- Rose Macaulay: A Writer’s Life by Jane Emery
Murray, 381 pp, £25.00, June 1991, ISBN 0 7195 4768 7
Rose Macaulay loved semantics and her most precious possession was her 12-volume Oxford English Dictionary: ‘my bible, my staff, my entertainer, my help in work and my recreation in leisure,’ she wrote to Victor and Ruth Gollancz in a rare display of feeling, after they had replaced the copy destroyed with the rest of Macaulay’s flat during the Blitz. Macaulay was the author of 41 books, and an early ‘media intellectual’ whose university education and illustrious family name, BBC talks and regular appearances on the Brains Trust programmes, sealed her fate as a sort of establishment blue-stocking. Her best books have been called novels of ideas, but could perhaps be more accurately described as diversions, for the ideas in them are seldom allowed to settle: the genteel humour which guaranteed her popularity in her own day and relative obscurity in ours diverts the novels away from anything too conclusive.
Vol. 14 No. 5 · 12 March 1992
In her review of Jane Emery’s biography of Rose Macaulay (LRB, 27 February), Claire Harman quotes David Wright’s description of Rose – a ‘mélange of toughness, independence, enterprise, courage and good humour’ – but thinks it ‘reads like an uncorroborated report’. I am happy to corroborate it, and to add to these qualities Rose’s capacity for enjoyment, even in hard times, and for passing it on to others. In Claire Harman’s depiction of ‘a dowdy woman’, ‘a pale companion’, ‘a game old lady’, I don’t for a moment recognise the Rose Macaulay whom I knew in the Fifties – as a contributor to the New Statesman when I was literary editor, as a member of the London Library Committee, as a fellow guest at parties where she always looked distinguished, always drank orange juice, always seemed to be the liveliest talker, and where nobody thought of her as an old lady. As for Claire Harman’s view that her books ‘cry out not to be taken too seriously’, I suggest that she look again at The World My Wilderness, where the bombed ruins round St Paul’s reflect the moral wilderness of the world just after the war. And is every bad driver to be labelled ‘a psychopath behind the wheel’?
Janet Adam Smith