Thursday 19 January 2012

Rose Among the Ruins

Does anyone read Rose Macaulay these days? She seems to be one of those writers who figure large in their own time - their books sell well, they know everybody, are in everybody's memoirs and letters - and then, after death, fade out of view. Of her novels, The Towers of Trebizond seems the only one that's still remembered, if only for its famous first sentence:
'"Take my camel, dear," said my aunt Dot, as she climbed down from this animal on her return from High Mass.'
Rose Macaulay pops up in Richard Mabey's Weeds (which I'm still reading, with great pleasure), in the company of Penelope Fitzgerald, two decades her junior and then in her late 20s. The two of them are exploring the bombsites of postwar London, partly to catalogue (unsystematically) their remarkable flora, and partly to indulge Macaulay's obsessive fascination with the ruins of London. This obsession was partly the result of having been herself bombed out - her flat, with all her books, papers and letters, was completely destroyed. Fitzgerald recalls 'alarming experiences of scrambling after her... and keeping her spare form just in view as she shinned down a crater, or leaned, waving, through the smashed glass of some perilous window'. Macaulay's explorations of London bomb sites fed into what sounds a fascinating novel, The World My Wilderness, in which two teenage half-siblings who have run wild with the Resistance in southern France are sent to be 'civilised' in London. However, once there, they revert, finding in the bomb sites, their ruined landscapes and raggle-taggle population, a new and congenial maquis in which to run wild again.
Well, I have bought The Towers of Trebizond and am going to give it a try.


  1. thanks for bringing 'The World My Wilderness' to my attention Nige (even though I also have Mabey's Weeds I have been neglecting it somewhat)

    I've just purchased a first edition hardback with dust jacket of The World My Wilderness on amazon for £2.50! Can't wait to read it

  2. Golly - that was a good buy, Worm!

  3. I really enjoyed The Towers of Trebizond when I read it a couple years ago. I loaned my copy to a friend who now swears that I never did. I think she's decided to steal it.

    I recently picked up a copy of Rose Macaulay's big non-fiction book on ruins, The Pleasure of Ruins. I was lucky enough to find a copy in a used bookshop. I'm saving it for a special occasion.