painful the process. Judith will go forth with her new found (and desired) solitude and independence. And presumably Olivia will do the same. As she visits Rollo in his hospital bed at the end of the novel, she sees him for what he is - neither good nor bad, but rather shallow and superficial, He needs her, needs her approval and their affair together. Olivia is strong enough to end the affair with him - and strong enough still to let him imagine things may continue between them without saying no maliciously or vindictively.
Finally even Grace, commonplace as she may appear, is revealed as having some redeeming characteristics. Of course she never sees through to the weaknesses and extreme insecurities in the man she reveres. Although paradoxically, Hugh does see through to a certain accepting and forgiving quality in her. He thinks:
Therefore, while all of these Lehmann-women feel outsiders and insecure most of the time, and while, as illustrated, they also all seem to search out destructive love affairs, there is always either an inner imagination, or an inner strength of self that in itself is surprisingly strong. And it is these qualities of strength and perseverance that save them as characters: literally, for they do not break or become killed under the pressure and suffering of daily life, and figuratively for the reader, for they are raised to more than dull two-dimensional characters.
(réf. Etudes Britanniques Contemporaines n° 1. Montpellier: Presses universitaires de Montpellier, 1992)