6th July 2021 Handheld Biographies 3
In 2003 the former Women’s Press editor and literary critic Sarah LeFanu published her acclaimed biography of Rose Macaulay with Virago Press.
‘A magnificent job … imaginative and thoughtful, dense with distilled information … LeFanu offers a skilled, visual, intellectual and emotional picture of a complex woman’ – The Independent
‘A fine biography … rich and perceptive … Sarah LeFanu [is] an able and astute judge of Macaulay’s writings’ – The Times Literary Supplement
As well as writing the biography, LeFanu was keeping a detailed journal of her research trips and her processes as a biographer, arguing with herself over what to include, what to pursue, and what to leave behind. In 2013 she self-published Dreaming of Rose, her memoir of juggling the demands of teaching and broadcasting while researching and writing Rose’s biography. It’s a feminist story, and a triumphant validation of the rewards of research.
This revised Handheld edition of Dreaming of Rose is an updated and revised edition of the original self-published edition of 2013.
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LeFanu’s immersion in her research led to Rose Macaulay intruding in her dreams, and fantastical imaginings of what Rose would say or do, at each fork in the road. Dreaming of Rose is a remarkable record of the art of biography, and the search for another woman’s life. Research trips to Varazze in Italy to look for Rose’s childhood, and to Trabzon in Turkey to find traces of The Towers of Trebizond, were remarkably intuitive ventures that found treasures in unexpected places.
LeFanu’s work on Rose was squeezed in between many other commitments and responsibilities: she wrote for the BBC and taught creative writing and English literature. Suffused with the tensions and dramas of everyday life, and the necessity for intellectual integrity, this is an important memoir of women and writing. Originally self-published in 2013, this revised and expanded edition is an inspiration for life-writers everywhere.
‘I recommend this unusual and fascinating book to you, fragmentary record of two writers’ lives, a biographer’s search for her ghostly subject’ – Shiny New Books
‘Dreaming of Rose : A Biographer ‘s Journal by Sarah LeFanu was an absolute gift. A gift of a chance to see into the lives and minds of not just one great writer but two! … This is a glimpse of one writer trying to pin another to the page. Through the pages of Sarah LeFanu’s journal we are able to both witness and share in the triumphs and despair born of hours of research. The frustrations of contacts who seem willing to talk but then mysteriously clam up and the difficulties of prizing fact from fiction, a little more each day.’ – Book Bound
‘A fascinating read from start to finish; as well as divulging so much about her process of researching and constructing her biography, LeFanu’s explorations of a woman’s writing life were extremely revealing’ – Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings
‘A surprising page-turner with a lot to offer – including a sense of suspense – that I didn’t really expect, and the final chapter about the potential revelations (or lack of them) in the newly opened file is fabulous. Absolutely worth reading if you’re interested in Rose Macaulay and her contemporaries, Sarah LeFanu (and her contemporaries), or the process of writing and what it takes.’ – Desperate Reader
‘There’s a real sense of the person behind the book – of the biographer behind the biography – which reflects the strange nature of the relationship between biographers and their subjects. It is a relationship which demands intimacy with objectivity; advocacy without hagiography; the warm heart of a friend who keeps secrets, and the cold one of the reporter who broadcasts them. Strangest of all, it is a relationship that does not exist, because the subject is (usually) dead. Sarah Lefanu captures this wonderful, intense strangeness in the dreams and imagined encounters she describes.’ – Lucienne Boyce
‘I loved the diary format. Short insights into the days and weeks of research, of the struggle to find a starting point or particular reference. Details of research trips abroad, to follow in Rose’s footsteps. This all made the book easy to read, the reader able to dip in and out of a particular time on Sarah LeFanu’s journey as biographer.’ – From First Page to Last
‘While Dreaming of Rose: A Biographer’s Journal is a book about Rose Macaulay’s biographer Sarah LeFanu, it is also, of course, about Rose Macaulay too. I’m not sure I expected to love this one as much as I did … it will interest those interested in Rose Macaulay and those interested in the art of the biographer. Warning – it might make you want to read a lot of books by Rose Macaulay, but of course I would say that could only be a good thing.’ – HeavenAli
Other Rose Macaulay titles from Handheld Press
Personal Pleasures, a marvellous anthology of Macaulay’s essays on the enjoyment of life.
What Not is Macaulay’s forgotten 1918 novel of a speculative post-war present that was a direct influence on Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World.
Non-Combatants and Others. Writings Against War, 1916-1945 collects all Macaulay’s anti-war and anti-Fascist journalism and fiction.
Potterism (1920) is a novel satirising the post-First World War British newspaper industry, and the appalling power of the mass media.