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Lehmann, John (1907-1987)  
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John Lehmann was one of the most distinguished and discerning British men of letters of the mid-twentieth century. Renowned as a poet, novelist, critic, memoirist, and biographer, he wrote more than twenty-five books.

However, it is as an editor and publisher that Lehmann is perhaps most highly esteemed, beginning with New Writing (and its associated titles), a pioneering biannual periodical that he edited from 1936 to 1946, and which featured works from such notable writers as Christopher Isherwood and Stephen Spender, among many others. Lehmann also edited the popular Penguin New Writing series of paperbacks from 1946 to 1950.

He was also the managing director of Leonard and Virginia Woolf's legendary Hogarth Press, and founded his own publishing house, John Lehmann, Ltd. He re-launched the venerable publication The London Magazine in 1954, aimed at a "public interested in serious literature," where he remained as editor until 1961.

While his three volumes of memoirs, published between 1955 and 1966, are mostly reticent about his sexuality, Lehmann's 1976 book, In the Purely Pagan Sense, provides a revealing and valuable portrait of gay life in England and pre-war Germany, written in the form of a novel.

Lehmann also published several volumes of his own poetry, as well as acclaimed biographies of Virginia Woolf, Edward Lear, and Rupert Brooke.

As a gay man, Lehmann once observed that he was "always looking for the friend who will give me the direct, warm and natural, entirely loyal relationship that I dream about."

He was never entirely successful, however, in finding such a relationship.

He experienced intimate, although unrequited, friendships with both Isherwood and Spender, a youthfully ardent, although short-lived, relationship with the actor Michael Redgrave, and a long-lasting, although essentially chaste, companionship with the ballet dancer Alexis Rassine. He was also befriended by such notable glbtq cultural figures as Lytton Strachey and E.M. Forster.

Tall and handsome, Lehmann's physical stature, as the literary critic A.T. Tolley observed, "seems always to have made a lasting impact. . . . His naturalness, grace and ease of manner were equally admirable characteristics that penetrated the consciousness of those he met."

Strachey once remarked that Lehmann, "with quite a slight adjustment of his features might have been a great beauty," while Virginia Woolf, upon first meeting him, described Lehmann in her diary as "[a] tight aquiline boy, pink, with the adorable curls of youth; yes, but persistent, sharp."

Although his editing and publishing achievements overshadowed much of his own writing during his lifetime, Lehmann remained at the center of British literary life for over five decades.

Born Rudolph John Frederick Lehmann on June 2, 1907, in Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, he was the fourth child and only son of Rudolph Chambers Lehmann, a Liberal M.P., as well as a celebrated sportsman and editor, and his wife Alice Davis, of Boston, Massachusetts.

One of his sisters, Rosamond Lehmann (1901-1990), became a novelist, while another sister, Beatrix Lehmann (1903-1979), became an actress.

The Lehmann family lived in lavish, high-Edwardian style in a majestic house on the river Thames, and the children were brought up principally by nannies, governesses, and tutors.

John Lehmann began his formal education at Summer Fields, a boys' preparatory school in Summertown, Oxford, which he left with a scholarship for Eton in 1921. He was a despondent student, and later in his life characterized Eton as "a philosophic darkness that swallowed me up."

After Eton, Lehmann studied English at Trinity College, Cambridge. George "Dadie" Rylands, a friend and fellow-student, once described Lehmann during this period as "a romantic old ninny, who loved to suffer."

Mainly, Lehmann suffered through a passionate infatuation with the future actor Michael Redgrave, who was also studying at Cambridge. While evidence suggests that feelings were reciprocated, the relationship ended unhappily, nonetheless.

In 1931, after leaving Cambridge, Lehmann served an apprenticeship at Leonard and Virginia Woolf's Hogarth Press, which they had established some fourteen years earlier. It was mainly his close friendship with Julian Bell (who was Virginia Woolf's nephew) that brought Lehmann to the Woolfs' attention. Lehmann later described his relationship with Bell as "the most intimate, intellectual friendship of my Cambridge years."

"Dadie" Rylands, who had briefly worked at the Press, also recommended Lehmann to the Woolfs and persuaded them to publish Lehmann's first book of poetry, A Garden Revisited and Other Poems, which they did that same year as part of the Hogarth Living Poets series.

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