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.
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.