Rose Macaulay

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Pencil sketch of Rose Macaulay

Dame Emilie Rose Macaulay, DBE (1 August 1881 – 30 October 1958) was an English writer. She published thirty-five books, mostly novels but also biographies and travel writing.

Early years and education[edit]

Macaulay was born in Rugby, Warwickshire the daughter of George Campbell Macaulay, a Classical scholar, and his wife, Grace Mary (née Conybeare). Her father was descended in the male-line directly from the Macaulay family of Lewis. She was educated at Oxford High School for Girls and read Modern History at Somerville College at Oxford University.


Macaulay began writing her first novel, Abbots Verney (published 1906), after leaving Somerville and while living with her parents at Ty Isaf, near Aberystwyth, in Wales. Later novels include The Lee Shore (1912), Potterism (1920), Dangerous Ages (1921), Told by an Idiot (1923), And No Man's Wit (1940), The World My Wilderness (1950), and The Towers of Trebizond (1956). Her non-fiction work includes They Went to Portugal, Catchwords and Claptrap, a biography of Milton, and Pleasure of Ruins. Macaulay's fiction was influenced by Virginia Woolf and Anatole France.[1]

During World War I Macaulay worked in the British Propaganda Department, after some time as a nurse and later as a civil servant in the War Office. She pursued a romantic affair with Gerald O'Donovan, a writer and former Jesuit priest, from 1918 until his death in 1942. During the interwar period she was a sponsor of the pacifist Peace Pledge Union; however she resigned from the PPU and later recanted her pacifism in 1940.[2] Her London flat was utterly destroyed in the Blitz, and she had to rebuild her life and library from scratch, as documented in the semi-autobiographical short story, Miss Anstruther's Letters, which was published in 1942.

The Towers of Trebizond, Macaulay's final novel, is generally regarded as her masterpiece. Strongly autobiographical, it treats with wistful humour and deep sadness the attractions of mystical Christianity, and the irremediable conflict between adulterous love and the demands of the Christian faith. For this work, she received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1956.

Personal life[edit]

Rose Macaulay was never a simple believer in "mere Christianity"; however, and her writings reveal a more complex, mystical sense of the divine. That said, she did not return to the Anglican church until 1953; she had been an ardent secularist before and, while religious themes pervade her novels, previous to her conversion she often treats Christianity satirically, for instance in Going Abroad and The World My Wilderness.

Macaulay never married, as a result of her lengthy and secret relationship with the married Irish novelist Gerald O'Donovan. They met in 1918 and the affair lasted till O'Donovan's death in 1942.[3]

She was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) on 31 December 1957 in the 1958 New Years Honours.[4] Macaulay was an active feminist throughout her life.[1]

She died on 30 October 1958, aged 77.

Memorable quotes[edit]

"Adultery is a meanness and a stealing, a taking away from someone what should be theirs, a great selfishness, and surrounded and guarded by lies lest it should be found out. And out of meanness and selfishness and lying flow love and joy and peace beyond anything that can be imagined."

  • First line of The Towers of Trebizond, cited by librarian Nancy Pearl in "Famous First Words: A Librarian Shares Favorite Literary Opening Lines," [1] hosted by Steve Inskeep on NPR's Morning Edition, 8 September 2004, as an example among "some notable opening lines that have made Pearl's heart pound".

"Take my camel, dear," said my Aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.

  • From Staying with Relations. Discussing the coat worn by a visitor, a character remarks:

"Is rabbit fur disgusting because it's cheap, or is it cheap because it's disgusting?"


Primary: Fiction:

  • Abbots Verney (1906)
  • The Furnace (1907)
  • The Secret River (1909)
  • The Valley Captives (1911)
  • Views and Vagabonds (1912) John Murray
  • The Lee Shore (1913) Hodder & Stoughton
  • The Two Blind Countries (1914) Poetry. Sidgwick & Jackson
  • The Making of a Bigot (c 1914) Hodder & Stoughton
  • Non-Combatants and Others (1916) Hodder & Stoughton
  • What Not: A Prophetic Comedy (1918)
  • Three Days (1919) Poetry. Constable
  • Potterism (1920) US Edition Boni and Liveright
  • Dangerous Ages (1921) US Edition Boni and Liveright
  • Mystery At Geneva: An Improbable Tale of Singular Happenings (1922) William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd; US Edition Boni and Liveright
  • Told by an Idiot (1923)
  • Orphan Island (1924) William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd; US Edition Boni and Liveright
  • Crewe Train (1926)
  • Keeping Up Appearances (1928) William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd
  • Staying with Relations (1930)
  • They Were Defeated (1932)
  • Going Abroad (1934)
  • I Would Be Private (1937)
  • And No Man's Wit (1940)
  • The World My Wilderness (1950) William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd
  • The Towers of Trebizond (1956) William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd

Primary: Non-Fiction:

  • A Casual Commentary (1925)
  • Some Religious Elements in English Literature (1931)
  • Milton (1934)
  • Personal Pleasures (1935)
  • The Minor Pleasures of Life (1936)
  • An Open Letter (1937)
  • The Writings of E.M. Forster (1938)
  • Life Among the English (1942)
  • Southey in Portugal (1945)
  • They Went to Portugal (1946)
  • Evelyn Waugh (1946)
  • Fabled Shore: From the Pyrenees to Portugal By Road (1949)
  • Pleasure of Ruins (1953)
  • Coming to London (1957)
  • Letters to a Friend 1950–52 (1961)
  • Last letters to a friend 1952–1958 (1962)
  • Letters to a Sister (1964)
  • They Went to Portugal Too (1990) (The second part of They Went to Portugal, not published with the 1946 edition because of paper restrictions.)

Secondary Literature:

  • Babington Smith, Constance (1972). Rose Macaulay. London: Collins. ISBN 0-00-211720-7. 
  • Bensen, Alice R. (1969). Rose Macaulay. New York: Twayne Publishers. 
  • Crawford, Alice (1995). Paradise Pursued: The Novels of Rose Macaulay. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. ISBN 0-8386-3573-3. 
  • Emery, Jane (1991). Rose Macaulay: A Writer's Life. London: J. Murray. ISBN 0-7195-4768-7. 
  • Fromm, Gloria G. (October 1986). "The Worldly and Unwordly Fortunes of Rose Macaulay". The New Criterion 5 (2): 38–44. 
  • Hein, David. "Faith and Doubt in Rose Macaulay's The Towers of Trebizond." Anglican Theological Review 88 (2006): 47–68. Abstract:
  • Hein, David. "Rose Macaulay: A Voice from the Edge." In David Hein and Edward Henderson, eds., C. S. Lewis and Friends: Faith and the Power of Imagination, 93–115. London: SPCK; Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011.
  • LeFanu, Sarah (2003). Rose Macaulay. London: Virago. 
  • Moore, Judith (15 November 1978). "Rose Macaulay: A Model for Christian Feminists". Christian Century 95 (37): 1098–1101. 
  • Passty, Jeanette N. (1988). Eros and Androgyny: The Legacy of Rose Macaulay. London and Toronto: Associated University Presses. ISBN 0-8386-3284-X. 
  • Martin Ferguson Smith (ed), Dearest Jean: Rose Macaulay’s letters to a cousin (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2011).


  1. ^ a b Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft, editors; Twentieth Century Authors, A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Literature, (Third Edition). New York, The H.W. Wilson Company, 1950 (865–66).
  2. ^ Martin Ceadel, Semi-Detached Idealists:The British Peace Movement and International Relations, 1854–1945. Oxford University Press, 2000 ISBN 0199241171 (p.361).
  3. ^ Guardian
  4. ^ London Gazette notice of Macaulay's damehood

External links[edit]