Virago Classics: Moving on from Rosamond Lehmann to Storm Jameson

Storm Jameson

Storm Jameson

Rosamond Lehmann, a dazzling writer of nuanced women’s novels, cannot hold a candle to Storm Jameson, a versatile novelist who expresses herself less beautifully.

Lehmann is a bit too melodramatic for my taste.

Don’t get me wrong.  I loved Invitation to the Waltz, Lehmann’s stream-of-consciousness novel about a girl’s first dance.  But the sequel, The Weather in the Streets,  is too earnest and even slightly ridiculous in its sensitive narrative of Olivia’s masochistic love affair with an upper-class married man. ( It is admittedly difficult to describe such suffering without going overboard.)

None Turn Back Jameson 2291763Storm Jameson (1891-1986), on the other hand, writes about more interesting, even more “grown-up” subjects.  She describes her heroines’ work and political interests as well as complicated love affairs and marriages.  Jameson was a socialist, a pacifist, a member of the International Women’s League, and the president the International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists and Novelists (PEN). She wrote a splendid autobiography, Journey from the North, and I am a mad fan of her trilogy, The Mirror in Darkness, the story of a leftist writer heroine, Hervey Russell, after World War I. It  consists of None Turn Back, Company Parade, and Love in Winter.

In her autobiography, Jameson gives a moving account of her generation’s idealism in the wake of World War I.  After graduation from the University of Leeds, she moved to London, and said she and her Yorkshire friends confidently believed they would live as equals of graduates of elite schools.

Our freedom intoxicated us; there was nothing we should not be able to attempt, no road not open to us, no barriers in the world that we children of farmers and seamen were going to walk about in as equals. Our certainty, our optimism, our illusions, are what mark our difference from every other generation which talked its tongues off its roots since. No generation has ever been so naturally idealistic. Nor, perhaps, so happy, since of all the illusions on which young men get drunk the illusion of a future, a road running toward infinity, breeds happiness more surely and quickly than even a successful love-affair.

Naturally, it was not that simple.  But this passage very much reminds me of our own hope during the social change of the ’60s and ’70s.

Jameson Women Against Men 2064158Why do I mention Jameson and Lehmann together? Jameson’s  novella, “Delicate Monster,” in Women Against Men, a collection of three novellas, like Lehmann’s The Weather in the Streets, is an account of infidelity. Jameson’s narrator, Fanny, a serious novelist, is shattered by the betrayal of her oldest friend, Victoria Form, a best-selling writer of bodice-ripper romances, who seduces Fanny’s husband.

Victoria, of course, is so narcissistic that she cannot take it seriously.  She marries men, always for advantage, tires of them, and has affairs.  When a young man commits suicide because of her, she tells everyone about it.  Otherwise they wouldn’t know.

Fanny confronts Victoria, pretending not to care much, but milking her for details.  Victoria soon realizes that Charles had betrayed her to Victoria.

Poor Fanny,” she said.

“You’ve had so many men.  You might have left me mine,” I said ridiculously.

But Fanny gets over it.

You will laugh to hear what put me in the way of being cured.  Victoria wrote another novel, which I read–for no better reason than knowing it would give an account (romantic) of herself and Charles.  Victoria never waits for an experience to cool before rushing it into print.

Charles was not the main of the novel.  He was a chapter headed–you have guessed it–“Passionate Interlude.”

Surprisingly, Victoria’s novel is very funny. Tears stream down Fanny’s cheeks as she laughs at a scene where Victoria sees in the mirror that Charles’s legs are too long for the love seat.

I like Fanny’s anger.  There is nothing, nothing worse than being betrayed by a friend.  If a husband has an affair, it is bad, but if a friend seduces him, it is the worst betrayal of all.

Ten years later, Fanny and Victoria make up. Fanny has missed her friend.  They have known each other all their lives.  It is easy to understand.

Victoria continues to be a monster.  Her daughter, Camilla, a  sensible, loyal woman, marries a man of a lower class whom she loves very much.  Victoria works very, very hard to break them up.

And yet Fanny enjoys her company.  Honestly, don’t we all have friends like this?

Fanny, who becomes a literary agent after her divorce, also writes entertainingly about writers.  Not just Victoria is awful–all of them are!  So she says.  She does not enjoy her lunches with them. They all think they deserve to be famous.   She longs for her old job, as a reader.

Fanny’s anger over Victoria’s betrayal spills over into her new career.

I loved this!  I will report on my Jameson binge from time to time.