In her diary in the mid-Twenties, Virginia Woolf, not yet lionized, railed at Rose Macaulay for being too visible: for speaking at dinners, for giving opinions to newspapers, for writing articles for the American press. “Why should she take the field so unnecessarily?” Woolf wanted to know. Answering her own question, she supposed that the “leading lady novelists,” all equally dutiful, simply did as they were asked. She herself, of course, was “not quite one of them.”

Woolf’s remarks have an uneasy ring, if not an uncertain tone, but there is no doubt about Rose Macaulay’s ubiquitous presence in the postwar literary world. She had caused a minor sensation in 1920, with Potterism: A Tragi-Farcical Tract, her tenth novel and first best-seller, a brilliant, caustic commentary on the noxious influence of the mass media on contemporary life. Virginia...


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