How good to find a second—the first was in 1969—full-length book on the writings of Rose Macaulay! Meanwhile, seven of her novels have been republished in recent decades, and an eighth has never gone out of print. She wrote between 1906 and 1956.
Jeanette Passty is concerned with illustrating the fact that:
Macaulay's novels, and various of her other writings . . . constitute a deliberate act of rebellion against the cultural myths that pin both men and women to Procrustean standards of masculinity and femininity, without regard to individual needs and natures. They examine—with extraordinary sociological accuracy—the positive and negative aspects of issues still relevant in our day—celibacy, sexuality, matrimony, child-rearing, sex roles, and sexual stereotypes.
Passty calls attention to the number of characters who are harmed by these Procrustean standards—men who are not permitted to study art, men who never fully develop because they are not trained in sensitivity; women who are not permitted to study such subjects as agriculture, or who are considered odd because they find the trivial life assigned to their sex intolerable, or simply because they adhere to reason as the standard of judgment. In several of the novels the chief woman character is "twinned" with a brother or close male associate to whom she is superior in intelligence and energy—a device for gaining recognition of woman's potential but also, in the later novels, a comment on society, which is loath to permit an unmarried woman to achieve or a married one to be other than a helpmate.
Passty is very much interested in pointing out Freudian symbols. Perhaps Macaulay, who did not care for Freud, did not invest these objects with these meanings. A girlchild who picks up her brother's cricket bat to strike a burglar may be acting as a courageous, resourceful human being, not as a male. When, as often in these novels, and in Macaulay's own life, young females fantasized [End Page 795] themselves as young men, were they not, for the most part, wishing to be the only class of human beings who could act as wholes? This was Macaulay's "androgyny"—she resented women being perceived as outside the general human race. Rather than being "masculine," her women are "whole"; their desired modes of life or careers would not seem inappropriate today, and many of them have not only "brains that grip" but also unusual charm.
Macaulay was famed for her witty style. Any study of only one aspect of her content, although well-researched and certainly useful, cannot give an adequate idea of the scholarliness, wholeness, and gaiety of her work. This, one must read.