Original date of publication: 1950
My edition: 1992 (Virago Modern Classics
Why I decided to read: it’s on the list of Virago Modern Classics
How I acquired my copy: the Philadelphia Book Trader, August 2011
The World My Wilderness is the story of Barbara Denison (or Barbary), a teenage girl who used to live with her Bohemian mother and French stepfather in France during WWII. All her experience is with the French Resistance, running free to do as she liked. When her stepfather drowns, Barbary is sent back to her father, a distinguished lawyer, and to London, still ruined from the Blitz and very much resembling a ghost town.
On the surface, The World My Wilderness is a coming of age story, set at a time when things had changed drastically. Macaulay uses the theme of wilderness and jungle over and over to illustrate the way that Barbary feels. She’s torn between the two halves of her family, belonging no place and lost. The World My Wilderness is one of Rose Macaulay’s most complicated novels, and Barbary is a complicated character because there are two sides to her. She’s frequently described as a small, slight girl, but she’s experienced enough in her life that she seems more mature beyond her years. The feeling of being lost that Barbary has is mirrored in the London landscape, which is why Barbary and her friends are so drawn to the ruins around St. Paul’s. It’s a stunning, well-written novel.
So men’s will to recovery strove against the drifting wilderness and tame it; but the wilderness might slip from their hands, from their spades and trowels and measuring rods, slip darkly away from them, seeking the primeval chaos and old night which had been before Londinium was, which would be when cities were ghosts haunting the ancestral dreams of memory.