Sunday 1 January 2017

The Game to be Played

Brookner has frequently been misread as a soft option, a wistful English lady writing short, tender, sorrowful novels a la Rosamond Lehmann, on broken hearts and lost loves. This is quite wrong. She is an obsessive, clinical, severely disenchanted writer.
Hermione Lee, review of A Friend from England, LA Times, 1988

I should like to focus today on Rosamond Lehmann, the dedicatee of Hotel du Lac. In Selina Hastings's 2002 biography of Lehmann, we learn that one of the most pleasurable consequences of Rosamond's late-flowering fame in the 1980s, following the inauguration of the Virago publishing house, was the personal friendships she formed as a result: with Carmen Callil 'whose generous and ebullient nature endeared her to Rosamond' and Anita Brookner, 'whose work Rosamond unreservedly admired - "my favourite novelist" - and of whom she became extremely fond'. Brookner, described by Hastings as 'elegant, fastidious, unusually perceptive', had some reservations about Lehmann's writing, 'although she became devoted to her person'.
I adored her. She was very benevolent towards me ... [although] she never regarded me as an equal: that was the game to be played. One always had to refer to her beauty, which was not apparent any more, of course. And she trailed a glorious past behind her, which didn't deceive me for one moment. She was very insecure and very innocent. I could see that she'd been abandoned. There were lots of names, lots of friends [...] And yet the impression I had was of a woman sitting alone, inconsolable.
(One is reminded perhaps of Julia in Brief Lives?)

Anita and Carmen, writes Hastings, dined sometimes with Lehmann at her London home, where Rosamond would reminisce about her love life, encouraging the younger women to confide to her about their own. On a couple of occasions all three spent the weekend at Lehmann's Suffolk home. We know from Brookner's novels how trips into the English provinces can be rife with danger. Callil recalls 'Anita sternly going for walks and drinking tea'.

[Brookner's obituary or memoir of Lehmann, written shortly after her death in 1990, is worth a read.]

Rosamond Lehmann in earlier life

[And as to Carmen Callil (dedicatee of A Friend from England): In The Modern Library (1999) she selects Family and Friends as one of the 200 best novels since 1950: '[Brookner's] fiction is noted for its subtlety and technical skill but this can be deceptive, and has indeed deceived an odd ghetto of English critics who greet her novels with delighted misunderstanding. Elsewhere it is recognised that in ambush behind her classically beautiful prose ... is a devilry that works on her stories like lemon zest. Family and Friends, in Alfred's final revenge, provides a finale so delicate and precise that you can almost see the keen eye of the author slowly blinking at you.']

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