Literary biographer Hastings (Evelyn Waugh, 1995, etc.) turns to a novelist whose life paralleled the cycles of romantic passion and despair she portrayed in her own books.
The author admits she hedged on the opportunity to write about Rosamond Lehmann, with whom she shared friendship and “hours of gossip” until the latter’s death in 1990, implying that the results of an honest effort (which she has certainly produced) would have been too painful for both. Delving at length into her subject’s family association with the British literati—a grandfather had hobnobbed with Dickens—and early childhood, Hastings finds a girl born to comfort in 1901 but constantly aware that the Upper Class were Different. “Rosie . . . longs for affection,” her father wrote prophetically when she was eight, “and expands under its glow.” An older Rosamond didn’t deny herself when it came to matters of the heart. Trapped in a loveless first marriage, she cheated; her husband knew her lover well, and they became a ménage. When her first novel, Dusty Answer, was published in 1927 to critical acclaim, she began to hear a refrain that would resound for over four decades in response to her novels: “Oh, Miss Lehmann, it’s my story.” Crystallizing female rites of passage in England between the two world wars, her work tapped a seam of empathy far beyond its shores. Her continuing series of serious affairs and flings (one with Ian Fleming) fanned the flames; lesbian readers, for instance, often insisted (wrongly) that she was posing as a heterosexual. Hastings expertly gleans the significant details of emotional attrition along the way and evokes a dark decline. Spurned by longtime lover Cecil Day-Lewis in favor of a younger woman, Rosamond was finally broken by the tragic death of her 24-year-old daughter Sally in 1958.
Sympathetic but true to a life lived for love.