Rose Macaulay Dangerous AgesA review of one of the British Library’s new, beautiful Women Writers reissues today, on the day of publication, no less! I was very pleased when British Library Publishing offered to send me a copy, and the books are so pretty, with lovely patterned, textured covers, a silhouette of the author and French flaps! Inside you get nice accompanying matter as well as the text itself – a lovely package that works beautifully as a treat for oneself or a gift. And my friend and fellow blogger Simon from StuckinaBook is series consultant, which make it all even more exciting!

Rose Macaulay – “Dangerous Ages”

(23 July 2020)

This excellent novel centres on the theme that there are particular ages for a woman that are more dangerous than others. Telling us early on that we won’t be seeing much of the men in the book (although this is not exactly true), we proceed to examine the lives of Neville (apparently Macaulay went in for giving her heroines masculine names), who is 43 and still fit and active but with her children about to fly the nest, her sister Nan, 33, who is starting to think she might consider settling down, her daughter Gerda, 20 and just starting to burst into independent life, with the fixed ideas and social conscience of her age, and Nan and Neville and their brothers’ mother, 63, with nothing left in her life and bored silly (we also get her mother, but she’s 83, and has reached a stage of contentment and a rather sardonic wisdom that Macaulay enthusiastically celebrates).

There’s a great metafictional, authorial intrusion to the book which I do like, for example,

It will be obvious to any reader, but not interesting, that Neville now made herself some tea. (p. 4)

It sets the distanced and satirical tone but also reassures the reader that they are trusted to understand what the author is getting at.

During the course of the book, Neville tries to re-establish herself in the medical studies which she had to give up when she married Rodney, terrified that she’ll end up like her mother if she doesn’t give herself some intellectual stimulation. Nan decides to settle down and Gerda decides to become a bit more independent, with clashing results caused by their relative closeness in age, and Mrs Hillary takes up psychoanalysis in the funniest strand in the book. Macaulay is known for a striking sentence, and I laughed out loud when she had Mrs Hillary’s son Jim say,

She had found a new interest in life, like keeping a parrot, or learning bridge, or becoming a Roman Catholic. It was what they had hall always tried to find for her in vain. (p. 87)

Gerda’s pursuit of free love at the other end of the spectrum is mocked roundly as is Mrs Hillary’s lack of a logical mind, and it’s interesting that Gerda’s knocked out of her position on this by the comments of her brother, who has been out in the world a bit more and seen people adjusting their principles. This is not before she has put a huge barrier in front of her own love life by insisting on it – as her to-be-partner says,

‘It’s very awkward,’ [he] continued, ‘my having fallen in love with you. I hadn’t taken your probable views on sociology into account.’ (p. 148)

I did find this novel from 1921 to be very reminiscent of Virginia Woolf’s “To the Lighthouse” and I’d be interested to know if anyone else sees this. A lot of it is set around Marazion, on the other Cornish coast from Woolf’s actual lighthouse (I know the book one is in the Scottish Isles), there’s lots of swimming and looking at the sea here and elsewhere, and we see a family from different angles and through their musings on themselves and their relationships. There’s even a character with the surname Briscoe who comes in from outside but is almost part of the family and reacted to in different ways. I thought this was there, anyway.

The additional matter in this edition includes a timeline of the 1920s, a piece on Macaulay’s life, a Preface by Lucy Evans, Curator of the Printed Heritage Collections considering how women’s roles have and haven’t changed, and an Afterword by Series Consultant Simon Thomas concentrating on the psychoanalysis theme – all very worthwhile having.

Thank you very much to Thomas from British Library Publishing for sending me a print copy of this book in return for an honest review. I look forward to reading many more in this series (I already have “My Husband Simon” on the TBR …