never married, over forty, a little bitter

the anarchist

This biography seems more at ease with the contradictions between an unsocialised, self-protective, independent self, and the highly gregarious metropolitan journalist and partygoer. LeFanu quotes one of Macaulay’s better poems, on the clash between a desire to run amok and run free, and the middle-aged, responsible performance that we all grow into: “I might forget the world’s a place / Where I must run a strenuous race, / And make my mark, and use my wit, / And earn my bread and do my bit. / I might forget that I am human, / An earnest, grown-up, working woman…”

That opposition between secret anarchy and public responsibility is an underlying theme of Macaulay’s novel The World My Wilderness, which had a powerful effect on me as a young reader, growing up in postwar London. Its landscape of bombed churches and derelict streets powerfully expresses Macaulay’s sense of desolation during and after the war, for herself (her own home was bombed and she lost all her books) and for Europe.

Macaulay’s memory of her free childhood in Italy is reflected in the half-wild character of the young girl, Barbary, who – sent to England to be “civilised”, for complicated family reasons – finds her true home among the ruins.


Denham sometimes dreamed of a life in which one took practically no trouble at all. One would be alone; one would have no standards; there would be a warm climate and few clothes, and all food off the same plate, if a plate at all. And no conversation… It would be a very low-class, lazy, common life; it was better not to think about it while one was trying to be civilized and high-class.

— Rose Macaulay, Crewe Train, p. 58