3 - Patterns: Rosamond Lehmann
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 January 2018
Although her genteel upbringing and socio-economic background differed significantly from the outsider existence taken up and embodied by Rhys, Rosamond Lehmann shared her contemporary's fascination with the modern couture of the interwar period. Her novels as well as her correspondence and autobiographical writing testify to the allure that nice clothes and fashion magazines had for this middle-class British woman with literary aspirations. What distinguished Lehmann from Rhys, however, was the former's interest in using her writing to represent and emphasise the shared components in women's emotional experiences. Where Rhys's fiction focused on social outcasts in her explorations of women's engagements with contemporary sartorial politics, Lehmann's texts attempted to differently negotiate the tension between adaptation and difference brought into play by fashion. Even though her representation of modern fashion is by no means uncritical, this chapter will show that Lehmann's heroines – and her novels – try harder to live up to expectations. They are less interested in stylistic originality and individuality than Rhys's eccentric counterparts. Rather, they are more inclined, as will become apparent, to take up invitations to follow various textile, social and textual patterns available to women at the time Lehmann was writing. Critics of her work might therefore argue that Lehmann's fiction is in danger of being intellectually compromised – that the author's desire to fit in rendered her too susceptible to the pressures of the literary marketplace and made her produce a number of novels too inclined to follow established literary paradigms. And as we shall see, Lehmann's correspondence is certainly supportive of such statements. This writer, who ‘dreamed complacently about poetic fame’ in her youth, never concealed the fact that she hoped to become a successful writer. However, rather than reading her work as its author's obvious submission to market demands, I want to suggest that Lehmann's awareness of, and partial compromise with, existing (sartorial and literary) patterns and her willingness to consider publishing commercially successful work were motivated by her desire to represent communality and solidarity among women as desirable social dynamics.
- Modernism, Fashion and Interwar Women Writers , pp. 110 - 144Publisher: Edinburgh University PressPrint publication year: 2017