Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Faded Rose's Final Chapter

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Faded Rose's Final Chapter

Article excerpt



by Sarah Lefanu

(Virago, [pounds sterling]20)

SOMETHING like a lean sheepdog in appearance, with a thin, high, upper-class voice and wearing a hat like a knitted mushroom; Rose Macaulay must have always looked like the perfect English bluestocking.

Many of her novels were best sellers in their time - Potterism, Crewe Train and The Towers of Trebizond - and she was something of a radio star in the Forties and Fifties.

But hers is hardly a name to conjure with any more. Rebecca West, Rosamond Lehmann and Elizabeth Bowen are all still read, but Rose Macaulay's slight, elegant romances really do seem to have had their day.

Macaulay came from a close, intellectual family, had an idyllic childhood in Italy, read history at Oxford, and led the genteel life of a "lady writer", travelling, reading and turning out more than 40 volumes of fiction, essays and poems in her 77 years.

She never married and seems to have had only one passionate relationship, with a married ex-priest and writer called Gerald O'Donovan, which lasted more than 20 years.

She was a keen partygoer and good company, but "a eunuch", Virginia Woolf thought, who inspired affectionate, but satirical, descriptions such as the "jolly skeleton".

Macaulay didn't seem to mind; she was a romantic, not a sentimentalist, and the even temper that allowed her to relish a "connoisseurship of oddities" also helped her to weather bereavement (her brother was murdered and her lover died of cancer) and disasters such as the loss of her house and possessions in the Blitz.

She wanted to be a man and join the navy when she was growing up, and never quite got over a dislike of her own sex, adopting a facetious manner about "The Woman Question". This might have seemed comical in the 1920s, but has aged badly, as have all her jokes (of the Great War she said, "not being politically minded, I do not think that I attended very closely"). …

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