I love finding ‘new- to- me’ authors. Those gems – and I know there are hundreds of them- that I haven’t discovered. I particularly enjoy finding female authors whose work throughout the 20th Century has slipped out of memory and is now being rediscovered and reprinted.
So when I was sent two works by author Rose Macaulay I was intrigued. I knew nothing about this writer at all. But hearing that she was writing in the early part of the 20th Century my interest was piqued.
On 27th August Handheld Press published Potterism: A Tragi-Farcical Tract, alongside a new collection of Macaulay’s pacifist writings from 1916 to 1945, Non-Combatants and Others: Writings Against War.
Potterism focuses primarily on the years directly after the First World War and the newspaper empire of the Potter family. It highlights a movement entitled by it’s detractors as ‘Potterism’; a view of the world based on suspicion, fear and the creation of fake news. There are, it has to be said comparisons to be drawn with certain sections of today’s press and political agenda.
Percy Potter, aka Lord Northcliffe is the newspaper magnet and head of the Potter Family. His wife Lelia Yorke is a romantic novelist, entirely caught up in fiction and entertaining the spiritualism so popular towards the end of the war. Her eldest daughter Clare is dull but dutiful, unlike her spirited and intelligent twins Jane and Johnny Potter.
The Twins are both Oxford educated, both take delight in aligning themselves against their parent, alongside the anti- Potter faction. Within this movement we are introduced to Arthur Gideon, devotee of fact and Katherine Varick, pragmatist and scientist. The battles lines of fact and fiction are drawn early on and it is the twins, most specifically Jane that play around their fringes.
The novel is structured in a unique way. The first and final sections are narrated by Rose Macaulay herself. She sets out the characters and ties up the loose ends, but within the central sections she hands both narration and perspective over to her characters. And when a tragedy strikes at the heart of the Potter family it threatens to drag everyone into it’s wake.
Here is a murder mystery, but it is so much more. Wrapped up in the actions and words of this cast of characters is a timely and authentic portrait of the time. There is a simplicity to the writing, a wit that is stark, sharp and revealing. The novel is steeped in the feeling of the age. Tackling subjects such as spiritualism, rise of socialism, emerging changes in class structure, antisemitism and much more, here is a biting social commentary on the press; it’s uses and misuses.
Having never read Macaulay’s work before I am thrilled to see I have a whole back catalogue to get through. First up, and already started (!), is Dangerous Ages published by British Library Publishing, another lovely gifted copy.
I can’t wait to report in!