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  • Archipelagoes: Insular Fictions from Chivalric Romance to the Novel
  • Daniel Nemser

Medieval, Fiction, Novel, Chivalry, Romance, Isolario, Cartography, Maps, Space, Island, Ínsula, Insularity, Amadís, Cervantes, Quijote, Barataria, Colonialism

Simone Pinet. Archipelagoes: Insular Fictions from Chivalric Romance to the Novel. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 2011. 272 pp.

Simone Pinet’s new book offers an innovative take on the relationship between space and fiction by mapping the uses of islands in medieval and early [End Page 247] modern literature and cartography. Her interest lies primarily in two genres, the book of chivalry and the isolario or book of islands, which, she argues, follow parallel historical trajectories: “they emerge, develop, and fade into history at almost exactly the same time” (xi). Beyond tracing representations of islands over time, Pinet argues convincingly that insular space constitutes a sort of bridge that arises in response to a crisis regarding the representation of truth and enables the transition to modern forms of fiction. Inaugurated in the late fifteenth century in what she calls an “insular turn,” this island form is eventually abstracted and transformed into metaphor by the beginning of the seventeenth century with the emergence of modern literary and cartographic forms—the novel and the atlas.

Pinet’s medievalist roots are evident in the enjoyment with which she engages in close readings of the Amadís de Gaula, but Archipelagoes crosses both disciplinary and chronological boundaries. Drawing on the work of theorists of space like Michel de Certeau and especially Henri Lefebvre, she strategically privileges space over time in order to destabilize the premodern/modern divide, complicating standard histories of the novel (which often begin, tellingly, with an insular fiction by Daniel Defoe). For Pinet, the rise of the island in the late medieval period is already tied to an “uncommonly ‘modern”’ treatment of space (xxviii).

The first two chapters offer historical introductions to the emergence of the island in medieval literature and cartography. Tracing the circulation of medieval romance from the British Arthurian texts to the Iberian Peninsula through translation and appropriation, chapter one examines the trajectory sketched out concisely in its title: “Forest to Island.” Romance is characterized by adventure, which for its part is tied to particular spatial forms. Leaving the court, the locus of civilization, the knight necessarily embarks on a quest that takes him into the space of unpredictability, savagery, and, most importantly, the marvelous. What changes between the twelfth and fifteenth centuries, according to Pinet, is the location of the marvelous, which shifts from the dense and flourishing forests of the Arthurian cycle to the open yet threatening seascape, where coastlines and eventually insular spaces begin to materialize in the worlds generated in its Iberian counterparts. Tied to changing material and ecological conditions, the taming of the forest pushes the search for adventure out to sea.

Chapter two, “Islands and Maps,” turns to the history of cartography, which, Pinet argues, “has a direct relationship with the development of the romance” (30). Medieval cartography evinces a clear relationship between map and language, image and narration. The argument is not that maps can or should be read as texts—this is no longer a controversial point—but that the history of cartography can and should be read alongside and indeed as part of the history of fiction. The emergence of the isolario in the fifteenth century coincides with the “insular turn” in chivalric romance laid out in the previous chapter. As island books became increasingly popular, new technologies related to mapping and printing were incorporated into and helped consolidate the genre. By collecting multiple islands under a single cover and situating them in spatial and textual relation to each other, the isolario facilitates totalizing representations of [End Page 248] insular space while at the same time enabling the imaginative work of travel from island to island, experience to experience.

The following two chapters focus on two canonical works of Spanish literature proper. This is where the most detailed textual analysis takes place, and Pinet’s treatment of the Amadís de Gaula is especially illuminating. In chapter three, “Adventure and Archipelago,” Pinet zooms in on three insular episodes that appear in the Amadís, the first...


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pp. 247-250
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