10th August 2021 Handheld Comic Classics 3
‘You as a child; how pretty. How people change; still I would know you anywhere. Quite in the nude. That has the advantage that you can’t be dated by your clothes. Your school lacrosse team … and your first dance dress. Empire style. Clothes were pretty that year; nice high waists and simple lines.
But let us turn back to the Victorians. They fascinate me. There is a je ne sais quoi about them, a subtlety; they might have strange experiences, commit strange deeds, and say nothing. They are proud, reserved, self-contained. Your Aunt Geraldine looks like a mermaid, your Uncle Frank, behind his moustaches, seems to brood on strange lands. Had to leave the country suddenly? That would account for it, I suppose. Poor Uncle Frank. Did he have to be long away? It was hushed up? That always takes a little time, of course.’
from Rose Macaulay, ‘Album’
Personal Pleasures is a 1935 anthology of 80 short essays (some of them very short) about the things Rose Macaulay enjoyed most in life. Her subjects include:
- Bed (Getting Into It)
- Booksellers Catalogues
- Christmas Morning
- Driving a Car
- Elephants in Bloomsbury
- Not Going to Parties
- Shopping Abroad
While each essay can be read on its own as a short dose of delicious writing, the collection is also an autobiographical selection, revealing glimpses of Rose’s own life, and making us laugh helplessly with her inimitable humour.
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By 1935, when Personal Pleasures was published, Rose Macaulay (1881-1958) was a well-established novelist, reviewer, columnist and feminist wit. She was part of the ‘intellectual aristocracy’ of England, but was also passionately interested in travel, driving, everyday life and its foolishnesses. Her most well-known novel is The Towers of Trebizond (1956). She was made a Dame of the British Empire in recognition of her services to literature in 1958.
‘This splendid new edition of Personal Pleasures comes from a relative newcomer to the publishing scene, the Handheld Press, and the excellent introduction and notes are by its director, who is herself a Macaulay scholar, Kate Macdonald … while re-reading Personal Pleasures, how poignant many of the subjects chosen by Macaulay in the 1930s feel to us now — emerging as we are (if we are) out of the limitations, constraints, and loneliness of the pandemic.’ – Church Times
From Rosemary Hill in the London Review of Books: ‘In “Bed” she issues a firm warning against poetry, history, essays and “that peculiar literature which publishers call belles-lettres” as bedtime reading. “You will never, I maintain, get to sleep on Shakespeare.” The succession of meditations and jeux d’esprit in Personal Pleasures has just that capacity she recommends to “hold your attention gently on the page”, to amuse and interest without disturbance, to sooth without blandness, until sleep approaches.’
‘Quirky as ever, Macaulay is happy to toy with our expectations; she often writes about something which she enjoys, then going on to to give us a kind of counter-voice pointing out the problems with something she’s just been celebrating – a kind of yin and yang, which is very true to life. She’s also very witty and I found myself regularly laughing out loud whilst reading the essays. But what’s really a joy about Personal Pleasures is the sheer quality of Macaulay’s writing – lyrical, evocative, amusing and moving, these essays are such a treat … a sheer delight from start to finish’ – Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings
‘A series of short essays about life’s minor pleasures, from the everyday (‘Bed’, both ‘Getting Into It’ and ‘Not Getting Out Of It’) to the more esoteric (‘Elephants in Bloomsbury’). A real treat to dip into.’ – London Review Bookshop
‘Notice the sub-heading: essays on enjoying life. What is on show is a writer who is confident that she has something to say, and that she can showcase her wit, her love of words and her erudition.’ – book word
‘An enjoyable, erudite compendium of pleasures, best experienced in small doses, maybe two or three essays at a time. Collected together like this, these articles give readers a fascinating insight into cultural life in the early 20th century, together with snapshots of various aspects of Macaulay’s life.’ – JacquiWine
You may also be interested in …
What Not. A Prophetic Comedy is Rose Macaulay’s 1918 novel of a future eugenicist England, suppressed for potential libel, after which it vanished from sight. This novel was a significant influence on her friend Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
Non-Combatants and Others. Writings Against War, 1916-1945 is an anthology of Macaulay’s excellent First World War pacifist novel, her anti-war journalism from the 1930s and 1940s, and her heart-breaking short story of the Blitz, ‘Miss Anstruther’s Letters’.
Potterism: A Tragi-Farcical Tract is Macaulay’s 1920 novel of truth, lies, slander and the British press.
Dreaming of Rose. A Biographer’s Journal: Sarah LeFanu’s memoir of researching her biography of Rose Macaulay, while juggling the demands of teaching and broadcasting. For life writers, lovers of biography, and those interested in the nooks and crannies of Macaulay’s life and work.
If you’re interested in the cover, watch this short conversation with the Mary Evans Picture Library about how we chose it.