My final post on Rose Macaulay this week takes a look at a forthcoming release from Handheld Press; “Personal Pleasures: Essays on Enjoying Life” comes out on 10th August, and it’s a real treat! I’m not new to Macaulay’s non-fiction writing, as “Non-Combatants” (mentioned on Monday and reviewed for Shiny New Books) collected together some of her journalism from the run-up to WW2. However, “Personal Pleasures” is a very different beast; an anthology of 80 short essays, varying from a page to several, it takes a quirky, entertaining and often lyrical look at the things which brought her joy – many of which will be familiar to readers of the Ramblings!

“Personal Pleasures” was first released in 1935 to an overwhelmingly positive response, and it’s not hard to see why. The subjects she covers range widely; for example, Arm-chair, Canoeing, Christmas Morning, Bed – Getting into it, Bed – Not getting out of it, Flattery, Not going to parties, Reading, Walking, Writing – well, you get the picture! There’s a perfect A-Z of subjects under discussion and Macaulay is never less than entertaining.

Arise, then, from abject and home-keeping sloth. Cease to regard with effeminate distaste those hurdles which stand between you and Abroad, looming high, barred, enthorned, only by the strong to be o’er-leapt. Do tickets, passports, money, travellers’ cheques, packing, reservations, boat trains, inns, crouch and snarl before you like those surly dragons that guard enchanted lands? A little firmness, a nice mingling of industry, negligence, and guile, and the hurdles will be leaped, the dragons passed; snapping your fingers at what you have left undone, you launch yourself into space. (from ‘Abroad’)

Many of the essays build in autobiographical episodes from Macaulay’s past; for example, Astronomy draws on an event from her childhood in Italy; and anyone reading Christmas Morning will be catapulted back to their own childhood and waking up early to feel the items stuffed into their Christmas stocking. Book Auctions and Booksellers’ Catalogues will speak to any bibliophile; and Departure of Visitors will resonate with anyone breathing a sigh of relief at getting their house back to themself… Reading was a particularly interesting piece, again one that any bibliophile would love, and I sensed certain echoes of another author here…

As I mentioned in my piece on Monday, Macaulay cited Virginia Woolf as an influence and it was in these essays, with their playful yet erudite explorations of the things we enjoy, that I most felt that influence. It’s not something I’d particularly noticed in her fictions, but it certainly shone through in the essays, and the end of Reading took me straight back to Woolf’s “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.”

Quirky as ever, Macaulay is happy to toy with our expectations; she often writes about something which she enjoys, then going on to to give us a kind of counter-voice pointing out the problems with something she’s just been celebrating – a kind of yin and yang, which is very true to life. She’s also very witty and I found myself regularly laughing out loud whilst reading the essays. But what’s really a joy about “Personal Pleasures” is the sheer quality of Macaulay’s writing – lyrical, evocative, amusing and moving, these essays are such a treat.

Rose Macaulay pencil sketch (Jburlinson, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0&gt;, via Wikimedia Commons)

“Personal Pleasures” *is* a very personal book, and the essays come with an excellent introduction by Kate Macdonald, as well as copious supporting notes by Macdonald, with assistance from Emer O’Hanlon, Maria Vassilopolous and Sharon Craig. These are an essential element of the book, as Macaulay’s writing is multi-layered, full of quotes and allusions, and even replete with made-up words! The notes expand and clarify, really enhancing the reading. As Kate Macdonald comments, “the modern reader…is mostly likely to notice a palimpsest of dense allusions and quotations, mostly presented without attribution.” These are testament to Macaulay’s erudition, and the notes provide details of a fascinating range of sources.

You might find “Personal Pleasures” best approached as a book to dip into, although you could of course read it through and you’d get a wonderful range of autobiographical looks at Macaulay’s own life. But however you read it, the book is a treat, a sheer delight from start to finish. This was a wonderful way of finishing off my few days of reading Rose Macaulay, and her glittering writing was really enhanced by the excellent supporting material. Highly recommended!

*****

I do hope you’ve enjoyed spending some time in the company of Rose Macaulay and that I’ve whetted your appetite for her writing. There are so many of her books now available in lovely new editions to there’s no excuse not to get to know her; and if you do, let me know what Macaulay you’ve read and loved!

(Review copy kindly provided by the publisher, for which many thanks!)