Lehmann, Rosamond Nina - Then out of this appalling darkness came an extraordinary breakthrough: I had the conviction of her presence
Type of Spiritual Experience
A description of the experience
Exract from Paris Review - Rosamond Lehmann, The Art of Fiction No. 88 - Interviewed by Shusha Guppy
Painful as it is to talk about Sally's death, it seems to have changed your life and your work completely.
I described it as it happened in The Swan in the Evening. Yes, there was an omen: a blackbird hit against my window and dropped dead. It was like a hard thud in my heart, but I was quite happy at the time and brushed it aside, until the news arrived . . .
I know you don't like the word “spiritualism” with its connotation of charlatanism, but Sally's death did seem to spark your interest in the spiritual life.
In the thirties, like most of my contemporaries, I was an agnostic. I was never a staunch atheist, but I thought that a spiritual life was a sort of gift that I didn't possess. I rejected all orthodox religions: they seemed narrow and dogmatically backward. I read with pleasure the great Christian mystics—Julian of Norwich, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross . . . When Sally died I was completely shattered; I didn't think of committing suicide, but I knew I couldn't live without her. So what was I to do? Then out of this appalling darkness came an extraordinary breakthrough: I had the conviction of her presence. I didn't actually see her, but I heard her voice with my inner ear, and I could touch her; I became convinced of the fundamental truth of “living on.” I kept saying to people, “But she is not dead!” and they thought I had gone round the bend! I became a recluse, and listened to this inner voice that kept telling me to go on and wait and grope.
Didn't you get involved with some mediums, or “sensitives” as you call them?
I went to one or two spiritualist séances but—without wanting to be too critical—I found them cheap, elementary and popular.
Then I joined the College of Psychic Studies and I met Lady Sandys who has become a close friend and is a remarkable clairaudient. The College of Psychic Studies is an intellectually based Jungian organization to which many serious researchers, including doctors and scientists, now belong. Through Lady Sandys I became in touch with Sally and many others. I have written about all this in The Swan in the Evening. I was lucky also to meet Eileen Garrett, a celebrated medium and friend of Aldous Huxley. Huxley was very much in touch with his wife, Maria, through Eileen but was reluctant to admit it. Eileen gives an account of it in her memoirs in which she talks about how much he depended on her.
Aldous came to see me after he had heard of my mystical experiences; he told me he had always longed for direct spiritual perceptions. “You are very fortunate,” he said, and added very touchingly, “Perhaps I don't love enough.”
A rather similar thing happened with Cyril Connolly. When I heard that he was going to review The Swan in the Evening for the Sunday Times I was terrified; I thought he would demolish it. Instead he gave it a marvelous review. I couldn't believe it; obviously it had pierced through all his defenses. Later when I met him he said, “You know my mother believed in an afterlife. She died a few years ago and I miss her terribly. She was a clairvoyant, but I never mentioned it to anyone because I was ashamed of it.” So I said to him: “You do believe in an afterlife, don't you?” He just turned away and didn't answer.
You see, because of the prevalent skepticism of our time many people don't have the courage of their convictions. But I received hundreds of letters—and still do—from people who have lost someone and who have had spiritual experiences.
More women than men write, and some say that their husbands don't believe them, insisting it is just their imagination. As if imagination were not the medium by which this super-reality is perceived. What they mean is “fancy,” which is different. But for me God is imagination, the creative spirit is imagination.
Women suffer the loss of a child more acutely, because with them it is a physical thing; men have not been through the process of bearing and feeding the child. Yes, on the whole I am very serene nowadays: I know that there is a life elsewhere, in another dimension, and that wherever Sally is I shall be soon.