I've been really busy the last few days but have managed to read this biography in what little time I've had. Having consumed four (well, three and a half) Lehmann novels over the past couple of weeks, I was fascinated to know about her life. Goodness, what a sad life it was, really. It's tempting to say that the problems she had were largely of her own making -- but of course she acted as she did because of who she was, and she was who she was because of ... what? Her childhood, perhaps? That's what Selina Hastings, in this wonderfully thorough and balanced biography, suggests. Certainly Rosamund felt, with some justification, that her handsome, urbane, clever father did not love her as much as he loved her siblings -- calm, beautiful Helen, witty adorable Bea and John, the only son. So, the argument goes, she spent her life falling for men who resembled her father, and then falling into despair and angry recrimination when her increasing insecurity and neediness drove them away. She was, of course, a beauty, and had no trouble attracting the men in the first place -- they all started out quite wild about her, and so their cooling off was perhaps all the more terrible. And having been such a beauty, her old age was rather terrible too -- though she managed to delude herself that men were still falling in love with her even when she was in her eighties. The most tragic event of all this rather tragic life was of course the sudden death of her young and newly married daughter Sally. As is well known, this precipitated her into an extraordinary phase in which she was convinced she was in communication with Sally on "the other side". She drew great comfort from this, but unfortunately it also alienated many, even most, of her closest friends, sceptics all. It also went to produce her last and much admired book, The Swan in the Evening, which I have just ordered (used) from Amazon. It is great, though, to be reminded of what a wonderful revival her writing had in the early 1980s, thanks to Virago.
This really is an exemplary biography. Having read all those novels so recently, I found the accounts of their writing really interesting, and also good to hear about the critical reception -- which pretty much echoed my own responses. An extra resonance for me was that I believe my parents knew Rosamund, and definitely knew her actress sister Bea -- certainly many of the people who appear in the novel were family friends who I was used to hearing about when I was a child.