In 1926, when British publishers Chatto & Windus accepted Rosamond Lehmann’s first novel, Dusty Answer, they had modest hopes of its success. Young authors and tales of youthful experience dominated the market at the time, a craze sparked by Alec Waugh’s autobiographical best seller The Loom of Youth, published in 1917, when he was nineteen. And twenty-six-year-old Lehmann had written a book “of decided quality,” thought Chatto director Harold Raymond, who nevertheless told her that they didn’t expect to make any money. The novel received a few reviews following its publication at the end of April 1927. “This is, indeed, one of the most charming and convincing studies of young womanhood that we have read for some time,” said The Spectator. “But the story is too sad for popular taste.” Such an assessment was, it seemed, borne out by the less-than-brisk sales. Then a week later, the Sunday Times ran a review by the poet and critic Alfred Noyes, who was an old friend of Lehmann’s father’s, and whose praise was the stuff of debut novelists’ dreams:
It is not often that one can say with confidence of a first novel by a young writer that it reveals new possibilities for literature. But there are qualities in this book that mark it out as quite the most striking first novel of this generation … The modern young woman, with all her frankness and perplexities in the semi-pagan world of today, has never been depicted with more honesty, or with more exquisite art.
The world took notice, and an overnight literary phenomenon was born. During the summer of 1927, a whirlwind of publicity enveloped Lehmann, to her amazement and mild chagrin. “It’s rather terrifying somehow,” she confided to Raymond, “when a thing you have made yourself, very privately, becomes so very public.” Read More