Fonds MACR - Papers of Dame Rose Macaulay

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Reference code



Papers of Dame Rose Macaulay


  • 1794-1972 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

18 boxes; paper (correspondence, photographs, press cuttings etc); lock of hair.

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Emilie Rose Macaulay was born on 1 August 1881, daughter of George Campbell Macaulay (1852–1915), then assistant master at Rugby School and his wife Grace Mary (1855–1925), daughter of Rev. William John Conybeare. After spending her early life in Liguria she attended Oxford high school and Somerville College Oxford. In 1905 George succeeded Israel Gollancz as lecturer in English at Cambridge and the family moved to Great Shelford in Cambridgeshire. Her first novel, Abbots Verney, appeared in 1906, and she published six more novels by 1914. The Lee Shore, her fifth novel, was awarded first prize in a competition organised by the publishers Hodder & Stoughton; the prize money, together with financial help from her uncle and godfather, Reginald Macaulay, who had also provided her with funds for university, enabled her to buy her own flat in London. She then began to move in literary circles.

She worked as a nurse and a land girl in the early years of the First World War, becoming a civil servant in the War Office with responsibility for conscientious objectors and exemptions from service. In 1918 she was transferred to the new Ministry of Information, working as secretary to the head of the Italian section, Gerald O'Donovan (1871–1942), with whom she formed a close friendship; despite Macaulay's religious and moral scruples about his marriage, this developed after two years into a relationship which lasted until his death though he never left his family .

Macaulay worked for the publishers Constable & Co. after the war, and the novels she wrote in the 1920s won her much popularity; she also began to write regularly for the press, and her books of essays A Casual Commentary (1925) and Catchwords and Claptrap expressed the pleasure she took in, and her concern for precise use of, the English language. Her work took a more academic turn in the 1930s, when she published Some Religious Elements in English Literature (1931), a novel about the circle of Robert Herrick, They Were Defeated (1932), and a biography of Milton (1934). She wrote little during the Second World War: she was a voluntary part-time ambulance driver for almost three years; her flat was bombed in May 1941 and all her possessions destroyed; and in 1941 Gerald O'Donovan was diagnosed with terminal cancer, dying in July 1942.

After the second world war, works such as They Went to Portugal (1946) and Fabled Shore (1949) established her as a writer on travel. She returned to novel-writing in 1950 with The World My Wilderness, and in 1956 produced her most famous novel, The Towers of Trebizond (1956), partly inspired by a trip to Turkey in 1954. She received a honorary LittD from Cambridge University in 1951, and in 1958 was made a DBE. On 30 October of that year she died suddenly from a heart attack at her home, 20 Hinde House, London W1.

Two volumes of her correspondence with the Revd J. H .C. Johnson from 1950-1958, which aided her return to the Church of England after a long estrangement, were published posthumously (1961 and 1962), as was a volume of letters to her sister Jean along with a fragment of the novel she was working on at her death (1964); these books were all edited by Constance Babington Smith, who also published a biography in 1972. Macaulay's letters to her cousin Jean were published in 2011 as Dearest Jean: Rose Macaulay's Letters to a Cousin" edited by Martin Ferguson Smith.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

Given to Trinity College in July 1982 on permanent loan by Constance Babington Smith during her lifetime, then bequeathed to the College along with the copyright at her death. Photocopies of Macaulay material at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center made for Constance Babington Smith as part of her research for a biography were returned.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

This collection relates to Constance Babington Smith's research for her editions of Rose Macaulay's Letters to a Friend (1961), Last Letters to a Friend (1962), Letters to a Sister (1964), and her biography, Rose Macaulay (1972) and is arranged in the following categories:

Family background, letters, diaries and so on, original material 1865-1972, with copies of items dating from 1794 onwards. 121 items;

Family photographs, 1873-1960, watercolours, Rose Macaulay's address book and Christmas card list, 1944 onwards, with associated material. 266 items;

Material concerning Rose Macaulay, such as research, letters and reviews, 1959-1973, including copies of earlier material by Constance Babington Smith. 266 items;

Material relating to Rose Macaulay's works Bunkum (1924), Life among the English (1942), Miss Anstruther's Letters (1941), and They went to Portugal (1946), such as typescript copies of drafts and corrected proofs, research. 11 items;

Material relating to Rose Macaulay's other works: notebooks, 1940s-1950s, containing observations made on holidays, rough drafts of her final, unfinished, novel, Venice Besieged / Midsummer Moon and other late pieces; press clippings and typescripts of articles and reviews, c 1931-1958, MSS clippings and typescripts of poems, juvenilia, 1905-1955, Christmas cards designed by Rose Macaulay. 106 items, 1950-1958;

Letters from Rose Macaulay to her sister Jean Babington Macaulay. 213 items, 1921/22-1957;

Material concerning Constance Babington Smith's edition of Letters to a Sister, includes research, letters and reviews. 229 items, 1962-1963;

Letters from Rose Macaulay to John Hamilton Cowper Johnson, 199 items, 1950-158;

Material concerning Babington Smith's Letters to a Friend and Last Letters to a Friend, including research and letters of congratulation on publication. 462 items, 1960-1973

Letters and postcards from Rose Macaulay to various recipients, with a few letters to Macaulay. Much of the correspondence is in the form of copies made or obtained during research by Constance Babington Smith, and her correspondence regarding the Gilbert Murray collection at the Bodleian Library is also included here along with copies of Macaulay's letters to Murray; 628 items, 1907-1973.

Appraisal, destruction and scheduling


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Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Conditions governing reproduction

Permission to reproduce material relating to Gilbert Murray is subject to permission also from the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

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      Language and script notes

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      Finding aids

      Created by Helen Clifford, Assistant Manuscript Cataloguer, 1985.

      Allied materials area

      Existence and location of originals

      Existence and location of copies

      Related units of description

      BABS: Papers of Constance Babington Smith. Further material relating to Babington-Smith's biography of Macaulay and editing of her correspondence. Photographs of and letters, writings etc by Macaulay included.
      Add.Ms.a.385: Letters of Rose Macaulay to Sir Steven Runciman. 1 bundle, 1954-1958.

      King's College, Cambridge: letters,1913-1937, to JM Keynes, JMK
      Henry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin, manuscripts and letters (MACAULAY).
      Warwick University: Modern Records Centre: correspondence,1929-1955, with Sir Victor Gollancz, MS 157
      Oxford University: Bodleian Library, Special Collections: correspondence, 1934-1958, with Gilbert Murray, MSS Gilbert Murray; letters to Veronica Wedgwood, 1945-1958, MS. Eng. c. 6829, fols 157-96.
      British Library, Manuscript Collections: correspondence,1927-1959, with the Society of Authors, Add MS 56742
      Yale University Libraries: Beinecke Library: manuscript of "And No Man's Wit" 1939-1940), fe6.

      Notes area


      The letters from Rose Macaulay to John Hamilton Cowper Johnson were closed to researchers until 12 June 2012 under the terms of the donation by Constance Babington Smith.

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          Archivist's note

          Collection level record created by Rebecca Hughes in June 2019, referring to the printed finding aid prepared by Helen Clifford in March 1985.

          Accession area