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Macaulay, Rose

Entry updated 10 April 2023. Tagged: Author.

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(1881-1958) UK author of twenty-three novels from 1906, the most famous being her last, The Towers of Trebizond (1956). Some of these books – such as And No Man's Wit (1940), in which a mermaid appears – venture edgily into fantasy. Her experiences of World War One, in voluntary aid, as a land-girl, and later in the War Office, seem to have shaped Non-Combatants and Others (1916), a nonfantastic pacifist novel that was deplored in the climate of the time. What Not: A Prophetic Comedy (1918; disputed passages cut 1919), which is set in the Near Future several years after the end of the War, depicts in Satirical terms typical of the Scientific Romance the coming to power in the UK of an autocratic government whose remit is to counter postwar decline, the function of the new Ministry of Brains being partly to forbid romances between the fit and those deemed, on the basis of compulsory Intelligence tests, unfit to bear children (see Eugenics); another sf element in the tale is the use of "street aeros", which function in the air as a tram does on the road (see Transportation). Although a few copies of the 1918 version exist [see Checklist below], this first printing was withdrawn after an offended newspaper magnate (possibly Lord Beaverbrook) threatened to sue for libel: the two passages in question portray a newspaper proprietor attempting political blackmail. With these (rather mild) paragraphs rewritten, the novel was republished the next year, and bibliographies usually date the book 1919, scumbling over the fact that the tale was written during the war.

Mystery at Geneva: An Improbable Tale of Singular Happenings (1922) is set in an undefined Near Future where a monarchist counter-revolution has replaced the Bolsheviks in Russia and a reporter (a woman in drag) helps save the League of Nations from a conspiracy designed to restore communism. Also set in the Near Future, Orphan Island (1924) is a borderline Utopia describing in retrospect a teacher's tyranny over her forty pupils after they are shipwrecked on a remote Pacific Island in 1855; the Satire of conventional Victorian social and sexual mores (see Sex) is very pointed. After the teacher's death at a great age in 1925, a republic is announced, the name of the land is changed from Smith Island to Orphan Island, and flourishes.

In the nonfiction Pleasure of Ruins (1953), a text haunted by memories and images of the ruins left by World War Two, Macaulay introduced into English usage the German term Ruinenlust in her astute analysis of the complex range of cultural significations and avidities embedded in the contemplation of the Ruin from about 1750 on (see Ruins and Futurity); the cover for her nonfantastic The World My Wilderness (1950) is similarly expressive of an autumnal take on the post-War years. The 2014 Tate Gallery exhibition "Ruin Lust", takes its title with acknowledgement from her text. In the year of her death Macaulay was made a Dame of the British Empire. [JC]

see also: Politics.

Dame Emilie Rose Macaulay

born Rugby, Warwickshire: 1 August 1881

died London: 30 October 1958



  • Pleasure of Ruins (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1953) [nonfiction: illus/various: hb/from the Temple of Apollo Didymaeus]

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