Trends in publishing have always waxed and waned, with authors moving in and out of fashion, some being forgotten for a while and then making a return, while others disappear into obscurity forever. Fortunately, there has been a tendency in the 21st century to revisit many lost authors, bringing them back into print and celebrating their work. One such writer is Rose Macaulay and I want to explore her life and work a little today on the Ramblings.

My Macaulay collection…..

Rose Macaulay is mainly known for her 1956 novel “The Towers of Trebizond”, with its memorable opening line; yet she was an astonishingly prolific writer, publishing novels, poetry, biography and journalism. Virago reprinted a number of her books in its Modern Classics range, but she still seemed to stay under the radar. Yet she was a Dame of the British Empire, highly regarded in her time, and mixed with all manner of intellectuals and luminaries; so why has such a prolific author, renowned for making her living from her writing, slipped out of view?

It’s interesting to note that Macaulay’s Wikipedia entry confirms that she was best known for her last novel, the aforementioned “Towers…” although she had been publishing since 1906. However, her range was broad, she cited Virginia Woolf as an influence, and her work is not easily categorised, which perhaps made it hard for people to evaluate, or indeed pigeonhole, her! Again, her novels took on big topics like pacificism, politics and religion, and this may have affected her perceived readability. However, with the number of strings to her bow, it’s difficult to know why she isn’t a bigger name; and so it’s lovely to see that there’s a resurgence of interest in her books, and much of that must be credited to Handheld Press!

Handheld have reissued a number of Macaulay’s works in their beautiful editions, and seem to taken upon themselves on a mission to raise her profile, which is most laudable! Interestingly, the publisher has been focusing on some of the earlier books, from 1916-1920, and a fascinating selection they are too. I’ve been fortunate enough to cover two of them on Shiny New Books, which I’ll mention below, and the third, “Potterism” was reviewed by Hayley Anderton (from Desperate Reader) on Shiny – you can read her thoughts here.

First up, I read “What Not”, subtitled “A Prophetic Comedy”, and first published in 1918. The book is a fascinating, prescient look at how life could be post-WW1, as the population of Britain tried to rebuild their lives, forging a new path and a new world. It’s a book that pre-empts Huxley’s “Brave New World” and deserves to be recognised for its forward thinking and attempts to explore how humanity could improve itself. It’s also very funny, and if you want to read my whole review, it’s here.

The second Handheld Macaulay I read was “Non-Combatants and Others“, which is a powerful and, again, ahead of its time piece of work. Published in 1916, it was the first anti-war novel to be released (while the conflict was still going on!) and it’s a compelling piece of writing which addresses many issues, including whether we can stand apart from the world and what’s happening in it, or whether we should wade in and try to change things. The novel was enhanced by reading the other pieces included in the book: a collection of Macaulay’s journalism, published between 1936 and 1945, where she reflects upon, and despairs about, what’s happening to Europe. The last piece in the book, a powerful short story “Miss Anstruther’s Letters” (which drawns upon Macaulay’s own life) made for a devastating end to an unforgettable book. Again, you can read my full review here.

Pleasingly, other publishers are also reissuing Macaulay’s books, with the British Library Women Writers series including her “Dangerous Ages” from 1921 (which I’ve still to read, though Harriet at Shiny New Books has reviewed it here); so it seems that the author’s early works are now starting to get the appreciation they deserve. And as someone who loves a pretty book (shallow? moi?) I have to say that both the Handheld and BL editions are gorgeous, though different. Both are beautifully designed and have supporting material; and in the case of the Handheld editions, some excellent scholarly notes and introductions.

The two Handheld releases which I’ve read, as mentioned earlier in the post, have been wonderful; and I’m pleased to say that I’ve been reading another two Macaulay-related books they’re issuing! One is a most fascinating work by Sarah LeFanu, “Dreaming of Rose” which I’ll be covering on Wednesday; and on Saturday I’ll be writing about Macaulay’s “Personal Pleasures”, an idiosyncratic collection of her thoughts on the things which bring her joy.

In the meantime, I do encourage you to dip your toe in and read some Rose Macaulay; she was a marvellous, clever, funny and often profound author who’s a joy to read and who has much to say which is still very relevant to our modern world. And it’s not as if it’s hard to get hold of some very pretty editions of her work… ;D