The Towers of Trebizond

The Towers of Trebizond
Author Rose Macaulay
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Autobiographical novel
Publisher Collins
Publication date
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Preceded by The World My Wilderness (1950)

The Towers of Trebizond is a novel by Rose Macaulay (1881–1958). Published in 1956, it was the last of her novels, and the most successful. It was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction in the year of its publication.


The book is partly autobiographical. It follows the adventures of a group of people – the narrator Laurie, the eccentric Dorothea ffoulkes-Corbett (otherwise Aunt Dot), her High Anglican clergyman friend Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg (who keeps his collection of sacred relics in his pockets), travelling from Istanbul (or Constantinople as Fr. Chantry-Pigg would have it) to Trebizond. A Turkish feminist doctor attracted to Anglicanism acts as a foil to the main characters. On the way, they meet magicians, Turkish policemen and juvenile British travel-writers, and observe the BBC and Billy Graham on tour. Aunt Dot proposes to emancipate the women of Turkey by converting them to Anglicanism and popularising the bathing hat,[1] while Laurie has more worldly preoccupations. Historical references (British Christianity since the Dissolution of the Monasteries, nineteenth-century travellers to the Ottoman Empire, the First World War, the Fourth Crusade, St. Paul's third missionary journey, Troy) abound. The geographical canvas is enlarged with the two senior characters eloping to the Soviet Union and the heroine meeting her lover and her semi-estranged mother in Jerusalem. The final chapters after a fatal accident on the return journey raise multiple issues such as the souls of animals.

At another level the book, against its Anglo-Catholic backdrop, deals with the attractions of mystical Christianity and the conflict between Christianity and adultery.[2] This was a problem Macaulay had faced in her own life, having had an affair with the married novelist and former Roman Catholic priest Gerald O'Donovan (1871–1942) from 1920 until his death.[3]

The famous opening sentence is,[4][5]

The Turkish woman doctor says in the book of Aunt Dot, "She is a woman of dreams. Mad dreams, dreams of crazy, impossible things. And they aren't all of conversion to the Church, oh no. Nor all of the liberation of women, oh no. Her eyes are on far mountains, always some far peak where she will go. She looks so firm and practical, that nice face, so fair and plump and shrewd, but look in her eyes, you will sometimes catch a strange gleam."[4]

Barbara Reynolds has suggested that the character of Aunt Dot is based on Rose Macaulay's friend Dorothy L. Sayers, and that Father Hugh Chantry-Pigg has elements of Frs. Patrick McLaughlin, Gilbert Shaw and Gerard Irvine.[6]

The book was described in [2]


The importance of the camel in The Towers of Trebizond is difficult to define. One reading may be that it serves as both a physical and metaphorical vehicle that helps Laurie explore her spirituality while she discovers the Turkish countryside and journeys to Jerusalem.

The camel itself is unnamed and described as "a white Arabian Dhalur (single hump) from the famous herd of the Ruola tribe" and as an "unconcerned Moslem". As camels go, Aunt Dot's is portrayed as being higher, or more special, than other camels: “…it was the one camel, among sheep and calves and donkeys and pigs, and stood looking tall and white and distinguished, showing race…”.

When Aunt Dot leaves the camel to Laurie, a new depth of meaning is brought to the famous first line of the novel: “Take my camel, dear…”. As Laurie rides the camel on her journey, it becomes a physical vehicle that takes her through Biblical lands that, to her, seem alive with ancient history and mythology: “…and that I and the camel were part of the gorgeous pageant of the East” (189). However, Laurie’s journey is more than just a trek through the desert on an Arabian racing camel. Her true journey, with the help of the camel, is a spiritual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, which is the spiritual and biblical seat of religion: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

On her pilgrimage, she is free of the influences of Aunt Dot and Father Chantry-Pigg. Alone with the camel, she is able to explore her own feelings and thoughts about religion, right and wrong, truth and untruth: “Believe it? What does believe mean? You don’t know, I don’t know. So I believe what I want. Anyhow, it’s in the blood; I probably can’t help it”. The camel in The Towers of Trebizond facilitates Laurie’s search for a deeper meaning of the divine truth of religion than what Christianity offers.


  • The first UK edition was published by Collins of London in 1956.
  • The first US edition (under the same title) was published by Farrar, Straus, of New York, in 1957, with a new edition by Farrar Straus & Giroux in 1980.[7]
  • A de luxe edition from the Folio Society, of London, with an introduction by Joanna Trollope, appeared in 2005 and is still in print.
  • A UK paperback version is also still in print, published by Flamingo.[8]
  • An edition was published by the New York Review of Books in 2003 with an introduction by Jan Morris


  • Babington Smith, Constance (1972). Rose Macaulay. London: Collins. ISBN 0-00-211720-7.
  • Bensen, Alice R. (1969). Rose Macaulay. New York: Twayne Publishers.
  • Crawford, Alice (1995). Paradise Pursued: The Novels of Rose Macaulay. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press. ISBN 0-8386-3573-3.
  • Emery, Jane (1991). Rose Macaulay: A Writer's Life. London: J. Murray. ISBN 0-7195-4768-7.
  • Fromm, Gloria G. (October 1986). "The Worldly and Unwordly Fortunes of Rose Macaulay". The New Criterion 5 (2): 38–44.
  • Hein, David. “Faith and Doubt in Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond.” Anglican Theological Review 88 (2006): 47–68. Abstract:
  • Hein, David. "Rose Macaulay: A Voice from the Edge." In David Hein and Edward Henderson, eds., C. S. Lewis and Friends, 93–115. London: SPCK; Eugene, OR: Cascade, 2011.
  • LeFanu, Sarah (2003). Rose Macaulay. London: Virago.
  • Moore, Judith (15 November 1978). "Rose Macaulay: A Model for Christian Feminists". Christian Century 95 (37): 1098–1101.
  • Passty, Jeanette N. (1988). Eros and Androgyny: The Legacy of Rose Macaulay. London and Toronto: Associated University Presses. ISBN 0-8386-3284-X.


  1. ^ Macaulay, Rose: The Towers of Trebizond (Collins, London, 1956), Chapter 2
  2. ^ a b The Towers of Trebizond at (accessed 14 November 2007)
  3. ^ Macaulay, Dame (Emilie) Rose (1881–1958), author by Constance Babington Smith, revised by Katherine Mullin, in Dictionary of National Biography online (accessed 15 November 2007)
  4. ^ a b Macaulay, Rose: The Towers of Trebizond (Collins, London, 1956)
  5. ^ Famous First WordsPearl, Nancy: at (accessed 14 November 2007)
  6. ^ Take away the camel, and all is revealed by Barbara Reynolds at (accessed 14 November 2007)
  7. ^ The Towers of Trebizond (Farrar Straus & Giroux) at (accessed 14 November 2007) ISBN 978-0-374-27854-0
  8. ^ The Towers of Trebizond (Flamingo) at (accessed 14 November 2007) ISBN 978-0-00-654421-0
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