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the swan at sunset

Although much younger and only tangentially and belatedly associated with the select Bloomsbury group, Rosamond Lehmann has something of the sophisticated Virginia Woolf manner, analytical insight and experimental tone that characterized many of the representatives of English Modernism, but her work The narrative reflects her own world, inseparable from her social position and her place –as an educated, independent and free woman– in literary life between the wars. In one way or another, the theme of sentimental initiation appears in the three novels that Regina López Muñoz has translated for Errata Naturae: vain answer (1927), where he addressed the taboo of female homoeroticism; invitation to the dance (1932), which explored a girl’s fears on the eve of her coming out, and its sequel A la inclement weather (1936), recreation of a clandestine relationship that prefigured that of the narrator with the poet Cecil Day-Lewis. Devoted in the treatment of “romantic and sexual love from a subjective angle”, according to her own words, Lehmann knew how to impress not only charm and literary quality, but also an air of modernity characteristic of those years.

Lehmann’s “personal will” comes in the form of a selective recount

Much later than them is his only autobiographical installment, The Swan in the Evening (1967) in the suggestive original title, recently published by Errata in a neat version by the same translator, a very beautiful and at times disconcerting book where the novelist paid tribute to her daughter Sally, who died prematurely of polio. Defined as a “very personal testament”, which he dedicates to his granddaughter Anna, Lehmann’s memory is presented in the form of a selective account, almost entirely foreign to his literary profession and oriented, at first subtly and later openly, to record that “death considered as extinction is an illusory concept”. It is therefore a strange and largely instrumental autobiography, devoted to her daughter whose painful loss and subsequent recovery they were for Lehman the central events of his life.



Already in the first part, where he evokes his childhood, the coming tragedy advances in part

Already in the first part, where not without melancholy she evokes her childhood, the author advances in part the coming tragedy. Born in an early morning of “impetuous storm”, the day of Queen Victoria’s funeral, Lehmann had an “overprotected and materially privileged” childhood, although not free of shadows. Using the sensitivity and sober elegance that we associate with her writing, the memorialist brings together scattered memories, often symbolic or highly significant, of the Eden lost – the great family house in Buckinghamshire, on the banks of the Thames – and “the endless road, sometimes sad and eccentric, of my formative years”, in which he already shows a certain “propensity for more immaterial dwellings”. Little Rosie, a struggling poet’s apprentice, was a pale-skinned girl with sleepy eyes, highly receptive to the “dreamlike sensitivity of the plant world”, who did not doubt the presence of the “spirits of nature”. She enjoys the games, the regatta season or the mock dances of the paper fairies, but she already knows then that death also inhabits paradise and she experiences an early epiphany in which she feels that God has appointed her.

The delicacy of the narrator turns her unusual confession into a memorable testimony

They are, he tells us, episodes of a subautobiography or “underground archive”, like those that are collected deformed in his novels, but the story of his life changes on the night of San Juan 1958, when he receives the news of Sally’s death, hours after a young blackbird crashes against his home on the Isle of Wight. The orphanhood of the daughter, of whom she draws a luminous portrait in which simplicity, genuine compassion, grace as ancient, not only physical beauty, stand out, translates into loneliness, exile or creative paralysis, all the sensations of a “mutilated existence”, until he discovers, after a series of mystical revelations, that it is still close, “as alive as ever”. In this certaintysustained in his supernatural experiences and in the doctrine of the psychism, finds the serenity and strength to transmit his message –”we are souls traveling in eternity”–, expressed with a naturalness that moves and disarms. It becomes difficult to follow her at this point, but the narrator’s compassion and delicacy make her unusual confession a memorable testimony.

the happiness of others

A perfect exponent of a generation of women from the well-to-do class who determinedly took on the course of their destiny, Rosamond Lehmann acted as a groundbreaking novelist –or rather, she was given that role, she suggests, projecting the experiences of her characters onto the author– and It may therefore come as a surprise that she ended up devoted to a cause as unprestigious as that of spiritualism, but perhaps the same independence of character that she had shown as a young storyteller rugged was the one that led her, during her maturity devastated by loss, to speak without prejudice of her communication with the dead daughter. He did not do it with proselytizing intention – “the last thing I want is to proclaim my own dogmas” – nor by ignoring the “grotesque and embarrassing triviality” that surrounds that world, but from the humility that does not allow himself to judge the beliefs of others. Not being “what is meant by a religious person” and surrounded by an intellectual environment that is at least agnostic, Lehmann needed to get her daughter back and he got it, that’s all. She herself tells her granddaughter Anna of her, in her moving final letter: “Perhaps one should not condemn anything that contributes to the happiness of others.”

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