Emilie Rose Macaulay was one of six children of a classical scholar at Cambridge. She lived near Genoa, Italy during her childhood, and finished her education at home in England in Oxford. Rose Macaulay never married and devoted her life to her writing. She had a secret affair from about 1918 to 1942 with Gerald O'Donovan, a former priest, himself a novelist. She travelled extensively and some of her popular works inspired by her trips include The Pleasure of Ruins (1953). She was awarded the DBE shortly before her death in 1958. Her private correspondence was published posthumously in the trilogy Letters to a Friend (1961), Last Letters to a Friend (1962) and Letters to a Sister (1964).