In an essay on 'Writing' in Personal Pleasures (1935) Rose Macaulay evokes the pleasure of words: 'those precious gems of queer shapes and gay colours, sharp angles and soft contours, shades of meaning laid one over the other down history'. Macaulay's pleasure in the 'ghosts of words' and their pattern-making potential is strikingly evident in her historical novel about the English Civil War, They Were Defeated (1932), with its densely intertextual engagement with the language and poetry of the seventeenth century. Macaulay's complex handling of 'the ghosts of words' in this novel goes straight to the heart of a central problem in historical fiction: the question of language and its relation to past and present. As a genre, historical fiction infamously yokes together elements that tend to think of as antithetical: history and fiction, past and present. The interwar period marks a significant point in the history of the historical novel when it became a genre increasingly associated with women.