Invitation to the Waltz is a novel almost without flaw: delicate in structure, beautifully written, minutely observed, moving and frequently very funny. Undoubtedly Rosamond’s best work, it is on this and on its distressing sequel, The Weather in the Streets, that her reputation must ultimately rest. Alone of all the Lehmann novels, Invitation is light and optimistic in tone, its inspiration drawn not from disappointment and betrayal but from the prospect of love requited and future contentment. Significantly, it is also the most outward-looking, least self-concentrated of Rosamond’s novels, written during that brief period of time when she was fulfilled in her marriage, anticipating years of happiness with Wogan, of bringing up children, and of productive work; as for Olivia and Kate, so for her: everything was about to begin. Selina Hastings in Rosamond Lehmann A Life
1904 to 1990
Rosamond Lehmann is one of the great English between the world wars novelists. She focuses on the country l upper class, in which she grew up, most often focusing on the romantic lives of women. Her by far best works are Invitation to the Waltz and The Weather in the Streets, no wonderful novels, a pure delight for readers.
I decided to read all of the fiction of Lehmann through a combination of reasons. Amazon recommended to me Rosamond Lehmann A Life by Selina Hastings. I read and greatly enjoyed this book. It places her in the context of England between the wars and shows her connections to the many distinguished literary figures in the era. At the same time i was reading this book I reread from long ago The Rhetoric of Fiction by Wayne Booth in which he talks about how authors achieve their effects. (This is a brilliant book and I recommend it to anyone with a serious interest in the novel.). Booth offers lots of illustrations of his ideas but he suggests that interested readers don't take his examples but read works of fiction not mentioned in his book to see if they are illuminating for us. After reading Hastings' book, I checked for Lehmann's works on Amazon. Only her memoir The Swan in the Evening: Fragments of an Inner Life seems even in print. Then through a very fortuitous contact, I was given kindle editions of all nine of her books, forthcoming from Open Media Press. The books are not very long, none much over 250 pages so, beginning with her acknowledged master work, Invitation to the Waltz, Selina Hastings calls it a "perfect novel" and I loved it, I decided to read them all.
On a perhaps a bit waggish note, one could say Lehmann characters are often the sort of people Saki writes about in his satirical short stories. Everyone has servants. I found through the focus Booth gave me an appreciation of the artistic sophistication of Lehmann. Her narrative methods are a mixture of devices, many of the sentences, even in the lesser novels, are pure gems. The middle chapter of Invitation to the Waltz is just hilarious, a perfect presentation of the persons at a country dance. The depiction of the pretentious young poet down from Oxford made me laugh out loud as I marveled at what a wonderful scene I was witnessing.
As of right now, most readers will not find it easy to acquire her out of print works. My guess is they will soon be back in print as Kindle editions but this is just my guess.
Rosamond Lehmann, at her best, is a great writer. Perhaps her very serious involvement with spiritualism after the death at 26 of her daughter Sally impacted her literary productivity but Invitation to the Waltz and The Weather in the Street, a sequel, belong on any serious lover of the novel life time list.