The Love-Charm of Bombs, Restless Lives in the Second World War

Lara Feigel
Publisher
Bloomsbury
Price
£25
ISBN
9781408830444

 

Certainly, there was an androgynous quality to Rose Macaulay, which was often noted by friends, and which finds its way into her girlish, neutrally named heroines. Several of her books feature coltish girls and young women, who shy away awkwardly from sexual contact. In Keeping up Appearances, the twelve-year-old Cary Folyot is so appalled by learning about sex from a secret reading of Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams that she resolves to become a nun to avoid the whole 'beastly' business. Macaulay was also frequently publicly dismissive of sex. She was impatient with the younger generation for placing too great an emphasis on it. In Macaulay's 1921 novel Danger­ous Ages, Neville, a forty-three-year-old woman, mocks her daughter Gerda's continual emphasis on sex, suggesting that "There are other things . . .' Gerda admits that there is also drawing and poetry, beauty, dancing and swimming; 'But the basis of life was the desire of the male for the female and of the female for the male.' At the same time Neville's mother, Mrs Hilary, is trying to allay the embitteredness of old age by embarking on a course of psychoanalysis. Both she and her analyst are lampooned by the narrator for their simplistic emphasis on sex. Mrs Hilary now misinterprets the behaviour of her daughters because she has learnt from her analyst 'the simple truth about life; that is that nearly every one is nearly always involved up to the eyes in the closest relationship with some one of another sex. It is nature's way with mankind.'

But Rose Macaulay always insisted nonetheless on the importance of sexual desire within love. In a 1927 letter to Jean she reminded her sister that though love between a man and a woman 'is the important part of their desire for each other', the originator of that love was 'mere animal desire'. The 'sexual parts' that Virginia Woolf found lacking in Macaulay's social persona are consistently evident in Macaulay's decid­edly unvirginal novels. The post-war editor of the TLS Alan Pryce-Jones recalled Rose Macaulay flashing out a retort to the Woolfs and Mannins of the world, complaining that 'It is stupid to think that just because I never cared to marry I have no experience of life.' Life includes sex here. In even Macaulay's most ironically detached novels, there are moments when the author's pulse quickens, seriously and sensually,