- Reviewed by
We are accustomed to thinking of maps as narratives—as visual accounts of the cultures that produce them. But the wide-ranging, incisive essays in Robert J. Tally’s interdisciplinary new collection not only reverse this proposition by reading narratives as maps, but they go a step further to suggest that map-making is what narratives do: they are “mapping machines” (3). All narratives, Tally argues, “may be said to constitute forms of literary cartography” (1).
The relationship between the narrative and the map conjugates in varying ways in these essays. Tally’s introduction begins with James Joyce’s comment that in Ulysses he tried to create a portrait of Dublin which would be so exact that if the city were to vanish from the earth “it could be reconstructed out of my book” (Qtd. on 1); meanwhile, authors like Thomas Hardy or China Miéville more or less invent regions and cities. But can Joyce’s Dublin be said to be more “real” than Hardy’s Wessex? To the extent that literary places “exist” in discourse, they are invented and maintained through the ideas readers have of them. The “cartographic impulse” is not a question of authorial intent but a way of understanding space as “necessarily embedded with narratives” (2), and narrative as both subject and object: “something that maps and something to be mapped” (3).
The medievalist Robert Allen Rouse makes the important point that different periods of history in different parts of the world have had very different ideas about what a “map” is. The scarcity of actual maps in medieval Western Europe means that the geographical knowledge of the audience at the time would have been narrative rather than visual. They would have heard or read about a “tripartite” vision of the world, divided into Europe, Asia, and Africa, occasionally laid out in what we now call a T-and-O map (26). (There are no illustrations in the text, perhaps in a bid to consider maps purely as narratives, so readers unfamiliar with this image must Google it). It is our bias as modern readers to suppose that all ages and times have had a visual relationship to maps and topography. Moreover, Rouse argues, through a consideration of a medieval romance text called Kyng Alisaunder, this narrative mode of knowing the world corresponds to “the way in which aristocratic power operates in the real medieval world,” given that “Alexander’s legend was one of the influential models of empire invoked in the medieval period” (27). Rouse’s introduction makes an important contribution by encouraging the reader to suspend her notion of what a map looks like for the rest of the essays in this volume.
These essays contend with the “worldliness” of the modernist moment, Tally writes, “as the most personal experiences of the everyday are somehow connected to a vast, imperial network” (7). Heather McNaugher charts the term cosmopolitan in E. M. Forster’s Howards End, finding a narrative “ambivalence” attached to this idea of “worldliness” as it sits uncomfortably close to imperialism: Wilcoxes and Schlegels are not as conceptually distant from each other as they [End Page 407] might like to think. (McNaugher’s discussion of imperialists and motor cars curiously does not mention Fredric Jameson’s important essay, “Modernism and Imperialism,” which explores the themes of motoring and the Great North Road in Howards End.) In Susan E. Cook’s essay on Thomas Hardy and Charlotte Brontë, Tess and Lucy Snowe become “mapped subjects who experience national identity as isolation and death” (62). Cook’s reading of the fictional county of Wessex is one of the strongest in the collection. Along with his invented locales, Hardy repur-poses actual places in Dorset so that nowhere is “uniformly fictional or factual,” creating a hybrid rural imaginary which “challenge[s] the homogeneity of the nation” (63). This indeterminacy is mirrored in Tess’s patronymic fluidity, between D’Urbervilles and Durbeyfield, and then gets mapped back onto the landscape as the fictional Wessex stretches as far as Wiltshire...