Out of the corner of an eye he took in her appearance, thinking she looked a bit garish: petunia pink evening frock, a colour he disliked, white fur wrap, diamond clips and earrings, make-up overdone, blue-shadowed eyelids between frowning forehead and hard anxious stare. She was beginning to plaster it on, he thought, like all the rest of them. All but one…
‘Very pretty, very nice. Not quite sure about the colour. Nice, I think, Yes. New?’ Tumbler in hand, he slightly jerked his head towards her.
‘This thing! Heavens no. Really Rickie, you’ve seen it half a dozen times.’
[Later, they are dancing:] She saw their reflections in the wall of mirrors at one end of the room – an ungratifying spectacle: a not-so-young woman dressed rather showily, like a rather respectable tart, her hair set unbecomingly, trying to adapt herself to the slack grasp and shuffle of a bored and exhausted-looking man.
observations: Should be read in conjunction with Tuesday’s entry on the book, which explains the plot.
Before coming home to his wife, Rickie has seen the other sister, Dinah who ‘wears her hair shoulder-length, rolled under, she wears a mackintosh and carries a shabby suitcase.’ Meanwhile, Rickie himself ‘has a virile sensuous distinction, a prosperous suit of clothes. Upper-class philanderer caught in a fatal net…’
Lehmann doesn’t always describe the clothes, but when she does they are dead on.
Two days later he stopped his car at her door , and she emerged, pale in a lime green linen suit, and took her place beside him.Later on the mysterious Georgie (a woman) will be wearing dark-red slacks with a striped blouse. She has one of the best lines in the book – when she first meets Rickie (he is sliding in late to a dinner party next to her) she says ‘What have you lost?’ and then ‘[You’ve] a look on your face as if you were wondering where you could possibly have left something or other.’ This makes Rickie see her as tremendously perspicacious, and it has always struck me as the most perfect chatup line.
It is a very intelligent and very romantic book. One of CiB’s favourite poems is (slightly mis-)quoted – Heart of the Heartless World. And there are a couple of lines from a William Blake poem that resonate through the pages, and are of huge importance to Dinah:
Throughout all eternity I forgive you and you forgive me.-- there is a reference to a grove in the same poem, though not in a way that explains the title to me.
There is a film of the book, called The Heart of Me, again, for no clear reason that I can see - if you are going to change the title, why not change it to something resonant? But that is my only criticism of the film, which is completely beautiful and perfect. Helena Bonham Carter and Olivia Williams play the sisters, with Paul Bettany as Rickie, and the whole thing is a masterpiece – though one that almost no-one has seen. Anyone in need of a great film of relationships, a period drama with wonderful 1930s clothes and settings, perfect casting and acting, should get hold of it at once.
One of the IMDB comments on the film gives this excellent summing up of Dinah’s morally ambiguous behaviour:
She is wracked with regret and despair over the consequences of her affair. But in the thick of it, she is absolutely shameless.The writing in the book is all rather wonderful. There is a lovely description of a street in wartime London, where life goes on despite the bombing:
These children leaping with infinite tomorrows, that woman putting her baby out to sleep, that other growing flowers…There is a discussion of another woman – a rival:
‘Steel-true wanton, I rather thought. Well-developed figure, trinkets, head scarves, cheek-bones, on the grubby side. New Statesman girl. Not nasty.’As if a New Statesman girl could be like that.
‘She sounds appalling.’
‘N-no.’ Dinah shrugged. ‘Just not our sort.’
This book will not be to everyone’s taste, but if you think you like the sound of it at all, you should try it, and watch the film too. I am so hoping that Open Road Media succeed in getting the word out about Rosamond Lehmann, and that there might be a renewal of interest in her.
The black and white photo is from The Vintage tumblr. The green linen suit is from the NYPL.