Rose Macaulay

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Rose Macaulay

Pencil sketch of Rose Macaulay
Pencil sketch of Rose Macaulay
BornEmilie Rose Macaulay
(1881-08-01)1 August 1881
Rugby, Warwickshire, England
Died30 October 1958(1958-10-30) (aged 77)
CitizenshipUnited Kingdom
EducationOxford High School for Girls
Alma materSomerville College, Oxford
Notable works
Notable awardsJames Tait Black Memorial Prize (1956)
Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (1958)
PartnerGerald O'Donovan (c. 1918–1942)

Dame Emilie Rose Macaulay, DBE (1 August 1881 – 30 October 1958) was an English writer, most noted for her award-winning novel The Towers of Trebizond, about a small Anglo-Catholic group crossing Turkey by camel. The story is seen as a spiritual autobiography, reflecting her own changing and conflicting beliefs. Macaulay's novels were partly influenced by Virginia Woolf; she also wrote biographies and travelogues.

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.[1]


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 John Milton, and Pleasure of Ruins. Macaulay's fiction was influenced by Virginia Woolf and Anatole France.[2]

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, whom she met in 1918; the relationship lasted until his death, in 1942.[3] 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.[4] Her London flat was 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 blue plaque on Hinde House at 11–14 Hinde Street where Macaulay lived from 1941 until her death[5][6]

The Towers of Trebizond, her 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.[7]

Personal life[edit]

Macaulay was never a simple believer in "mere Christianity", 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. She was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) on 31 December 1957 in the 1958 New Years Honours[8] and died ten months later, on 30 October 1958, aged 77. She was an active feminist throughout her life.[2]



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


  • The Two Blind Countries (1914) Sidgwick & Jackson
  • Three Days (1919) Constable
  • Misfortunes, with engravings by Stanley Morison (1930)


  • A Casual Commentary (1925) Methuen
  • Some Religious Elements in English Literature (1931) Hogarth
  • Milton (1934) Duckworth
  • Personal Pleasures (1935) Gollancz
  • The Minor Pleasures of Life (1936) Gollancz
  • An Open Letter (1937) Peace Pledge Union
  • The Writings of E.M. Forster (1938) Hogarth
  • Life Among the English (1942) William Collins
  • Southey in Portugal (1945) Nicholson & Watson
  • They Went to Portugal (1946) Jonathan Cape
  • Evelyn Waugh (1946) Horizon
  • Fabled Shore: From the Pyrenees to Portugal By Road (1949) Hamish Hamilton
  • Pleasure of Ruins (1953) Thames & Hudson
  • Coming to London (1957) Phoenix House
  • Letters to a Friend 1950–52 (1961) William Collins
  • Last Letters to a Friend 1952–1958 (1962) William Collins
  • Letters to a Sister (1964) William Collins
  • They Went to Portugal Too (1990) (The second part of They Went to Portugal, not published with the 1946 edition because of paper restrictions.) Carcanet


  1. ^ Crawford, Alice (1995). Paradise Pursued: The Novels of Rose Macaulay. Farleigh Dickinson University Press. p. 17. ISBN 9780838635735.
  2. ^ a b Stanley J. Kunitz and Howard Haycraft, editors; Twentieth Century Authors, A Biographical Dictionary of Modern Literature, (3rd edition). New York, The H. W. Wilson Company, 1950, pp. 865–66.
  3. ^ Profile,; 31 May 2003; accessed 25 July 2015.
  4. ^ Martin Ceadel, Semi-Detached Idealists:The British Peace Movement and International Relations, 1854–1945. Oxford University Press, 2000; ISBN 0199241171 (p. 361).
  5. ^ Williams, George G. Assisted by Marian and Geoffrey Williams. (1973) Guide to Literary London. London: Batsford, p. 285; ISBN 0713401419
  6. ^ Hibbert, Christopher; Ben Weinreb; John Keay; Julia Keay (2010). The London Encyclopaedia. London: Pan Macmillan. p. 402. ISBN 978-0-230-73878-2.
  7. ^ Shaffer, Brian W. (2011). The Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Fiction, vol 1. Chichester: Wiley. p. 242. ISBN 978-1405192446. Retrieved 26 December 2022.
  8. ^ London Gazette notice of Macaulay's damehood

Further reading[edit]

  • 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).

External links[edit]