Rose Macaulay, also known as Dame Emilie Rose Macaulay, was an English author who primarily wrote novels along with several biographies and travel writings. Born in England, she was one of the seven children in her family and desired to become a Navy officer. After spending several years in Italy, her family returned to their homeland where she completed her schooling. Then she proceeded to college where she studied history and fell in love with the seventeenth century history in particular. After completing her graduation, she returned to live with her family and it was during these years that she first began to write both poetry and prose. Her first successful novel was ‘The Lee Shore’—her sixth attempt in the fictional genre, after producing several poetic as well as non-fictional works. Along with writing, she also served as a volunteer during the First World War. After the war, she published some satirical comedies such as ‘Potterism’, and ‘Told by an Idiot’ which established her as a witty and thoughtful novelist. She went on to produce some marvelous works but after her house was destroyed during the Second World War and she lost her longtime lover, Gerald O’Donovan, she took a break from writing. Later, she made a comeback with a number of travel books, followed by a few novels. Her last book, ‘The Towers of Trebizond’ was acclaimed as the most remarkable work of her career
Childhood & Early Life
Rose Macaulay was born on August 1, 1881, in Rugby, Warwickshire, to George Campbell Macaulay, assistant master at Rugby School, and his wife, Grace Mary. She was the second of the seven children in the family.
She spent her early years in Varazze, on the coast near Genoa, Italy, where she grew up as a tomboy with the ambition of joining the Navy.
In 1894, when the family returned to England, she was enrolled in the Oxford High School for Girls. Later, she went on to study Modern History at Somerville College at Oxford University.
In 1903, she returned to live with her parents in Aberystwyth. Later, the family settled in Cambridge, after her father was given a lectureship in English at Cambridge.
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In 1906, Emile Rose Macaulay published her first novel, ‘Abbots Verney’. It was followed by a sequence of more fictional works, but they made little impact and weren’t successful.
In 1912, she published her first successful novel titled ‘The Lee Shore’ which was also awarded the first prize in a competition.
During the First World War, she worked in the British Propaganda Department, serving as a volunteer nurse and a land girl. Later, she became a civil servant in the War Office.
After the war, Rose Macaulay concentrated on prose and wrote a series of satirical comic novels emphasizing on the irrationalities of those times. In 1920, her first best-seller, ‘Potterism’, was published, followed by ‘Dangerous Ages’ in 1921.
Her 1923 satirical novel titled ‘Told by an Idiot’ also proved to be a considerable success. Subsequently, she wrote several other works such as ‘Orphan Island’ (1924), ‘Crewe Train’ (1926), and ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ (1928).
Apart from being a novelist, she also served as a journalist and an essayist, publishing some of her more serious works in two collections: ‘A Casual Commentary’ (1925) and ‘Catchwords and Claptrap’ (1926). Through these works, she gained respect and became one of the more prominent literary figures of her time.
In 1932, she published a historical novel titled ‘They Were Defeated’ which was based on the life of the poet Robert Herrick.
In the following years, Rose Macaulay published several other works including: ‘Going Abroad’ (1934), ‘Personal Pleasures’ (1935), ‘I Would Be Private’ (1937), and ‘The Writings of E. M. Forster’ (1938).
During the Second World War, she served as a voluntary ambulance driver but was struck by tragedy when her house was bombed in ‘The Blitz’, destroying her entire library and belongings.
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She published no books during the war and it was not until 1946 when she returned to literature with her travel writings ‘They Went to Portugal’. It was followed by ‘Evelyn Waugh’ (1946) and ‘Fabled Shore: From the Pyrenees to Portugal By Road’ (1949).
She later returned to fiction with the 1950 novel ‘The World My Wilderness’ set against the backdrop of life after the Second World War.
In 1956, she published her last novel titled ‘The Towers of Trebizond’, a comical story about her eccentric aunt’s attempt to convert Muslims in Turkey to Anglicanism.
Macaulay's final fictional novel, ‘The Towers of Trebizond’, is considered to be her most brilliant work. The book treats the attractions of mystical Christianity with melancholy humor and deep sadness, and also focuses on the conflict between adulterous love and the demands of the Christian faith.
Awards & Achievements
In the 1958 New Years Honours, Rose Macaulay was named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE).
Personal Life & Legacy
She remained a spinster all her life but was involved in a secret relationship with Gerald O'Donovan, an Irish novelist. They met in 1918 and the affair lasted until Gerald passed away in 1942.
Rose Macaulay died of a heart attack on October 30, 1958, at the age of 77.