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The Vanishing Hero

Men and Modernity in Rosamond Lehmann's The Weather in the Streets

Judy Simons

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’.

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