Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

As well as being a discursive history of the period, the book is packed with tongue-in-cheek dissertations on topics ranging from the folly of trying to divide history into decades to the curiosities of high fashion. Aesthetics, literature, games and riddles, parliamentary affairs, and the upbringing of children are only a few of the subjects discussed, sometimes in the author’s voice and sometimes through one or other of her characters. These apparently peripheral discussions feed into several wider considerations which are central to the novel.

A questioning of the relativity of truth and the validity of religious truth runs throughout the entire narrative. Concern about the subordination of women, especially in public life, is expressed through the personalities and problems of all the women characters, especially of Stanley, Rome, and Imogen. The gender confusion in Imogen’s character and in the names of Rome and Stanley underscores a typical Rose Macaulay view that people should not be defined by gender.

In a worried, ongoing examination of the institution of marriage, it is significant that Mr. and Mrs. Garden’s three non-intellectual offspring (bucolic Una, socialite Victoria, and businessman Irving) are reasonably happy with their spouses, while the thinkers of the family (Rome, Stanley, and Maurice) fail to make satisfactory relationships with the opposite sex. It is clear that Macaulay sees a problem about marriage as a meeting...

(The entire section is 429 words.)