British Author
Born 1901 Died 1990

Rosamond Nina Lehmann was born on the 3rd February 1901 at the family home of 'Fieldhead' at Bourne End in Buckinghamshire, the second child of Rudolph Chambers Lehmann, and his wife Alice Marie Davis. Rosamond was born into an affluent and well-educated family of mixed German, Jewish, Scottish and American origin. Her father was a Liberal Member of Parliament and an occasional contributor to Punch magazine, her great-uncle was the artist Rudolf Lehmann, and her great-grandfather was Robert Chambers who established the publishing company of Chambers.

Unfortunately her parent's marriage was marred by quarrels and to make matters worse, her father favoured her sister Beatrix, (who grew up to be an actress) while her mother preferred her brother John (the future poet and publisher) and so Rosamond felt rather left out during most of her childhood. Apparently the result of this neglect was a compulsion to write, as she later explained, "I was bound to write, I never considered anything else as a possibility."

Rosamond was educated at home until she won a scholarship to read English at Girton College, Cambridge in 1919. She eventually graduated with a second class degree in both English (1921) and modern and medieval languages (1922), and also found the time to contribute articles to the magazine Granta, which had earlier been founded by her father. It was also at Cambridge that she met Leslie Runciman the son and heir of the 1st Viscount Runciman. They were married on the 20th December 1923 and moved to Newcastle, but the marriage was brief and unsatisfactory. Her husband forced her to have an abortion against her will and the marriage was said to be 'sexually unsatisfactory' from her point of view. They were divorced in 1928 allowing her to remarry another aristocratic heir named Wogan Philipps, who later became the second Baron Milford. This second marriage was initially more succesful and produced two children; a son named Hugo born in 1929, and a daughter named Sarah born in 1934 but commonly known as Sally.

By this time her first novel Dusty Answer had been published in 1927 and become both a critical and a popular success, which made her something of a literary star. Like all of her fiction this was autobiographical in nature and excited a certain amount of controversy due to its frank (in 1920s terms) treatment of female sexual desire. The follow up A Note in Music (1930) was less well received as its subject matter was considered to be too depressing, but her next two books Invitation to the Waltz (1932), and The Weather in the Streets (1936) were more succesful and established her reputation as one of the leading women authors of her time.

Between 1930 and 1939 Rosamnund and her husband lived at Ipsden House in Oxfordshire, where they entertained a wide circle of literary and artistic friends. But her second husband later became more interested in fighting the Spanish Civil War and advancing his painting career and by 1939 this marriage was also failing. Rosamond began an affair with Goronwy Rees which came to an end when she read of his engagement to another woman in in The Times. She then began a relationship with the poet Cecil Day-Lewis, despite the fact that he was already married with two children. They set up home together in 1941 and lived together for the next nine years. Her own marriage to Wogan Philips was dissolved in 1944, but when Day-Lewis was eventually divorced in 1950, he then abandoned her in favour of the actress Jill Balcon, whom he then married in 1953.

Her rather tortuous love-life however provided the inspiration and background for two further novels The Ballad and the Source (1944), and The Echoing Grove (1953). But having been emotionally traumatised by her experiences with men, she was further traumatised by the news of the the death of her daughter Sally in 1958 who contracted poliomyelitis in Jakarta and died at the age of only twenty-four. In consequence Rosamond abandoned writing and devoted herself instead to spiritualism. She became convinced that Sally was in "heaven teaching unborn baby birds to sing with St Francis of Assisi". When she did eventually return to writing her belief that her daughter was alive and well on the 'Other side' and in regular communication permeated both her autobiography, The Swan in the Evening (1967) as well as her rather confusing last novel A Sea-Grape Tree (1976).

As a result her work was rather forgotten about until the 1980s. Rosamond was created a Commander of the British Empire in 1982 and was also made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Virago Press reissued many of her novels at the time which brought her a new audience at least for a time. She also served for a time as the president of the British end of International PEN, was a member of the council of the Society of Authors, and vice-president of the College of Psychic Studies. She died at her London home of 30 Clareville Grove on the 12th March 1990.

Her work attracts a certain amount of interst from those literary critics who praise her for the manner in which her writing addresses the "conflict between intelligence and passion" and the "centrality of female experience", as well as issues such as homosexuality and abortion, she is probably no longer that widely read. Her 1936 novel The Weather in the Streets was filmed in 1983 as was her 1953 novel The Echoing Grove in 2002 under the title The Heart of Me.

Bibliography

Novels

Collections

Plays

Autobiography

REFERENCES

Judith Priestman, ‘Lehmann, Rosamond Nina (1901–1990)’, rev., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
Rosamond Lehmann: Profile: Virago http://www.virago.co.uk/virago/meet/lehmann_profile.asp
Reviews of the biography of Rosamond Lehmann by Selina Hastings (Chatto & Windus)

  • Kathryn Hughes, 'Fat and posh', Published 17 June 2002 http://www.newstatesman.com/200206170044
  • Alex Clark,'O I must tell Osbert!' The Guardian Saturday June 8, 2002 http://books.guardian.co.uk/reviews/biography/0,6121,729085,00. html
  • Gillian Tindall, 'Rosamond Lehmann's sad retreat' http://www.arlindo-correia.com/060902.html
  • Anne Chisholm, 'Love in a literary climate' The Daily Telegraph (Filed: 02/06/2002) http://www.arlindo-correia.com/060902.html

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