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Rosamond Lehmann Reading Week: Dusty Answer

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Rosamond Lehmann is an author whose books have been languishing for far too long on my TBR pile (which is rapidly turning into a mountain – but more of that in my next post). So I was delighted when Florence at Miss Darcy’s Library announced she was hosting a Rosamond Lehmann Reading Week . I decided to start with “Dusty Answer”, Lehmann’s first novel and the only one I’ve actually read. This is a little contrary perhaps, but it ties in also with Heavenali‘s July re-reading challenge also. In the end, I’m very glad I did start with this book.

The book tells the story of the early life and growing up of Judith Earle, a solitary girl who lives in a house by a river and is fascinated by the five cousins who come to stay next door. Over the course of the novel, Judith grows up, goes to Cambridge, falls in and out of love and her relationships with the various cousins change as the years and events take their course. The story is told in an impressionistic way, and we see events through the highly subjective lens of Judith’s viewpoint. In many ways she is naive and her lack of experience lead her to misunderstand the other characters and situations quite dramatically, despite her intelligence.

I suspected from the little I knew about Lehmann that there might be autobiographical elements and when I had a look at Wikipedia it had this to say:

The story contains many elements of the author’s own childhood and upbringing; albeit idealised. Like the author the protagonist Judith Earle grew up privately educated in a large riverbank house in Buckinghamshire; unlike the author though she is an only child; her only playmates being the occasional visits of the children next door; five cousins: Julian, Charlie, Roddy, Martin and Mariella. Childhood friendships develop into romantic entanglements which continue as Judith leaves home for Girton College, Cambridge with a brief interlude when Judith falls in love with Jennifer a fellow student, scandalous for contemporary readers.

I was quite interested in what was said about the scandalous content as Lehmann is very matter-of-fact in her treatment of the love affairs of the various characters although she is of course never graphic or detailed. Judith’s love for Jennifer is in the end portrayed as quite pure – in a letter, Jennifer describes Judith as tucking her in like a mother, whereas one suspects that Jennifer’s passions are more adult and usually consummated. Similarly, cousin Roddy, who is Judith’s major love, has an ongoing relationship with Tony, who is given just a couple of somewhat camp characteristics but nothing is ever spelled out. But it doesn’t need to be – the quality and beauty of Lehmann’s writing tells you all you need to know about the characters and their emotions.

Did I enjoy “Dusty Answer”? A resounding yes! The writing alone, which is elegant and beautiful, is enough to enchant you. The characters and the settings are beautifully drawn and very real, and the whole story is infused with a sense of nostalgia, a pining for what is lost (or what was never had). I found the narrative gripping and this turned out to be one of those ‘can’t put it down’ books. It was a book that sent your emotions soaring to heights or to the depths of Judith’s despair. Lehmann’s talent as a writer is immense and hopefully the reading week will stimulate a lot more interest in this neglected writer.

 

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July Reads and Re-reads – The Plan So Far…

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‘Planning’ is not a word I often use in conjunction with my reading, as up till now I’ve tended to read whatever my mood indicated or my fancy dictated. Obviously if I was reading through a series in order (complete works of Virginia Woolf/Martin Beck crime novels series etc) then my reading would be a little more defined. However, since I started dropping in on the blogging world, joining up with a variety of reading challenges, I have had to structure things a little more!

So this is the plan so far for July!

Firstly, Ali at HeavenAli and Liz at Adventures in full-time self-employment have come up with A Month of Re-reading in July, a wonderful idea to allow us to re-read much loved volumes without feeling guilty about the tottering tbr pile! There are lots of books I would love to go back to but am also a little scared about revisiting – especially if I felt strongly about them in the past but am unsure about how I’ll feel about them all these years on. However, these are the books I have chosen:

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To give a little run-down:

Josephine Tey – The Franchise Affair

I have a great love of classic, Golden Age crime novels (Christie, Sayers, Allingham, Crispin etc) and read all the Josephine Teys many years ago. They got lost in various moves so I was delighted to pick up a lovely set via The Book People. The Franchise Affair is, I think, considered by many her best and I figured you can’t go wrong with a good mystery!

Albert Camus – The Outsider

Camus is another writer I first read in my twenties and needs very little introduction. I’ve read The Outsider a couple of times and each time have gained different impressions from it – so it will be interesting to find out what this reading brings.

Colette – Ripening Seed

I had a major re-read of Colette’s non-fiction earlier this year, plus read new biographies and non-fiction volumes which I hadn’t been able to get hold of in the past – but I didn’t get round to any of her fictions. This is a lovely little Penguin which has been calling to me for a while and so I think it’s time for a re-visit. I might be able to get away with fitting in with Bookbath’s Paris in July read-along too – although it’s not set in that fair city, Colette was a very Parisian writer!

Rosamond Lehmann – Dusty Answer

The lovely Miss Darcy is hosting a Rosamond Lehmann Reading Week during 23rd-29th July which I’m looking forward to joining in with – particularly as several RL books have been sitting in my tbr for 20 years (yes, really!) The only one of her volumes I have actually read is Dusty Answer so I shall re-read as part of the challenge.

Italo Calvino – If On a winter’s night a traveller

Where to start with Calvino? The late, great Italian writer, feted in his own country and the rest of Europe and who was one of my major reading obsessions in the eighties. It’s a long long time since I’ve read any of his work and I’m a little scared to approach this novel, because it was the first of his I read. It’s regarded as his masterpiece and I loved it at the time, and I’m just a little worried that it won’t have the same effect on me now. But I think I will take my courage in my hands and re-read!

I think I am going to be balancing my re-reading with some new volumes as well, which will allow for the fact that I often read according to whim or mood. The planned new reads for July are:

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Elizabeth Taylor – Angel

Goes without saying, really, as part of the Cententary read-along. I’m rather looking forward to this one as it’s supposed to be unlike her others.

Elizabeth Taylor – In a Summer Season

This is the August ET book but as I am guest hosting I think I need to get a handle on it in advance so that I can say something sensible in my posts!

Virginia Woolf – The Platform of Time

I started this a little while ago but have had several literary distractions so I’m determined to finish this during July. It’s a lovely Hesperus volume of memoirs by VW which should be good reading.

I’m not quite sure which of these I shall tackle first – it will rather depend on where the mood takes me!

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