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Fractured Landscape, Divided Society, Split Selves—the Blitzed London as ‘Third landscape’ in Rose Macaulay’s The World My Wilderness (1950)

Paysage fracturé, société divisée, sujets tiraillés—Londres post-Blitz comme « tiers-paysage » dans The World My Wilderness de Rose Macaulay (1950)
Clémence Laburthe-Tolra


De sa nouvelle autobiographique « Miss Anstruther’s Letters » (1942) à son roman post-guerre The World My Wilderness (1950) Rose Macaulay explore les conséquences dévastatrices de la guerre sur le paysage, la société et les habitants londoniens. Confrontée au bombardement de son appartement pendant le Blitz, narré en creux dans « Miss Anstruther’s Letters », Macaulay revient sur cet évènement traumatisant dans The World My Wilderness. Elle y dépeint des marginaux errant dans les ruines parcourues de lignes de faille, tant architecturales que géologiques ou psychologiques. Cet article analyse The World My Wilderness sous le prisme du « tiers-paysage » défini par Gilles Clément dans le champ des études de paysage contemporaines (2020). Ainsi, la « ville brisée » constitue un espace d’entre-deux pour marginaux et biodiversité, tandis que Macaulay investit les fractures zébrant paysage, société et individus dans un contexte post-guerre où la préservation des ruines fait débat.

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  • 1 On Macaulay’s work as a VAD, see Emery, Jane, Rose Macaulay: A Writer’s Life, London: John Murray, (...)
  • 2 The World My Wilderness was instantly a success. See Emery, Jane, Rose Macaulay: A Writer’s Life, L (...)

1As she roamed across London to explore the ruins and the impact of the Blitz on the urban landscape (Emery 285), Rose Macaulay was deeply aware of faults permeating both city and society. Set in 1945, The World My Wilderness (1950) follows the journey of Barbary Deniston as she leaves the maquis in Collioure to wander across a ruin-like and jungle-like London after the Blitz (Mellor 2011, 176). The narrative is centred on post-war landscape and looks ‘toward the waste land of a civilization destroyed and the personal desert that its author had painfully traversed’ (Crawford 137). Macaulay witnessed first-hand the impact left by the war both when her flat was bombed and when she worked as a Voluntary Aid Detachment at a military convalescent hospital.1 As such, her novel encompasses geological, social and psychological faults dividing individuals torn between ethical and ideological concerns in the aftermath of the Second World War. After a long period of absence as a novelist,2 Macaulay confronts herself to ‘a world perishing from lack of goodness’ (Macaulay 1962, 30), and ‘goes in search of possible ways of restoring a sense of coherence’ (Crawford 140) in The World My Wilderness.

2Rather than focusing on the redemptive dimension of the landscape healing split characters (Dickey), I wish to ponder over the ‘deep chasms, the pits, the broken walls and foundations, the tangled greenery, the roofless, gaping churches’ (Macaulay 1950, 54) to view the Blitzed landscape as a space of in-betweenness for faulty characters in The World My Wilderness.

  • 3 The excerpts quoted from the Manifeste du tiers-paysage are all translated by the author of this pa (...)
  • 4 Clément refers to the third landscape as a refuge for ‘biodiversity’, ‘multiple species’ and ‘anima (...)
  • 5 The ‘planetary garden’ is a term coined by Clément who defines it as ‘a means of living in harmony (...)
  • 6 See Sieyès’s pamphlet ‘What Is the Third Estate?’. See Whitcomb 1899.

3Not only is this fractured landscape shaping the ‘wrecked city’, but it also holds various strata of time (Schama 7). As Barbary makes her way through London, she unearths memories, losses and traumas which are all magnified by architectural fault lines. The fractured urban landscape thus becomes a middle-ground for characters like Barbary who prove to be split, as Barbary claims she is a ‘heretic’ who does not ‘fit’ in society. I intend here to draw on Gilles Clément’s concept of ‘third landscape’ (Clément)3 to read the landscape as a space providing a sense of in-betweenness amongst fault lines for outcasts and flora.4 According to Clément, the third landscape is ‘an undetermined fragment of the Planetary Garden’,5 constituted by ‘the sum of spaces neglected by man’ (Clément 2013, 13). Coining the term with tiers état6 (‘third estate’) in mind, Clément defines the ‘third landscape’ as a ‘space expressing neither power nor submission to power’ (Clément 2013 13). Ultimately, I will argue that Macaulay attempts to seek ‘a coherent shape’ (Macaulay 1946, 72) amidst the fault lines of post-war London through intertextual and intermedial disruptions.

‘Blitzed’ and Faulty Landscape

4Opening her novel on an idyllic garden located in the South of France, Rose Macaulay offers a deceptive sight to her readers. Indeed, the scenery is a mirage, as the main landscape explored in the novel is that of London after the Blitz. The ‘shrubs and flowers and orange and lemon trees’ (1) are soon eclipsed by the ‘caves’, ‘cellars’ and ‘gaps’ which constitute the 1945 London fractured landscape. While the French countryside is depicted with references to the five senses stressing the idyllic quality of the scenery, the London cityscape is apprehended in terms of architecture and geography. Its sharpness is constantly emphasized as lines of departure are highlighted to stress the damage caused by the German air force. This emphasis on discontinuity is notably encapsulated when Barbary walks around the ruins:

Barbary wondered what the ruined waste lands looked like after dark, with the night lying over the deep chasms, the pits, the broken walls and foundations, the tangled greenery, the roofless, gaping churches, the stone flights of stairs climbing high into emptiness, the hidden creatures scrambling and scuttering among brambles. (54)

  • 7 Barbary’s ramblings are reminiscent of Rose Macaulay’s own peregrinations in the spring of 1948. Se (...)
  • 8 Although Barbary’s perception of the ruin is tinged with Romantic overtones, Macaulay departs from (...)

5Here, the enumeration of noun groups evokes the row of bombed buildings Barbary passes by.7 The jagged quality of the landscape is not only insisted upon through the isotopy of hollowness (‘deep’, ‘chasms’, ‘pit’, ‘broken’, ‘gaping’) or the suffix ‘-less’ which highlights destruction, but it is also rendered in terms of sounds by monosyllabic terms with harsh consonants in /d/, /p/, or /t/ sounds. The faulty quality of the landscape is also magnified by a play on scales as a rising movement is observed with the description starting from below the ground (with ‘deep chasms’ and ‘pits’) to the sky, only to lead to ‘emptiness’. A retreating movement back to the ground is then performed, as the ‘brambles’ and the alliterations with sibilant sounds (‘scrambling and scuttering’) hint at holes to hide in. This back-and-forth between different scales is furthermore magnified by Romantic-like postures8 adopted by characters as they climb up the ruins:

In the boards there was a gap large enough to squeeze through; they did so, and stood, with no roof but the sky, while pigeons whirred about them and the wind blew in their faces, on a small plateau, looking down over the wrecked city. . . . The children stood still, gazing down on a wilderness of little streets, caves and cellars, the foundations of a wrecked merchant city grown over by green and golden fennel and ragwort, coltsfoot, purple loosestrife, rosebay willow herb, bracken, bramble and tall nettles, among which rabbits burrowed and wild cats crept and hens laid eggs. (46)

6Although the roughness of the London cityscape was previously underlined in terms of architecture and geography, this former description is revised: not only is the landscape apprehended through its altered shapes and crushed materials, it is also personified. Indeed, it is called a ‘wrecked city’—the syllepsis ‘wrecked’ blends material attributes with moral ones, reminding one of the ‘unreal city’ decried by T. S. Eliot in The Waste Land, which often appears in between the lines in The World My Wilderness. Yet, such wreckedness is not only characterised in terms of materiality or morality; it is also directly linked to time as the narrator refers to ‘the foundations of a wrecked merchant city’ while characters survey the city (46). Time appears to be disjointed, haunted by spectral forms, such as ‘the ghosts of churches burnt in an earlier fire’, or ‘the ghosts of taverns’ (119). Standing as symbols of the disruption of linear time, ruins encapsulate ruptures. Therefore, going over the London fractured landscape leads one to unearth memory, loss and trauma. According to Simon Schama, ‘it should also be acknowledged that once a certain idea of landscape, a myth, a vision, establishes itself in an actual place, it has a peculiar way of muddling categories, of making metaphors more real than their referents; of becoming, in fact, part of the scenery’ (Schama 61). This muddle of categories is performed as the omniscient narrator brushes over London’s history:

The maze of little streets threading through the wilderness, the broken walls, the great pits, with their dense forests of bracken and bramble, golden ragwort and coltsfoot, fennel and foxglove and etch, all the wild rambling shrubs that spring from ruin, the vaults and cellars and deep caves, the wrecked guild halls mat had belonged to saddlers, merchant tailors, haberdashers, waxchandlers, barbers, brewers, coopers and coachmakers, all the ancient city fraternities, the broken office stairways that spiralled steeply past empty doorways and rubbled closets into the sky, empty shells of churches with their towers still strangely spiring above the wilderness, their empty window arches where green boughs pushed in, their broken pavement floors—St Vedast’s, St Alban’s, St Anne’s and St Agnes’, St Giles Cripplegate, its tower high above the rest, the ghosts of churches burnt in an earlier fire, St Olave’s and St John Zachary’s, haunting the green-flowered churchyards that bore their names, the ghosts of taverns where merchants and clerks had drunk, of restaurants where they had eaten—all this scarred and haunted green and stone and brambled wilderness lying under the August sun, a-hum with insects and astir with secret, darting, burrowing life, received the returned traveller into its dwellings with a wrecked, indifferent calm. (119–120)

7Brought together through the use of juxtapositions, merchants, ruins and non-human entities are gathered in one lengthy sentence, as if Macaulay intended to go against the disruption caused by the war through her use of syntax. Ultimately, the wilderness culminates in unexpected harmony among the ruins with the indifference of insects ‘burrowing life’. Gathering pollen and carrying it from flower to flower, insects allow fertilization on the London ruins. Their presence goes thus against the ruptures and fractures inherent to the war. Instead, insects introduce some circularity to the ruins and the charred grounds. Does not Macaulay’s stance embrace this act of pollination by going metaphorically from one ruin to another to extract some of its quality to the rest of the city through literature? Beryl Pong comments on Macaulay’s writing through another type of circularity with the medical procedure of the ‘suture’. She argues: ‘in response to this dislocated environment, Macaulay’s writing makes an attempt at temporal suture through the use of ruin as a Bakhtinian chronotope’ (Pong 93). She claims:

In the novel, ruin-time’s inter-animating relationship between past, present, and future has important implications for issues of space and time in literary narrative. But while rendering the ‘dynamic stasis’ of the temporality of ruins, Macaulay would also work against it in an attempt at temporal suture. This takes place, jointly, through the appearance of ghosts, and through writing as mapping: spectral cartography. (Pong 99)

8Interestingly enough, The World My Wilderness was published shortly after a series of debates on the preservation of Blitzed ruins. Published in 1945 by several architects led by Hugh Casson, the pamphlet Bombed Churches as War Memorials called for the preservation of church ruins. Pamphleteers argued that ‘England has itself been in the battle and London is still in it. Could there be a more appropriate memorial of the nation’s crisis than the preservation of fragments of its battleground?’ (Casson 4). Perceived as ‘a fragment of the past, part of the pattern of history’, a church in ruins remained nevertheless ‘a piece of architecture, sometimes perhaps a masterpiece’ (Casson 11). The essence of a ruin was thus to be looked after: ‘A ruin is more than a collection of debris. It is a place with its own individuality, charged with its own emotion and atmosphere, of drama, of grandeur, of nobility, or of charm’ (Casson 15). For that matter, preserving churches would manifest in three ways: churches would be turned into ‘sanctuaries’, ‘open spaces’ and ‘war memorials’ (Casson 17–19). Casson and others thus provided readers with concrete preservation plans accompanied by sketches:

The church of St. John the Evangelist stand on the south-west corner of Red Lion Square, London. It was completed in 1878 to the designs of John Loughbrough Pearson, and was seriously damaged in the air raids of 1940-1941. Enough of it, however remains for it to be re-created as a garden ruin—perhaps in the way suggested by Barbara Jones’s sketches. (Casson 7)

  • 9 For further information on post-war reconstruction debates, see Aymes, Sophie, ‘Ivy and Bones: Ruin (...)

9The mention of Barbara Jones by Casson is significant here: not only did Barbara Jones elaborate various sketches for the pamphlet, but she also illustrated the first edition of The World My Wilderness. The original cover displayed London landmarks and bomb-sites in black in the background, while lush vegetation dominated the foreground. A clear contrast set apart the green and white of plants from the ruins in ochre, grey, and black hues. This opposition in colours and shapes with the harsh lines of the ruins and the curve of plants and leaves is however ambiguous: does the vegetation stand as a sign of regeneration or entrapment? Are the ruins to be left as they are and overgrown by plants?9

10Rose Macaulay appears to be inspired by the architectural reflections voiced by Casson and others by pondering over space and community to erect war memorials in between the lines of her novel. Yet, the sense of community advocated for by the authors of Bombed Churches as War Memorials is not as salient in The World My Wilderness, where lines of fault appear to run through society.

Split Bodies, Minds and Societies: Finding a Middle-ground in a Fractured Landscape?

  • 10 For an analysis of the character torn between two religions, see Walton 2016.

11As they explore the ruins of a bombed church, Barbary confesses to Raoult: ‘You can repent because you were brought up a Catholic. I can’t, because I’m a heretic, and heretics can’t undo what they’ve done’ (58). Despite its religious connotation,10 the term ‘heretic’ applies to Barbary on a broader level as she is made aware she is constantly out of place. For that matter, her father warns her:

‘It’s a pity you couldn’t manage to get on at Arshaig. You know, my dear child, you’ll have to learn sometime to fit into the society about you. You realise that, don’t you?’ Barbary wondered what society he meant. Perhaps really she fitted into none. Fear and desolation crept like a cold wind in her stomach. (126)

12The repetition of the verb ‘fit’ works on two levels. Voiced by the father, it singles out the character and makes her stand apart from a community she does not seem to belong to. Echoed internally by Barbary, it shows the latter has integrated the fact she is at odds with others. Not only is this fault defined by her father as a trait, but it is also incorporated by the body itself ‘in her stomach’. According to the outcast Mavis, make-up is an antidote as she believes it will not only help Barbary with her shoplifting, but also with fitting in:

‘No, really: you’ve got to doll up. I’ll take you somewhere for a hairdo; you’d look good in curls, I’d say. And with your face done, and your mouth like other people’s. Your eyes are ever so nice,’ Mavis added, generously. ‘What I mean, it’d do you good all round, besides in the stores, to have a smarten up.’ (165–66)

13Mavis’s comment addresses another aspect of Barbary’s split identity, that of her androgyny. The performance of gender (Butler 1990) Mavis asks of Barbary highlights how the latter does not ‘fit’ in with how society expects her to behave. Barbary is for example portrayed in the novel as an ‘irregular-featured elf’ (11), and Walton links Barbary’s androgynous self to her political stance:

Like many of Macaulay’s novels, The World My Wilderness has, in Barbary, an active androgynous female as its central character who is accompanied by a more passive male counterpart—Raoul her stepbrother. But the familiar image of the rebellious androgynous woman is brought into sharp and tragic relief. Barbary is not only resistant to social norms but also quite unable to insert herself into the new order of a peacetime world. . . . Barbary can neither accommodate nor be accommodated because she had been decisively formed by her experiences on the edge of the resistance, the maquis, in occupied France. (Walton 80)

14While the home front experience appears to be a ‘battle of enclosures’ in women’s war writing (Cohen 8), Barbary epitomises the way that in The World My Wilderness ‘no character fits tidily into the boxes of class or gender, and no position survives unchallenged’ (Plain 195).

15Besides this internal split as one character struggles to get on, society seems to be split in London. For one, ethical and ideological divides separate ‘collaborators’ and ‘maquisards’ as several characters see in London the occupied France they have lived in or heard of. Identifying herself with French maquisards, Barbary reproduces this divide: ‘. . . to her, all authority is the Gestapo, and all those who live in the underworld of bombed London constitute a resistance movement’ (Plain 195). This fault line dividing society is symbolised by the widespread sense of distrust which enshrouds London as the omniscient narrator indicates: ‘Treachery, treachery everywhere. Coxy was treacherous, a collabo; one could trust no one’ (180–81). Society is apprehended through a dichotomy which Barbary’s father reminds his former wife of when the latter says she intends to bring Barbary back to France:

‘Your France. The France of the comfortable collaborators and the disreputable maquis. The France of the rich opportunists and of the lawless criminals with which you let our daughter mix… When you stayed on in France with Michel, it wasn’t only me and Richie you were deserting, but the decency and integrity of the ordinary person. He was a collaborationist with the enemy occupying his country, with those disgusting barbarians who tortured and massacred and enslaved and abolished freedom and the rule of law. You lived with him, and tolerated the barbarians too.’ (229)

16Reflecting on the ‘intensity of the Blitz and the paralytic state of Londoners during WWII’, Jonathan Patterson defines the term ‘anti-space’ as

a place in which daily experience is dramatically devalued and the state of alienation reaches what Marcuse classifies as new levels of intensity, and ‘spatial discontinuity’ to use Svetlana Boym’s term, metastasizes to such a degree that those who inhabit such a space experience an ontological reorientation to their once familiar surroundings. What is difficult about inhabiting an anti-space is the constant struggle with these three phenomenological concepts of time: the time that was, the time that is, and the time that never will be. (Patterson 2)

17Yet, I would like to argue that the landscape reads as a middle ground for outcasts and flora in The World My Wilderness. The shattered buildings and bombed ruins become places of in-betweenness, following Gilles Clément’s concept of ‘third landscape’, defined as ‘a territory for the various species which cannot find their place elsewhere’ (Clément 2020, 25). Overgrown by plants, the ruins turn into a jungle: ‘Having crossed Gresham Street, the road became a lane across a wrecked and flowering wilderness, and was called Noble Street. Beyond Silver Street, it was a still smaller path, leading over still wilder ruins and thicker jungles of greenery, till it came out by the shell of a large church’ (45). Such ‘greenery’ is explained from a historical perspective by Leo Mellor as the latter reminds us of the growth and proliferation of plants following the bombing of the Natural History Museum. The bombing of the Museum scattered seeds all over London, which eventually grew and turned into the jungle evoked by Macaulay:

While children died from the waves of bomb-blasts or were pierced by glass fragments, the herbarium of the Natural History Museum was blown apart, thereby allowing Mimosa seeds, brought from China in 1793, finally to germinate and grow. The ground around Cripplegate churchyard, covered by buildings for six centuries, again supported crops, its fertility undiminished. (Mellor 180)

One species, more than any other, recurs in the scientific and creative catalogues of bombsite plants: the pink flowers and jagged, down-coated leaves of Epilobium angustifolium—more commonly known as rosebay willow-herb. . . . [I]t was good at colonizing—80,000 seeds per plant—and it had a liking for soil that had been subjected to heat . . . . (Mellor 179)

18The lush vegetation as well as geographical faults turn the place into ‘a territory on the margins’, which is typical of the ‘third landscape’ according to Gilles Clément. To the latter, third landscapes are ‘fragments of landscape’, ‘undetermined spaces, devoid of functions’ (Clément 25). Destroyed, churches no longer provide their religious and social functions. As species proliferate, the third landscape ‘constitutes a territory for the various species which cannot find their place elsewhere’ (Clément 2020, 25). According to Clément, the third landscape is a space that neither expresses power nor submits to power (Clément 2020, 25). The margin-like and refuge-like attributes of the ruins are particularly striking as Barbary climbs up the church: ‘from the stairs a great gap in the wall opened on to an earthy lead terrace, grown with dandelions and yawning with holes’ (47). As such, I would argue that this Blitzscape becomes a space for ‘various species’, in the way that it includes both non-human and human entities as plants and outcasts uproot themselves in the recesses of the landscape. While descriptions of plants stress processes of growth, depictions of outcast characters in the ruins insist upon immersion:

Into their wild caves Horace and Mavis dived among bracken and bramble, starting a rat as they entered. Behind a screen of deep shrubbery lay packets wrapped in torn fragments of mackintosh—cigarettes, sweets, ration books, watches, fountain pens; the hard-won miscellaneous fruits of quick wits, quick hands, and ruthless purpose. (63–64)

By its ivory light Barbary returned to Barbers’ Hall, and, treading quiet and unseen at her heels, Horace suddenly appeared as she entered her recess. He followed her into the shadowed cave. (173)

19Verbs of movement and prepositions (‘dived among’, ‘returned to’, ‘entered’, ‘followed her into’) render the immersion of the characters, whose bodies are at one with the landscape:

They stood together in the tall, tangled jungle of Haberdashers’ Hall, knee-deep in shrubs and bracken and fireweed, outside the deep door that led to the cave where the bicycles had been thrust. Round them the bees buzzed and hummed, like merchants chaffering. (148–49)

20The characters are portrayed full-length, as if captured by a front camera through the use of the preterit tense and verbs expressing motionlessness. This impression of stillness is reinforced by the reference to commotion that seems to endure around Barbary and Horace (‘they stood together’, ‘round them the bees buzzed and hummed’). Ultimately, the reference to their bodies ‘knee-deep in shrubs and bracken and fireweed’ links characters and the London ‘jungle’, in what Maurice Merleau-Ponty terms ‘chiasm’. The latter is defined by Merleau-Ponty as ‘some kinship’ in The Visible and the Invisible:

Between the exploration and what it will teach me, between my movements and what I touch, there must exist some relationship by principle, some kinship, according to which they are not only, like the pseudopods of the amoeba, vague and ephemeral deformations of the corporeal space, but the initiation to and the opening upon a tactile world. This can happen only if my hand, while it is felt from within, is also accessible from without, itself tangible, for my other hand, for example, if it takes its place among the things it touches, is in a sense one of them, opens finally upon a tangible being of which it is also a part. (Merleau-Ponty 133)

21What results from ‘this opening’ is a ‘being by porosity’ (Merleau-Ponty 149). Such porosity is doubled up in The World My Wilderness by a dialogue between humans and non-humans that turns the ruined landscape into a space of in-betweeness, as characters acquire a deep knowledge of the ruins, holding maquis meetings and storing their shoplifting finds there for instance. Horace’s and Mavis’s knowledge of the ruins is a case in point for that matter.

She knew the ruins intimately, calling them and the anonymous alleys that ran between them by their old names, peopling them with industrious business men, chattering, tea-bibulous typists, messengers and clerks: she moved among ghosts, herself solid, cheerful and unconcerned. . . . [H]e was a wharf rat, and his intimate knowledge of the waterside matched hers of the city. (60–61)

22As such, this third landscape fully becomes a refuge as it turns into a fulfilling ‘home’: ‘Finding their way, with the instinct of jungle animals, to the waste places, the ruined holes, the rat alleys, the barbaric wrecked hinterland, which were what they recognised as home, they had found sustenance for their unhoping spirits there; exiled from this maquis, they breathed thinly the chilling air of life, that held, surely, nothing that concerned them’ (227). If the Blitzscape shaped by architectural and geographical faults welcomes faulty, split characters and enables them to build a community within the ruins, I would like to argue that the text itself is also saturated by disruptions.

Looking for a ‘Coherent Shape’ amidst Fault Lines

23In her essay ‘The Future of Fiction’, Macaulay voices her quest for coherence amidst the fault lines pervading society and landscape: ‘life has during the past years been disintegrated, broken into odd, unshapely bits, one not fitting into another; discontinuity has been the mood of our brittle time. Can we fit the pieces together, weld them into a coherent shape?’ (Macaulay 1946, 72). The World My Wilderness showcases Macaulay’s modernist stance: while the writer laments over ‘discontinuity’, she also elaborates her novel around fractures and ruptures. Not only are architectural, geological or social faults addressed in the novel as pertaining to people or places, but the novel itself is built on disruptions. Some of these disruptions are intertextual quotations framed through ‘techniques of bordering’ (Caws 4) with a change in typography. Others are references to painting. Be they intertextual or intermedial, they all concur to question the linearity of the text in the same way that the ruins disrupt the alignment of buildings in London. Interrupting the course of the narrative, they create webs of meaning despite the ‘discontinuity (that) has been the mood of our brittle time’, decried by Macaulay. Multiple references to T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land notably enhance the faulty quality of the London cityscape. The epigraph sets the tone, taken from the fifth section of The Waste Land, ‘What the Thunder Said’:

And bats with baby faces in the violet light
Whistled, and beat their wings
And crawled head downward down a blackened wall,
And upside down in air were towers
Tolling reminiscent bells that kept the hours
And voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells.

In this decayed hole among the mountains
In the faint moonlight, the grass is singing
Over the tumbled graves, about the chapel
There is the empty chapel, only the winds home.
It has no windows, and the door swings . . .
(Eliot 68, ll. 289–389)

24The Draculean intertext in The Waste Land foreshadows the overwhelming ‘decayed’ landscape in The World My Wilderness, while the ‘singing’ grass is later revisited by Macaulay with the depiction of the London jungle. As such, the epigraph stresses the Blitzed landscape and the third landscape, both ever present in Macaulay’s novel. Weaving in intertextual references in the narrative thus enables Macaulay to assemble ‘odd, unshapely bits’ (Macaulay 1946, 72) through different perspectives in the post-war landscape. Reading The World My Wilderness through the lens of The Waste Land, Mellor notes that Macaulay ‘utilises a work of high modernism fixated on the aftermath of the First World War to make sense of the end of the Second, and thus brings both a faith in the restorative and the insightful power of literature into play’ (Mellor 2011, 193). While modernist and gothic readings are suggested with references to The Waste Land and Dracula, excerpts from hymn books are also inserted in the narrative, especially when Barbary and Raoul explore abandoned churches. Interestingly enough, Heather Walton comments on Rose Macaulay’s spirituality, linking faith to ‘the desolate wastes’ that are full of fault lines in The World My Wilderness. Walton argues: ‘Macaulay’s radical “faith” had always drawn her to wander the desolate wastes and could not be confined within the safety of secure walls. In the later years of grief and loss, ruins became her unlikely shelter and spiritual home’ (Walton 87). Faults, be they architectural or intertextual references prove thus to be heuristic, revealing meaning amidst the rubble and bringing ‘coherence’ in the post-war landscape. Such ‘coherence’ is redoubled by references to painting which endow the reader with a new gaze. The mention of Jean-Baptiste Oudry’s chase pieces is a case in point for that matter:

He caught hold of her; the path they walked had broken into a deep chasm; it yawned darkly before them, a pit into which unbelievers fell and lay without hope, among sprawling weeds and creatures, as in a shambles of slain beasts of the chase painted by Jean-Baptiste Oudry. (70–71)

25The reference to the motif of the chase is striking here: not only does it trigger an uncanny parallel between ‘sprawling weeds and creatures’ and ‘slain beasts’, but it also foreshadows the end of the novel, when Barbary is hunted down in the ruins of London by two police officers she links to the Gestapo she encountered back in occupied France:

She climbed through the window, dropped into long grass, and started to run across the waste. Henry turned and saw her; shouting, he gave chase; with Raoul in tow, he had not a chance. His quarry skipped like a hare from wall to broken wall, leaping chasms and darting up and down cliffs; she had crossed Wood Street and reached Addle Street and Philip Lane, and was running between St Alban’s and St Mary the Virgin’s, when the other Gestapo appeared, having renounced Horace, walking up Wood Street towards St. Alban’s. Barbary saw him suddenly, as she ran along a broken edge of wall; startled, she forgot to look where she trod, stepped forward into nothingness, plunged steeply down a chasm into the stony ruins of a deep cellar, and there lay still beneath a thorn-apple bush, among the medieval foundations of Messrs Foster, Crockett and Porter’s warehouse. (184–85)

  • 11 Leo Mellor notes: ‘While walking through the ruins after dark Raoul is surprised by ‘a cat—or was i (...)

26Oudry’s naturalist pieces and pictures of game are here revisited through the hare-like quality of Raoul, whose jumping (‘skipped like a hare’, ‘leaping chasms’, ‘darting up and down cliffs’) is reminiscent of the agitation displayed in Oudry’s chase paintings. Architectural fault lines as well as crucial plot lines are thus magnified through animal-like features thanks to intertextual references weaved in the text. The animal-like description of the character may also stress how Raoul has become at one with the third landscape, just like the outcast Horace who is presented as ‘a wharf rat’ with an ‘intimate knowledge of the waterside’ (61).11 Macaulay seems to echo Jay Appleton’s analysis of animals and their way ‘to select an environment which affords opportunities’ to satisfy their needs and to become thus their ‘habitat’ (Appleton 64). Appleton argues that

‘habitat theory’ thus asserts that the relationship between the human observer and the perceived environment is basically the same as the relationship of a creature to its habitat. It asserts further that the satisfaction which we derive from the contemplation of this environment, and which we call ‘aesthetic’, arises from a spontaneous reaction to that environment as a habitat, that is to say a place which affords the opportunity for achieving our simple biological needs. (Appleton 69–70)

27One way to reach coherence then seems to gesture towards a different vision as inspired by Oudry’s animals. Painting is also pondered over as a potential medium to ‘fit the pieces together’ (Macaulay 1946, 72) as Barbary is seen elaborating postcards of the ruins: ‘she painted rapidly, impressionistically: out of the flowering jungle shells of towered churches sprang, shells of flats soared skyward on twisting stairs, staring empty-eyed at desolation’ (150). While the rendering of faults is carried out through small brushstrokes on the canvas, it is performed in the text through juxtapositions which imitate the quick, incisive movement of the painter holding a brush. Yet, faults are all the more thrown into relief in the text by consonances in /s/ sounds which underline the jagged quality of buildings. As such, Macaulay adopts a similar painter-like stance to Barbary’s, as argued by Lisa Mullen: ‘she is herself painting a kind of mural on top of the bombsites, creating a counterfactual space-within-a-space and turning a few overgrown streets into a vast landscape’ (Mullen, 64). Not only are faults enhanced by literature or painting, but they are also turned into artefacts, as Deborah Parsons insists on Barbary’s business as she paints postcards of the Blitz:

just as the flâneur of the Parisian boulevards, such as Baudelaire and the new journalists, shrewdly anticipated their audience and wrote lucrative vignettes of life for the expanding periodical market, Barbary paints postcards of bomb ruins to sell to affluent tourists. (209)

28Yet, the commodification of the ruins does not solely outline the sharp contours of the ruins, and thus, address fault lines. Rather, it is also a way to ‘cure’ fault lines, as argued by Jonathan Patterson: ‘Barbary’s postcards are popular because they capture nostalgia where the corps collectif is both desirous to move on but still has the unconscious need to cure their “spatial discontinuity” in the new, reclaimed space’ (Patterson 7). Depicting fault lines on the page or on the canvas may appear as a way to apprehend the mending of fractures and ruptures through an artistic gesture. The end of the novel provides us however with a darker vision, with the Eliotian image of the ‘rat alley’ in which characters find themselves trapped, finding it impossible to escape from fault lines.


29The faulty quality of the Blitzscape is omnipresent in The World My Wilderness. Not only are fault lines, gaps and recesses insisted upon in the text in terms of architecture and geography, but the depictions of faults are also rooted in a contemporary, cultural debate on whether the ruin-like landscape should be preserved or rebuilt. Although they are usually synonymous with ruptures, departures and desolation, the faults evoked in the novel prove to be homely places for characters who feel out of place in a society split between ethical and ideological concerns. For that matter, I have argued that the Blitzscape stands as a ‘third landscape’ to take up Gilles Clément’s concept. Indeed, this disused landscape reads as a middle ground for outcasts and flora among fault lines. The feelings of in-betweenness, freedom and communality ensuing from being immersed in the ‘gaps’, ‘caves’ and ‘cellars’ of the Blitzscape turn the latter into a third landscape where faulty characters regain a sense of wholeness. Defined by Clément as a ‘site of invention’ (Clément 2020 39), the third landscape holds potentialities and hopes, hence Clément’s and Macaulay’s appeals for a collective effort. Clément advocates for the preservation of the third landscape as a non-designed place (Clément 2020, 63) and as a ‘common space for the future’ (Clément 2020, 64), arguing that the preservation of the third landscape depends on ‘a collective consciousness’ (Clément 2020, 35). In an interview on the origins of The Third Landscape, Clément seeks ‘a new value’ to be given to this disused space. Rather than viewing the third landscape in terms of ‘financial importance’, Clément calls for ‘a new definition of value, in the sense of what humans produce’ (Bratton; Clément 89). Examining ‘what humans produce’, Macaulay looks down at the very end of the novel on the ‘civilised intelligence . . . at work among the ruins’ (241), repeating the concerns she voiced in Pleasure of Ruins against the ‘destroying hand of the ruin-clearers’ (Macaulay 1953, 404). As the omniscient narrator imagines the wrecked city ‘mended and built up’ (241) with new churches and ‘little garden plots’ (241), the wilderness is ultimately what frames the end of the novel, as if the third landscape were ever-encroaching:

‘I think,’ Richie murmured, ‘we are in rats’ alley, where the dead men lost their bones.’
Shuddering a little, he took the track across the wilderness towards St Paul’s. Behind him, the questionable chaos of broken courts and lanes lay sprawled under the October mist, and the shells of churches gaped like lost myths, and the jungle pressed in on them, seeking to cover them up.

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1 On Macaulay’s work as a VAD, see Emery, Jane, Rose Macaulay: A Writer’s Life, London: John Murray, 1991, 152. On Macaulay’s flat, see her autobiographical short story: Miss Anstruther’s Letters, reproduced in Babington Smith, Constance, Rose Macaulay, London: Collins, 1972, 161–170.

2 The World My Wilderness was instantly a success. See Emery, Jane, Rose Macaulay: A Writer’s Life, London: John Murray, 1991, 283: ‘After a decade without the appearance of a Rose Macaulay novel, the publication of The World My Wilderness was a noteworthy event in London literary life. The short novel was warmly praised by Anthony Burgess, by Frank Swinnerton, by the Times Literary Supplement.

Despite not having published novels for ten years, Macaulay was significantly popular as she published non-fiction and became involved with the BBC in the 1940s and 1950s. On this topic, see Sullivan, Melissa, ‘A Middlebrow Dame Commander: Rose Macaulay, the “Intellectual Aristocracy”, and The Towers of Trebizond’, The Yearbook of English Studies, 42 (2012): 168–185.

3 The excerpts quoted from the Manifeste du tiers-paysage are all translated by the author of this paper. An English translation of the Manifeste du tiers-paysage is forthcoming, as stated in Bratton, Denise, and Clément, Gilles, ‘An Interview with Gilles Clément’, Log 12 (2008): 81.

4 Clément refers to the third landscape as a refuge for ‘biodiversity’, ‘multiple species’ and ‘animals’, evoking ‘diversity’ and discarding any potential human presence in such places. See Clément 2020, 25. Yet, I wish to argue that the London third landscape is also defined by outcasts in The World My Wilderness as these characters resonate with the ruins and propagate diversity amidst the débris.

5 The ‘planetary garden’ is a term coined by Clément who defines it as ‘a means of living in harmony with nature, appreciating the ecosystem in all its diversity, acting as gardener and guardian. . . . The ‘planetary garden’ is a means of considering ecology as the integration of humanity—the gardeners—in its smallest spaces. Its guiding philosophy is based on the principle of the ‘garden in motion’: do the most for, the minimum against. The ultimate goal of the planetary garden is to exploit diversity without destroying it, perpetuating the ‘planetary machine’ and ensuring the existence of the garden—and hence the gardener.’ See Clément 2021.

6 See Sieyès’s pamphlet ‘What Is the Third Estate?’. See Whitcomb 1899.

7 Barbary’s ramblings are reminiscent of Rose Macaulay’s own peregrinations in the spring of 1948. See Babington Smith, Constance, Rose Macaulay, London: Collins, 1972, 181, 183. Macaulay’s letter to Gilbert Murray is particularly interesting for that matter: ‘I am writing a novel again . . . I spent much of to-day in the ruins round St Paul’s, which I like. The golden charlock and fennel luxuriate among . . . [the] catacombs and the broken cellars of what once were houses and offices. Part of my new novel is laid in this wrecked scene.’ (Babington Smith 181).

8 Although Barbary’s perception of the ruin is tinged with Romantic overtones, Macaulay departs from this tradition, as highlighted by Anderson: ‘. . . her wartime writings establish a cityscape grounded upon a very specific and pointedly realistic history rather than upon the Romanticised mythologies so prominent within the popular press’; ‘unlike the consolatory promises of Barbary’s Romantic city, . . . Macaulay insists on here-and-now realism, approaching the city with a pragmatist’s eye’ (Anderson 2007). Mellor also shares Anderson’s view, arguing that Macaulay’s modernist war literature draws ‘its potency from historical specificity, material debris, and traumatic fears’ (Mellor 2011, 204).

9 For further information on post-war reconstruction debates, see Aymes, Sophie, ‘Ivy and Bones: Ruins and Reversibility During the Blitz’, Études britanniques contemporaines 43 (2012): 55–72.

10 For an analysis of the character torn between two religions, see Walton 2016.

11 Leo Mellor notes: ‘While walking through the ruins after dark Raoul is surprised by ‘a cat—or was it a wolf?—[that] leaped from beneath his feet’ (WW 74); and a bestiary not only exists within the ruins (Fitter noted three new mammals and thirty-one new birds in London). It also extends to threaten the boundary separating humans from animals by the continual analogies that are drawn: men ‘become’ wildcats and ‘act’ like lizards.’ See Mellor 2011, 180.

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Clémence Laburthe-Tolra, « Fractured Landscape, Divided Society, Split Selves—the Blitzed London as ‘Third landscape’ in Rose Macaulay’s The World My Wilderness (1950) »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 64 | 2023, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2023, consulté le 29 septembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Clémence Laburthe-Tolra

Clémence Laburthe-Tolra is an agrégée in English (2020), and a PhD candidate in British Literature at Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3, as well as a member of EMMA EA741. As an English graduate from ENS PSL and an alumna of the École Nationale Supérieure de Paysage (Versailles, France), her research is arched around the encounter between 20th-century British literature, garden design, landscape theory and botanical matters. Her PhD thesis investigates the green sensibilities expressed by Elizabeth von Arnim, Vita Sackville-West, and Rose Macaulay.

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