Barbary is a seventeen year-old transplanted from postwar southern France (where she has been living with her British mother, Helen, for seven years) to the London home of her father, Gulliver, and his new wife Pamela. Although born in Britain, Macaulay's heroine has been shaped by her wartime experiences as part of the French Resistance. Exploring the forests around Collioure, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Barbary (whose name is obviously symbolic of her 'uncivilized' nature, although the meanings of 'civilization' and 'barbarism' form the central ambiguity of the novel) has developed a system of values and beliefs reflective of the Resistance's guerrilla mindset. The protection of the region - the first of the novel's several 'wildernesses' - against alien interlopers is everything; defining the enemy, however, is not always simple. The Germans, of course; but also French collaborators (and the question of what counts as 'collaboration' is crucial). The Resistance's relationship with the latter is further complicated by the complex identities of the Resistance fighters, who do not see themselves as wholly French or Spanish, but as something in-between, with no allegiance to either. For Barbary's brother Richie - an affable but unashamedly reactionary student at Cambridge, who describes himself as 'go[ing] in for snobbism in a big way' (25) - the murky ambiguity of this region is unsettling:
The menace of Spain crept down from the mountains: this was Roussillon, ancient home of wild Visigoths fleeing over the mountains from Saracens, ancient fief of Barcelona counts, later a province of the kings of Aragon, a prey to Spanish armies, to French invaders, to the trampling of the nations and the kings at war. It was still more Spanish than French; its swarthy peasants talked Catalan, smuggled contraband over the mountain passes, had brothers, cousins, parents, sons, across the frontier. (148-9)In a way that is characteristic of Macaulay's third-person narrative, this passage blurs the distinction between Richie's interior monologue and the musings of the omniscient narrator. Macaulay plays with the ambiguity of free indirect discourse: while the narrative voice always feels sympathetic to the particular character in focus (usually Barbary), it also often betrays a depth of knowledge that transcends them.
This technique allows Macaulay to weave a narrative which feels sympathetic, at different points, to all of its major characters - despite them displaying, by turns, selfishness, neglect, and jealousy to unusual degrees - while also maintaining an overarching expository voice. This perspective thematically connects the novel's geographically contrasting locations (Collioure, bombed ruins within the City of London, and Arshaig in the Scottish Highlands, where Gulliver's brother and his family live). In the passage following Richie quoted above, the narrative continues to drift further away from identification with the character, towards speculative musings upon human nature and the cultural legacy of the war:
The peace that shrouded land and sea was a mask, lying thinly over terror, over hate, over cruel deeds done. Barbarism prowled and padded, lurking in the hot sunshine, in the warm scents of the maquis, in the deep shadows of the forest. Visigoths, Franks, Catalans, Spanish, French, Germans, Anglo-American armies, savageries without number, the Gestapo torturing captured French patriots, rounding up fleeing Jews, the Resistance murdering, derailing trains full of people, lurking in the shadows to kill, collaborators betraying Jews and escaped prisoners, working together with the victors, being in their turn killed and mauled, hunted down by mobs hot with rage; everywhere cruelty, everywhere vengeance, everywhere the barbarian on the march. (149)As noted above, 'barbarism' and 'civilization' are the novel's central themes, with the former being associated with 'wilderness'; but the particular places and behaviours with which these concepts are associated vary. In this example, Macaulay draws symbolic connections between the murderous chaos and confusion of the war and the wild, mountainous landscape itself. In a style typical of the novel's more formally adventurous passages, the third sentence here uses a long chain of descriptions separated only by commas (aside from a single semicolon, providing a dramatic pause), conveying the sense of an overwhelming, incessant sequence of incomprehensible and violent events. The effect recalls Lawrence or Hemingway in its drama and fluidity; but it also anticipates Sebald, in the way that the landscape is interwoven with a sense of collective internecine trauma, impossible to grasp or understand, yet everywhere present.
Relocated to London, Barbary retains the martial, mistrustful consciousness that has evolved during the war, and finds a new 'wilderness' to defend: the apocalyptic landscape of shattered streets, offices and churches in and around Fore Street and Cripplegate in the City. Macaulay evokes Eliot's poem - also quoted as one of the novel's epigraphs - in her descriptions of this new wasteland:
this is the maquis that lies about the margins of the wrecked world, and here your feet are set; here you find the irremediable barbarism that comes up from the depth of the earth, and that you have known elsewhere. 'Where are the roots that clutch, what branches grow, out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, you cannot say, or guess....' But you can say, you can guess, that it is you yourself, your own roots, that clutch the stony rubbish, the branches of your own being that grow from it and from nowhere else. (129)The Waste Land acquires a disturbingly prophetic quality as Macaulay uses it: once a metaphor for the moral desolation of post-World War One Europe, the poem now also anticipates the literal 'stony rubbish' to which Europe's cities have been reduced. This passage demonstrates, again, Macaulay's willingness to gradually but inexorably pull her narrative perspective away from the ostensible perceiving subject. While Barbary is the character who explores this 'wrecked world', the second-person narrative voice is not hers; she certainly is not familiar with The Waste Land, being 'so ignorant, she can barely read' (25); and Macaulay's use of this device here therefore feels like a direct address to the reader from a shadowy, omniscient narrator. We seem complicit, ethically implicated, in the moral collapse the passage describes, or at least unable to escape it, since this 'stony rubbish' forms the foundations of the postwar world.
The World My Wilderness, then, uses Eliot's poem to signify both physical and cultural desolation, the apparent triumph of 'barbarism' over 'civilization'. Its pessimism discloses anxieties about the postwar British landscape, literal and figurative, common among the wealthier classes following the 1945 Labour victory: fears that economic redistribution and class levelling will lead to the irrevocable loss of some essential English aestheticism, delicacy or civility; and that modernist urban planning will destroy the character of towns and cities. Although Barbary's 'anarchist' (25) temperament is ostensibly a product of her time in France, she functions as a manifestation of such fears, of the belief that the postwar generation will refuse to accept the social norms, hierarchies, and aesthetic values of the past. Yet Macaulay's narrative position is characteristically complex and ambiguous on such questions. When Barbary's father tells her 'you'll have to learn sometime to fit into the society about you', she wonders 'what society he meant' (135). British society has been revealed as multiplicity; previously invisible social groups, like the working-class adolescents Barbary befriends among the ruins, are demanding a stake in this new world. Rather than being forced into the upper middle-class role her father envisions for her, Barbary will be able to forge new social connections and negotiate her own existence. This spontaneous adaptation to the 'wilderness' in which she finds herself is mirrored in the fauna of the ruins: 'dense forests of bracken and bramble, golden ragwort and coltsfoot, fennel and foxglove and vetch, all the wild rambling shrubs that spring from ruin' (128). To be a weed rather than a flower is not an essential quality, but an externally imposed definition; and the same can be said of human values and behaviours. Macaulay suggests that Barbary's growth amid the wilderness will ultimately lead to a strong and distinctive social identity. Moreover, she will be part of a society that, through gradual progress towards democratization and cultural diversity, reflects the biodiversity, spontaneity and adaptability of the ruins.
The 'society' that Gulliver seeks to force Barbary into, then, is 'a solid, improbable world [...] less real, less natural than the waste land' (74). Macaulay's unusual pairing of adjectives captures the sense of paradox that permeates the novel: how can hegemonic values and norms be simultaneously 'solid' and 'improbable'? The answer is that, while these ideas appear to be still dominant, they are really revenants of a declining social order. Barbary's experiences have taught her to mistrust authority, and the seeds that will eventually result in Colin MacInnes' confident and independent teenager have been sown. When Gulliver questions Barbary about her rebellious behaviour, she recalls her experiences of interrogation during the war: 'Her mind flinched at the familiar words. I want an answer; I mean to have an answer; you had better speak at once, before we make you' (132). In one sense, Barbary is delusional, confusing the genuine threat to her safety during the war with adults' attempts to socialize her. But in another sense, she is making a connection between all forms of authority, all attempts to control and regulate behaviour, which cannot be stifled by appeals to a defunct rationality. The supposed legitimacy of older generations has been undermined by the catastrophe of the war. Barbary finds herself in an existential crisis: she must create her own values, since she instinctively recognizes that nobody can do it for her. Indeed, the novel's older characters themselves no longer really have faith in the ideas which they half-heartedly attempt to impart, as Helen acknowledges: 'The crook in all of us is bursting out and taking possession [...] We shall all go down and down into catastrophe and the abyss' (93-4).
At the heart of this theme is religion and spirituality. If Western culture is viewed in dualistic terms, as a struggle between 'civilization' and 'barbarism', then where do religious beliefs and values - which cannot be reduced to the kind of rationalist, Enlightenment assumptions that the former suggests - fit in? To the abbé in Collioure who visits Helen, the Catholic church is surrounded by 'the wilderness outside'; to leave it 'is to be lost indeed. And that, alas, is what so many of the sons and daughters of the Resistance are now doing' (144). But what Barbary is really doing in her explorations of wildernesses, literal and figurative, is negotiating a new relationship with spirituality. Significantly, the buildings within the bombed area that have proved most stable, and that now provide the safest refuge, are the churches. Barbary and her friends play jazz records, drink beer and paint in these spaces, repurposing them towards bohemian and deviant ends; but she is fascinated by their atmosphere, and evolves her own unorthodox relationship with religion. Exploring St. Giles' church at night, she 'make[s] her placatory devotions before the phantom altar, lest death should come for her tonight and hell yawn', before 'reciting lines from the torn hymn-book pages that she kept in a niche in the wall' (185). After sleeping in the church that night, the morning light reveals St. Paul's, the overseeing guardian of the wilderness:
Waking, cramped and chilly, in the faint beginnings of dawn, she looked out from her terrace over the cold grey tumbled waste, the cratered landscape of the moon, and saw the great dome riding beyond it, pale curve of dove grey against a dove's breast sky. Mighty symbol dominating ruin; formidable, insoluble riddle; stronghold, refuge and menace, or mirage and gigantic hoax? Accepting it as the former, Barbary saluted it with a deprecatory sign of the cross. (186)Barbary accepts the cathedral's spiritual authenticity, but it is in fact all of these things. The building is a representation of the hegemonic social, political and economic powers deeply entwined with the Church of England, a 'gigantic hoax' which has been part of the ruling classes' ideological apparatus for centuries. Yet in her liberated and idiosyncratic relationship with such spaces, Barbary is learning to create her own form of spirituality, which might be reconciled with the new socio-cultural landscape of Britain. As Helen thinks to herself: 'the maquis is within us, we take our wilderness where we go' (210). What Macaulay suggests is that the wilderness within Barbary does not signal the opposite of 'civilization', but rather a critical renegotiation of this concept.