Critical Context

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Coming near the end of her literary career, after she had once again embraced the Church of England, The World My Wilderness explores with greater seriousness a far-ranging set of themes than do Macaulay’s previous novels. The acuteness of her social commentary and the depths of her compassion, combined with a technical virtuosity appropriate to the realistic mode in which she writes, caused many critics to rate The World My Wilderness among Macaulay’s finest achievements. Contemporary reviews of the novel praised Macaulay for the poignancy and warmth of heart which is carried throughout the novel and the discernment and subtlety of her interpretation of the contemporary world but, strangely enough, faulted her handling of characterization—some reviewers arguing that the rendering of Barbary is more successful than that of the older generation, and other reviewers asserting just the opposite: that it is the older generation that gives the novel its special credibility and appeal.

Literary historians most generally classify Macaulay with her female contemporaries Rebecca West and Storm Jameson as a competent writer but, in her reliance on established literary traditions and novelistic techniques, of lesser importance and interest than such modernists as D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf.