Book Review//Dangerous Ages by Rose Macaulay

Dangerous Ages by Rose Macaulay tells of the Hilary family, the women in particular, and the dangerous ages they all face at different stages of their lives during the summer of 1920. The book opens on the morning of Neville's  (a woman despite the name) forty-third birthday. Quickly, you realize that the premise of the book is the hurry of time, the missed opportunities, the almost frantic need to do things before it is too late, and to find meaning in life no matter what age you are.

To think suddenly of Rodney, of Gerda and of Kay, sleeping in the still house beyond the singing wood and the silver garden, was to founder swiftly in the cold, dark seas, to be hurt again with the stabbing envy of the night. Not jealousy, for she loved them all too well for that. But envy of their chances, of their contacts with life. Having her own contacts, she wanted all kinds of others too. Not only Rodney's, Gerda's and Kay's, but those of all her family and friends. Conscious, as one is on birthdays, of intense life hurrying swiftly to annihilation, she strove desperately to dam it. It went too fast. She looked at the wet strands of hair now spread over her shoulders to dry in the sun, at her strong, supple, active limbs, and thought of the days to come, when the black hair should be grey and the supple limbs refuse to carry her up beech-trees, and when, if she bathed in the sunrise, she would get rheumatism. In those days, what did one do to keep from sinking in the black seas of regret? 

Neville's sister, Nan, is also facing a crisis in her life. Now in her thirties, should she settle down and marry the man who is deeply in love with her? She reaches a conclusion but it becomes more complicated when Neville's daughter, Gerda, becomes involved. Gerda realizes that,

Very certainly she loved Barry, with all her imagination and all her mind, and she would have given him more than all that was hers. Very surely and truly she loved him, even if after all he was to be her uncle by marriage, which would make their family life like that in one of Louis Couperus's books. But why unhappy like that? Was love unhappy? if she might see him sometimes, talk to him, if Nan wouldn't want all of him all the time--and it would be unlike Nan to do that--she could be happy. One could share, after all. Women must share, for there were a million more women in England than men. 

Nan, Gerda, Kay (Gerda's brother), and Barry all go on a biking holiday in Cornwall together and their love-lorn situation comes to a funny and pathetic conclusion. Or at least it seems to until Gerda has to confront the beliefs and worldview common to her age.

Mrs. Hilary, Neville and Nan's mother, might be my favorite character in the book. Not because she is particularly likable, she isn't, but because she is the most fully realized. Mrs. Hilary is sixty-three and doesn't know what to do with her life. She is insecure, pretends to an interest in intellectual things, and is very demanding. She loves her children but she wants to be the center of their worlds.

But Mrs. Hilary, though she felt the red-hot stabbing of an attack of rheumatism already beginning, stayed up. She was happier now, because the children were making a fuss of her, suggesting remedies and so on. She would stay up and show them she could be plucky and cheerful even with rheumatism. A definite thing, like illness or pain, always put her on her mettle; it was so easy to be brave when people knew you had something to be brave about, and so hard when they didn't.

Mrs. Hilary finds an interest in life in psychoanalysis and becomes deeply absorbed in it. She at first does not want to admit her interest because it was suggested by her daughter-in-law but eventually it starts to dominate her life.

The happiness Mrs. Hilary now enjoyed was of the religious type--a deep, warm glow, which did not lack excitement. She felt as those may be presumed to feel who have just been converted to some church--newly alive, and sunk in spiritual peace, and in profound harmony with life. Where were the old rubs, frets, jars, and ennuis? Vanished, melted like yesterday's snows in the sun of this new peace. It was as if she had cast her burden upon the Lord. That said her psycho-analyst doctor, was quite in order; that was what it ought to be like. That was, in effect, what she had, in  point of fact, done; only the place of the Lord was filled by himself. To put the matter briefly, transference of burden had been effected; Mrs. Hilary had laid all her cares, all her perplexitites, all her grief, upon this quiet, acute-looking man, who sat with her twice a week for an hour, drawing her out, arranging her symptoms for her, penetrating the hidden places of her soul, looking like a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Henry Ainley. Her confidence in him was, he told her, the expression of father-imago, which surprised Mrs. Hilary a little, because he was twenty years her junior. 

There are a number of other characters. Grandmamma, Mrs. Hilary's mother, who seems to have achieved peace in her life and who observes the angst of the rest of her family with love and a bit of distance. Rosalind, Neville's other sister. Pamela, Mrs. Hilary's daughter-in-law. All of them appear and disappear throughout the novel. Their lives interweave to create a portrait of different ages and the pitfalls, outlook, and dangers that surround those ages.

This book is a part of the British Libary Women Writers series. I highly recommend all the books that have been published so far in the series. My thanks to the British Library for this review copy. I greatly enjoyed reading it.


  1. I got this one in the post this morning from the British Library and I'll be reading it very soon, so I mainly dodged your review for the moment. I'm glad you enjoyed it though.

  2. Excellent review! These BL titles are proving difficult to track down where I live but I'm keeping an eye out for this one and am very excited about some of the upcoming releases.

    1. I hope you find it. It is so nice to see these books being re-released.