A Long Engagement with Modernity: Rose Macaulay in the Modern World

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Kate Macdonald
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Proposal for a special issue to be submitted to Modernism / modernity
Edited by Kate Macdonald, Ghent University
Rose Macaulay (1881-1958) was a distinguished and popular British writer, journalist, critic and traveller, a novelist and poet who wrote prolifically with a searching eye and a critical conscience. She published 23 novels, three volumes of poetry, seven collections of her essays and critical writing, five works of travel, three collections of her letters, and was the editor of two anthologies. In the interwar years she was a regular contributor to the feminist periodical Time & Tide, to the Spectator, and to many daily and weekly newspapers and literary periodicals. Her novel Dangerous Ages won the Prix Femina-Vie Heureuse in 1922, and her most well-known novel, The Towers of Trebizond, won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1957. In 1951 she was awarded an honorary Litt. D from the University of Cambridge, and in 1958 was made a Dame of the British Empire. Her fiction is exploratory, experimental, feminist, and humanist, and valorises the voice of reason in an increasingly complex world of ossifying conventions. Three biographies of her have been published, and two monographs on her work, yet no substantial critical work has been published on her writing since 1995.
Following the recent Rose Macaulay symposium at the Institute of English Studies, University of London, a special issue of Modernism / modernity is proposed to focus attention on Rose Macaulay's writing in its cultural context. Macaulay's writing is perhaps most significant among her peers for its long engagement with modernity and modern life. Her first novel was published in 1906, and her last in 1956. She was a stringent and intelligent commentator on the details of modern life as it was lived, and her interest in journalism as a profession percolated into her fiction as well as her essays. Her fiction, however, also displayed more abstruse interests: she was profoundly interested in paganism, the writings of the Church Fathers and the foundations of religious belief. She was a leading modern traveller who wrote with an archaeologist's eye and a sociologist's pen, on the redeeming qualities of ruins and the habits of camels. She moved between the 'brows' of interwar British literature, writing novels that were both playfully accessible and also formally innovative, experimenting with multiple focalisations, indeterminate genders and fractured voices.
This proposed special issue will be edited by Kate Macdonald, a researcher in interwar middlebrow studies and a specialist in the print culture and literary history of the British Edwardian and interwar years. Abstracts of 350 words maximum, with a brief note about your research interests and any relevant publications, should be sent to kate.macdonald@ugent.be, by 31 January 2012.