When Rosamond Lehmann died in 1990, her obituary notices were
obsessive in unearthing links between her fiction and her personal life.
In particular, obituary writers seemed fixated on the men in Lehmann’s
life, on her passionate affairs and their equally intense traumatic collapse.
As Hermione Lee pointed out in The Times, ‘No man would get
obituaries like’ these.1 Women writers always run the risk of being
judged and classified according to gendered criteria, especially when,
as in Lehmann’s case, their work conforms to the literary models that
have traditionally provided the staple diet of middlebrow ‘women’s
fiction’. It is, however, more helpful to see Lehmann’s novels of the
1930s not so much as an autobiographical journey or a transparent
reflection of her erotic career but as a register of the emotional climate
of her times. The self-conscious and subversive deployment of the
romance format in a work such as The Weather in the Streets (1936)
serves to interrogate the relationship between sexualities and textualities,
by exploring the artistic and social divisions characteristic of the
period, where the failure of grand narratives exposes the linked crises
of gender and aesthetics that absorbed many writers of that generation.
Addressing this very issue, Lehmann regretted the ‘androgynous disguises,
the masculine masks’ adopted by modern women in order to
cope with a world in collapse, a ‘general post-war fissuring and crackup
of all social and moral structures’.