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Rose Macaulay

  • The very utterness of the crash and ruin, the desperation of the case, might be its hope. On ruins one can begin to build. Anyhow, looking out from ruins one clearly sees; there are no obstructing walls.

  • ... his book ... makes nice reading for people. But what's the use? Except, of course, to kill time for those who prefer it dead.

  • Nearly all novels are too long.

  • 'Nan is thirty-three.' 'A dangerous age.' 'All Nan's ages have been dangerous. Nan is like that.'

  • Age has extremely little to do with anything that matters. The difference between one age and another is, as a rule, enormously exaggerated.

  • To be prejudiced is the privilege of the thinking human being. ... The open mind is the empty mind.

  • The superior thing ... was to be late. Lateness showed that serene contempt for the illusion we call time which is so necessary to ensure the respect of others and oneself. Only the servile are punctual ...

  • Atheism was natural enough, but heresy seemed strange. For, surely, if one could believe anything, one could believe everything.

  • He always thought best while eating well too; with him, as with many others, high living and high thinking went together, or would have, only lack of the necessary financial and cerebral means precluded much practice of either.

  • Suggestiveness. Henry could never understand that word as applied in condemnation. Should not everything be suggestive? Or should all literature, art, and humor be a cul-de-sac, suggesting no idea whatsoever? Henry did not want to be uncharitable, but he could not but think that those who used this word in this sense laid themselves open to the suspicion ... that their minds were only receptive of one kind of suggestion, and that a coarse one.

  • To lunch with the important ... that should be the daily goal of those for whom life is not a playground but a ladder.

  • All sorts of articles and letters appear in the papers about women. Profound questions are raised concerning them. Should they smoke? Should they work? Vote? Marry? Exist? Are not their skirts too short, or their sleeves? Have they a sense of humor, of honor, of direction? Are spinsters superfluous? But how seldom similar inquiries are propounded about men.

  • [Religion is a] primitive insurance against disaster. ... Originally religion was merely a function of the self-preservative instinct. Offer sacrifices to the gods and save your crops. And even Christianity, after all, insures heavily against the flaws in this life by belief in another.

  • He always looked up and took notice when religion was mentioned; to this family the word was like 'rats' to a dog, owing, perhaps, to their many clerical ancestors, perhaps to the fact that they were latish Victorians.

  • ... he would do the thing thoroughly. He would enter once more into that great ark of refuge from perplexing thoughts, the Roman branch of the Catholic Church.

  • God very seldom succeeds. He has very nearly everything against him, of course.

  • There's one thing about freedom ... each generation of people begins by thinking they've got it for the first time in history, and ends by being sure the generation younger than themselves have too much of it. It can't really always have been increasing at the rate people suppose, or there would be more of it by now.

  • Decades have a delusive edge to them. They are not, of course, really periods at all, except as any other ten years may be. But we, looking at them, are caught by the different name each bears, and give them different attributes, and tie labels on them, as if they were flowers in a border.

  • Once you get to know your neighbors, you are no longer free, you are all tangled up, you have to stop and speak when you are out and you never feel safe when you are in.

  • Love's a disease. But curable.

  • Did you ever look through a microscope at a drop of pond water? You see plenty of love there. All the amoebae getting married. I presume they think it very exciting and important. We don't.

  • Here is one of the points about this planet which should be remembered; into every penetrable corner of it, and into most of the impenetrable corners, the English will penetrate. They are like that; born invaders. They cannot stay at home.

  • Nothing, perhaps, is strange, once you have accepted life itself, the great strange business which includes all lesser strangenesses.

  • One never feels such distaste for one's countrymen and countrywomen as when one meets them abroad.

  • He felt about books as doctors feel about medicines, or managers about plays — cynical, but hopeful.

  • She probably labored under the common delusion that you made things better by talking about them.

  • The last sin, the sin against the Holy Ghost — to lie to oneself. Lying to other people — that's a small thing in comparison.

  • Denham felt the relief that follows unaccepted hospitality.

  • Every year, in the deep midwinter, there descends upon this world a terrible fortnight. ... every shop is a choked mass of humanity ... nerves are jangled and frayed, purses emptied to no purposes, all amusements and all occupations suspended in favor of frightful businesses with brown paper, string, letters, cards, stamps, and crammed post offices. This period is doubtless a foretaste of whatever purgatory lies in store for human creatures.

  • Sleeping in a bed — it is, apparently, of immense importance. Against those who sleep, from choice or necessity, elsewhere society feels righteously hostile. It is not done. It is disorderly, anarchical.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • "On Beds and 'Omes," A Casual Commentary ()
  • Behavior of such cunning cruelty that only a human being could have thought of or contrived it we call 'inhuman,' revealing thus some pathetic ideal standard for our species that survives all betrayals.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • "On Thinking Well of Ourselves," A Casual Commentary ()
  • One should, I think, always give children money, for they will spend it for themselves far more profitably than we can ever spend it for them.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • "Christmas Presents," A Casual Commentary ()
  • Giving is not at all interesting; but receiving is, there is no doubt about it, delightful.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • "Christmas Presents," A Casual Commentary ()
  • The impulse to ask questions is among the more primitive human lusts.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • "Into Questions and Answers," A Casual Commentary ()
  • Women have one great advantage over men. It is commonly thought that if they marry they have done enough, and need career no further. If a man marries, on the other hand, public opinion is all against him if he takes this view.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • "A Preliminary Word," A Casual Commentary ()
  • News is like food; it is the cooking and serving that makes it acceptable, not the material itself.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • "Problems of a Journalist's Life," A Casual Commentary ()
  • The manuscript may go forth from the writer to return with a faithfulness passing the faithfulness of the boomerang or the homing pigeon.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • "Problems of a Writer's Life," A Casual Commentary ()
  • You should always believe all you read in newspapers, as this makes them more interesting.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • "Problems of a Reader's Life," A Casual Commentary ()
  • Only one hour in the normal day is more pleasurable than the hour spent in bed with a book before going to sleep, and that is the hour spent in bed with a book after being called in the morning.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • "Problems of a Reader's Life," A Casual Commentary ()
  • One day I shall write a little book of conduct myself, and I shall call it Social Problems of the Unsociable. And the root problem, beneath a hundred varying manifestions, is How to Escape. How to escape, that is, at those times, be they few or frequent, when you want to keep yourself to yourself.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • "Problems of Social Life," A Casual Commentary ()
  • At the worst, a house unkept cannot be so distressing as a life unlived.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • "Problems of a Woman's Life," A Casual Commentary ()
  • Life without a friend is death without a witness ...

  • ... they none of them threw themselves into the interests of the rest, but each plowed his or her own furrow. Their thoughts, their little passions and hopes and desires, all ran along separate lines. Family life is like this — animated, but collateral.

  • Words move, turning over like tumbling clowns; like certain books and like fleas, they possess activity. All men equally have the right to say, 'This word shall bear this meaning,' and see if they can get it across. It is a sporting game, which all can play, only all cannot win.

  • If words are to change their meanings, as assuredly they are, let each user of language make such changes as please himself, put up his own suggestions, and let the best win.

  • Once learnt, this business of cooking was to prove an ever growing burden. It scarcely bears thinking about, the time and labor that man and womankind have devoted to the preparation of dishes that are to melt and vanish in a moment like smoke or a dream, like a shadow, and as a post that hastes by, and the air closes behind them, and afterwards no sign where they went is to be found.

  • When I have eaten mangoes, I have felt like Eve.

  • The great and recurrent question about Abroad is, is it worth the trouble of getting there?

  • How agreeable to watch, from the other side of the high stile, this mighty creature, this fat bull of Bashan, snorting, champing, pawing the earth, lashing the tail, breathing defiance at heaven and at me ... his heart hot with hate, unable to climb a stile.

  • An exquisite peace obtains ... a divine emptiness. ... Silence drops like falling blossoms over the recovered kingdom from which pretenders have taken their leave. ... One's life to oneself again. Dear visitors, what largesse have you given, not only in departing, but in coming, that we might learn to prize your absence, wallow the more exquisitely in the leisure of your not-being. To-night we shall sleep deep. We need no more hope that you 'have everything you want'; we know that you have, for you are safely home, and can get it from your kitchen if you haven't.

  • Another sad comestive truth is that the best foods are the products of infinite and wearying trouble. The trouble need not be taken by the consumer, but someone, ever since the Fall, has had to take it.

  • We cannot hide from one another: we know too much. We know one another's faults, virtues, catastrophes, mortifications, triumphs, rivalries, desires, and how long we can each hang by our hands to a bar. We have been banded together under pack codes and tribal laws.

  • Life is one long struggle to disinter oneself, to keep one's head above the accumulations, the ever-deepening layers of objects ... which attempt to cover one over, steadily, almost irresistibly, like falling snow.

  • ... a hot bath! How exquisite a vespertine pleasure, how luxurious, fervid and flagrant a consolation for the rigors, the austerities, the renunciations of the day.

  • Still I sojourn here, alone and palely loitering, though the sedge is withered from the lake and no birds sing. For I sent the bath towel to the wash this morning, and omitted to put out another. I have no towel.

  • Words, living and ghostly, the quick and the dead, crowd and jostle the otherwise too empty corridors of my mind ... To move among this bright, strange, often fabulous herd of beings, to summon them at my will, to fasten them on to paper like flies, that they may decorate it, this is the pleasure of writing.

  • The poet has to make a synthesis out of the moral life of our time, and this life is lived at this moment on a political plane.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • "Marginal Comments," in Spectator ()
  • Cruelty was the devil, and most people were, in one way or another, cruel. Tyranny, suppression, persecution, torture, slavery, war, neglect — all were cruel. The world was acid and sour with hate, fat with greed, yellow with the triumph of the strong and the rich.

  • A group of closely related persons living under one roof; it is a convenience, often a necessity, sometimes a pleasure, sometimes the reverse; but who first exalted it as admirable, an almost religious ideal?

  • Parents are untamed, excessive, potentially troublesome creatures; charming to be with for a time, in the main they must lead their own lives, independent and self-employed, with companions of their own age and selection ...

  • Life, for all its agonies ... is exciting and beautiful, amusing and artful and endearing ... and whatever is to come after it — we shall not have this life again.

  • ... the position of women, that sad and well-nigh universal blot on civilizations, was never far from her mind.

  • Traveling together is a great test, which has damaged many friendships and even honeymoons, and some people such as [Thomas] Gray and Horace Walpole, never feel quite the same to one another again, and it is nobody's fault, as one knows if one listens to the stories of both, though it seems to be some people's fault more than others.

  • ... for that is what adultery is, a meanness and a stealing, a taking away from someone what should be theirs, a great selfishness, and surrounded and guarded by lies lest it should be found out. And out of this meanness and this selfishness and this lying flow love and joy and peace, beyond anything that can be imagined.

  • ... Mozart is everyone's tea, pleasing to highbrows, middlebrows and lowbrows alike, though they probably all get different kinds of pleasure from him.

  • Churches are wonderful and beautiful, and they are vehicles for religion, but no Church can have more than a very little of the truth.

  • Her children are either deceased, or following some profession abroad. I too follow professions, but at some distance behind, and seldom catch up with them.

  • But I mustn't bother you with this. One should consume one's own smoke.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • 1950, in Constance Babington-Smith, ed., Letters to a Friend 1950-1952 ()
  • And, as someone says somewhere, each wrong act brings with it its own anesthetic, dulling the conscience and blinding it against further light, and sometimes for years.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • 1951, in Constance Babington-Smith, ed., Letters to a Friend 1950-1952 ()
  • Human passions against eternal laws — that is the everlasting conflict.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • 1951, in Constance Babington-Smith, ed., Letters to a Friend 1950-1952 ()
  • Why is humanity so excessive in the way it does things? The golden mean seems out of fashion.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • 1951, in Constance Babington-Smith, ed., Letters to a Friend 1950-1952 ()
  • miss my daily Mass, and have a superstitious feeling that anything may happen on the days I don't go. However, nothing in particular has.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • 1951, in Constance Babington-Smith, ed., Letters to a Friend 1950-1952 ()
  • One could do with a longer year — so much to do, so little done, alas.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • 1952, in Constance Babington-Smith, ed., Last Letters to a Friend ()
  • ... I can think of few things more disastrous than starting a new correspondence with any one. Letters are a burden indeed ... they seem often the last straw that breaks the back ... you should see the piles of those that I must answer that litter and weight my writing table.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • 1953, in Constance Babington-Smith, ed., Last Letters to a Friend ()
  • I seldom meet actors, they are to me bright strange fishes swimming in an element alien to me; I feel that to meet them is to See Life.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • 1953, in Constance Babington-Smith, ed., Last Letters to a Friend ()
  • It is to the eccentrics that the world owes most of its knowledge.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • 1955, in Constance Babington-Smith, ed., Last Letters to a Friend ()
  • Televiewers in this country are not on the whole an intellectual type.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • 1955, in Constance Babington-Smith, ed., Last Letters to a Friend ()
  • Poem me no poems.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • in Poetry ()
  • Publishers of course have you altogether in their grip; if they say you must do a thing you have jolly well got to do it.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • letter (1907), in Jane Emery, Rose Macaulay: A Writer's Life ()
  • ... what about Christianity? Are we right in the face of so long a record of its poverty in international achievement, to keep invoking it as a standard, almost synonymous with civilization?

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • letter (1948), in Jane Emery, Rose Macaulay: A Writer's Life ()
  • How far does one combine resistance to over-control with social justice, i.e. tolerable living for people in general? We are too selfish to be trusted, if left free, to give away enough to make people comfortable enough to give them a chance. Yet if all this is ordered for us, as to some extent it has to be, it so soon leads to tyranny. It is a very difficult problem. If only human beings had more pity, unselfishness, and justice and didn't need coercion to treat each other decently.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • letter (1950), in Jane Emery, Rose Macaulay: A Writer's Life ()
  • You truly point out that war is only a symptom of the whole horrid business of human behavior, and cannot be isolated, and that we shall not, even if we abolish war, abolish hate and greed. So might it have been argued about slave emancipation, that slavery was but one apsect of human disgustingness, and that to abolish it would not end the barbarity that causes it. But did the abolitionists therefore waste their breath? And do we waste ours now in protesting against war?

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • "An Open Letter" (1937), in Jane Emery, Rose Macaulay: A Writer's Life ()

Rose Macaulay, English writer

(1881 - 1958)

Full name Dame Emilie Rose Macaulay