Rose Macaulay

(1881-1958 / England)

Biography of Rose Macaulay

Dame Emilie Rose Macaulay, DBE (born 1 August 1881, Rugby, Warwickshire, England – died 30 October 1958) was a British writer. She published thirty-five books, mostly novels but also biographies and travel writing.

Macaulay was educated at Oxford High School for Girls and read Modern History at Somerville College at Oxford University.

She 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.

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 Peace Pledge Union. 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", 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. Reviewers have described Macaulay as "one of the few significant English novelists of the twentieth century to identify herself as a Christian and to use Christian themes in her writing".

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.

She was created a Dame of the British Empire (DBE) in 1958, the year she died, aged 77.

PoemHunter.com Updates

Picnic: July 1917

We lay and ate the sweet hurt-berries
In the bracken of Hurt Wood.
Like a quire of singers singing low
The dark pines stood.

Behind us climbed the Surrey Hills,
Wild, wild in greenery;
At our feet the downs of Sussex broke
To an unseen sea.

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