Rosamond Lehmann

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In the 1920s with her brother John and Lytton Strachey

Rosamond Nina Lehmann[1] CBE (3 February 1901 – 12 March 1990), was an English novelist and translator. Her first novel, Dusty Answer (1927), was a succès de scandale; she subsequently became established in the literary world and intimate with members of the Bloomsbury set. Her novel The Ballad and the Source received particular critical acclaim, and her books The Echoing Grove and The Weather in the Streets were filmed, one version in 1983 with Michael York and Joanna Lumley which was the second time the BBC had filmed that book, but this version also included sections of "Invitation to the Waltz".

Life and writings[edit]

Rosamond Lehmann was born in Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, the second of four children of Rudolph Chambers Lehmann (1856–1929) and his American wife, Alice Mary Davis (1873–1956), from New England. Rosamond's father was a Liberal MP, founder of Granta magazine and editor of the Daily News. Her older sister was Helen Chambers Lehmann (1899–1985), and her younger sister was the actress Beatrix Lehmann (1903–1979). Her younger brother was John Lehmann (1907–1989), the writer and publisher. The American playwright Owen Davis was her cousin,[2] and her great-grandfather Robert Chambers founded Chambers Dictionary.[3] Her great-uncle was the artist Rudolf Lehmann.

Home educated, in 1919 she won a scholarship to Girton College, Cambridge. She graduated with a second class degree in both English Literature (1921) and Modern and Medieval Languages (1922). In December 1923[4][5] she married Walter Leslie Runciman (later 2nd Viscount Runciman of Doxford) (1900–1989), and the couple went to live in Newcastle upon Tyne. It was an unhappy marriage:[6] they separated in 1927 and were divorced later that year.

In 1927, Lehmann published her first novel, Dusty Answer, to great critical and popular acclaim. The novel's heroine, Judith, is attracted to both men and women, and interacts with fairly openly gay and lesbian characters during her years at Cambridge. The novel was a succès de scandale. Though none of her later novels was as successful as her first, Lehmann went on to publish six more, as well as a play (No More Music, 1939), a collection of short stories (The Gypsy's Baby & Other Stories, 1946), a spiritual autobiography (The Swan in the Evening, 1967), and a photographic memoir of her friends (Rosamond Lehmann's Album, 1985), many of whom were famous Bloomsbury Group figures such as Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Dora Carrington, and Lytton Strachey. She also translated two French novels into English: Jacques Lemarchand's Genevieve (1948) and Jean Cocteau's The Holy Terrors (1955). Her novels include A Note in Music (1930), Invitation to the Waltz (1932), The Weather in the Streets (1936), The Ballad and the Source (1944), The Echoing Grove (1953), and A Sea-Grape Tree (1976).

In 1928, Lehmann married Wogan Philipps, an artist who later succeeded his father as Wogan Philipps, 2nd Baron Milford. They had two children, a son Hugo (1929–1999) and a daughter Sarah, also known as Sally (1934–1958). The family lived at Ipsden House in Oxfordshire between 1930 and 1939. The marriage fell apart during the late Thirties with her husband leaving to take part in the Spanish Civil War. During World War II Lehmann helped to edit and also contributed to New Writing, a periodical edited by her brother, John Lehmann. She had an affair with the journalist Goronwy Rees and then a "very public affair" for nine years (1941–1950) with the married poet Cecil Day-Lewis, who eventually left her to marry his second wife, Jill Balcon.

An active opponent of fascism, Lehmann spoke at anti-fascism meetings in 1938 in Paris and London.[7]

The Weather in the Streets (1936) was made into a movie in 1983 and starred Michael York and Joanna Lumley. Lehmann visited the film set in Cheltenham.

Her 1944 book The Ballad and the Source depicts an unhappy marriage from the point of view of a child, and has been compared to Henry James' What Maisie Knew.

Her 1953 novel The Echoing Grove was made into the 2002 film Heart of Me, starring Helena Bonham Carter as the main character, Dinah.

The Swan in the Evening (1967) is an autobiography which Lehmann described as her "Last Testament". In it, she intimately describes the emotions she felt at the birth of her daughter Sally, and also when Sally died abruptly of poliomyelitis at the age of 23 (or 24) in 1958 while in Jakarta, Indonesia. She never recovered from Sally's death and claimed to have had psychic experiences related to Sally, which were documented in Moments of Truth. Collections of letters from 'beyond the grave' purportedly dictated by Sally were published in pamphlet form jointly with those from the daughter of Lady Cynthia Sandys, Patricia, who had also died young. Sandys claimed to receive the letters as 'dictation' from the after-life[8]. Some of these letters also appeared in book form in an anthology of similar writings, The Awakening Letters, co-edited by Lehmann.

Lehmann was appointed a CBE in 1982. Nearly blind from cataracts, she died at home in Clareville Grove, London on 12 March 1990, aged 89.



  • Selina Hastings, Rosamond Lehmann: A Life, 2002
  • Diana E Lestourgeon, Rosamond Lehmann, 1965
  • Marie-Jose Codaccioni, L'Oeuvre de Rosamond Lehmann: Sa contribution au roman féminin (1927–1952), 1983
  • Judy Simons, Rosamond Lehmann, 1992
  • Gillian Tindall, Rosamond Lehmann, 1985
  • Wiktoria Dorosz, Subjective Vision and Human Relationships in the Novels of Rosamond Lehmann, 1975
  • Wendy Pollard, Rosamond Lehmann and Her Critics: the Vagaries of Literary Reception, 2004
  • Françoise Bort, Marie-Françoise Cachin, Rosamond Lehmann et le métier d'écrivain, 2003.
  • Ruth Siegel, Rosamond Lehmann: a Thirties Writer, 1990



  1. ^
  2. ^ "FICTION: Dusty Answer". Time. 3 October 1927.
  3. ^ Introduction to Virago Press edition, publ. 2000, ISBN 978-1-84408-294-0
  4. ^ "ROSAMOND LEHMANN (1903–1990)"[1]. Retrieved 21 September 2007.
  5. ^ "The Papers of Rosamond Nina Lehmann" [2]. Retrieved 21 September 2007.
  6. ^ Anne Chisholm, reviewing Selina Hastings's biography comments: "He panicked when she became pregnant and insisted on an abortion, after which he praised her for being once again "all clean and clear inside"." See Anne Chisholm. "Love in a Literary Climate" The Daily Telegraph 2 June 2002. [3]
  7. ^ Selina Hastings, Rosamond Lehmann: A Life Random House, 2012 ISBN 1448104947 (pp. 193–95)
  8. ^ Cynthia Sandys and Rosamond Lehmann,The Awakening Letters, Neville Spearman(1978)

External links[edit]