Rose Macaulay censored?

The Spartacus Schoolnet website, which is a good jumping-off place for the Great War on the web, says this about Rose Macaulay’s What Not: A Prophetic Comedy in its article on DORA (the Defence of the Realm Act):

The growing disillusionment with the war was reflected in the novels that were written at the time. A. T. Fitzroy’s Despised and Rejected was published in April 1918. A thousand copies were sold before the book was banned and its publisher, C. W. Daniel, was successfully prosecuted for sedition. Another novel, What Not: A Prophetic Comedy by Rose Macaulay was due to be published in the autumn of 1918. When the censors discovered that the book ridiculed wartime bureaucracy, its publication was stopped and did not appear until after the Armistice.

The sheet pasted into the front of the first edition says something different:


As this book was written during the war, and intended prophetically, its delay until some months after the armistice calls for a word of explanantion.

The book was ready for publication in November 1918, when it was discovered that a slight alteration in the text was essential, to safeguard it against one of the laws of the realm. As the edition was already bound, this alteration has naturally taken a considerable time.

However, as the date of the happenings described in “What Not” is unspecified, it may still be regarded as a prophecy, not yet disproved.


March, 1919

This mention of “a” slight alteration in the text doesn’t quite gel with the Spartacus account, which, makes it sound as though the book was banned for ridiculing bureaucracy (When there’s plenty of cheerful ridicule of bureaucracy around; even a patriotic drum-beater like Ian Hay makes fun of army bureaucracy.)

Sarah LeFanu’s excellent biography of Macaulay says nothing about this aspect of the book’s publication, though it is good on the connection between the book’s depiction of forbidden love with the beginning of Macaulay’s affair with a married man. Samuel Hynes in A War Imagined sheds a bit more light:

The story of post-war censorship begins with the same book that began the story of post-war satire – Rose Macaulay’s What Not. That novel was ready for publication in November 1918 when… it was discovered that a slight alteration in the text was essential, to safeguard it against one of the laws of the realm. Pages were removed, and new pages were tipped in, and the novel finally appeared in 1919 (the British Library copy is dated March 17). To judge from the replacement pages, the offending matter must have had to do with recruiting and censorship during the war, and perhaps with some actual English newspapers. we may conclude that What Not was DORA’s last wartime victim.

What puzzles me is this: If the book was due to be published in November 1918, why did DORA affect it? Why weren’t the publishers just able to put out the original text in December or January, when the war was over, and restrictions no longer applied? Why was replacement necessary, even after the war?

Could the clue be in Hynes’s phrase “and perhaps with some actual English newspapers”? Was the original text libellous rather than seditious or just likely to “cause alarm and despondency”?

I wonder how I can find out.

The book is good fun, by the way, about a government ministry that wants to increase the nation’s brain-power by compulsory selective breeding. Being very bossy with the best of intentions. Very New Labour.


  1. Posted October 21, 2006 at 4:02 am | Permalink

    When did DORA actually expire? At least some parts of it were still in effect in October 1919 (see Arthur Marwick, Britain in the Century of Total War, 151). My sources are frustratingly vague, but there was a Termination of the Present War (Definition) Act (1918) which provided for setting the end date of the war for the purposes of terminating various wartime legislation etc, but that date was not actually set until 1921, at 31 August 1921 (see this page, about a quarter of the way down). And it’s true, the war didn’t really end in November 1918. It was technically only an armistice, with the possibility of a resumption of fighting. And very soon there was, too, albeit against the Bolsheviks, not the Germans — and then there was the Irish situation … So it seems not unlikely that the government would want to hold onto its emergency powers for a while yet, which fits with the 1921 date suggested above.

    But I don’t know how all this affected the censorship provisions of DORA, as most of the discussion revolves around the powers given to authorities to deal with striking workers and so on. It could be that censorship was among the first things to go, or at least not enforced so strictly.

  2. Posted October 22, 2006 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    If analogy with the Second World War is any help (which it may not be), the censorship provisions of the Emergency Powers Act expired immediately with the end of hostilities in the summer of 1945, but some of the manpower controls (Essential Work Orders, etc.) of the EMP lasted far longer.

  3. Posted October 22, 2006 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    I’ve not found out about censorship yet, but after WW1, the propaganda machine began to be run down immediately after the Armistice, and the Ministry of Information was completely disbanded by Dec 31st, 1918 – remarkably quick work, maybe reflecting the way in which propaganda and political censorship were thought of as un-English, a forced necessity of wartime only?

  4. Posted October 22, 2006 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    According to the article “Domestic Censorship in the First World War” by Deian Hopkin, Journal of Contemporary History, 1970, censorship ended at midnight on July 24th, 1919.
    But did Rose Macaulay and her publishers really have anything to worry about after November 1918? Prosecutions of novels were very rare, and pacifist books such as Goldring’s The Fortune were not put on trial.
    Hopkin’s article makes it clear that the authorities were unwilling to prosecute even direct pacifist propaganda – because proving the case was difficult and the writer would only gain publicity from a court case. The only presecution of pacifist fiction that I know of is of Fitzroy’s Despised and Rejected, and the authorities didn’t exactly rush into attacking that – it had been out for a year before it was prosecuted. Besides which, it was produced by a small pacifist organisation, not a mainstream publisher like Constable.
    So in the case of “What Not”, I think there are two possibilities – either Constable were very timid, or the problem was libel rather than sedition.

  5. Posted October 28, 2016 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    It was libel. I’ve seen the text that was removed and it was very pointedly aimed at a newspaper proprietor making good business out of blackmail and scandalsheets. My scholarly discussion of this will appear in due course, I hope.

    • Posted October 28, 2016 at 10:34 pm | Permalink

      Kate – can you give a hint? Was the proprietor Northcliffe?

      • Posted October 29, 2016 at 7:49 am | Permalink

        I don’t know! I’ve been told or seen it asserted somewhere that it was Beaverbrook, and I think that’s more likely. But it could have been Northcliffe.

      • Roger
        Posted October 29, 2016 at 7:53 pm | Permalink

        “a newspaper proprietor making good business out of blackmail and scandalsheets.”

        Sounds more like Bottomley or Pemberton-Billing than Northcliffe or Beaverbrook.

  6. Posted October 29, 2016 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    Northcliffe was her boss when she was at Crewe House (to do with Italian propaganda). She wasn’t happy there, as she hints in the epigraph to Crewe Train:
    ‘Oh Mr Porter, whatever shall I do?
    I want to go to Birmingham, but they’ve sent me on to Crewe’.
    The novel, as I remember, has nothing to do with the town of Crewe, but uses it as metonym for a place where you feel out of your element.

    • Posted October 29, 2016 at 11:06 am | Permalink

      Rose Macaulay knew a great many people. And the alteration was slight only in the upper-class litotical sense.

  7. Posted November 16, 2016 at 1:35 pm | Permalink

    OK, I’ve done a proper scholarly comparison of the original, withdrawn, 1918 edition, its 1919 [1918] edn, and the 1924 cheap edition. (There isn’t enough to make an article, but I discuss it more fully in my annotated bibliography on RM’s publications in Rose Macaulay, Gender and Modernity (KM ed., 2017).) A newspaper editor was trapped in the act of blackmailing a Cabinet Minister, by the minister’s own lawyer and secretary. So the potential libel action could have come from a Fleet St editor (not a proprietor), and from any Cabinet Minister who felt she was modelling her character on them.

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