All entries for Tuesday 15 June 2010

June 15, 2010

"A Fine Thing to Study": Maps in the Victorian novel

This blog has seen a few map-related entries at one point or another; it's one of the themes of my research that I find really interesting and have incorporated some reading into my research, but which ultimatly hasn't been able to feature all that heavily in the final thesis- a snippet in the chapter on Victorian spatiality, another bit later on in relation to British-European spatiality. So this blog is by way of pulling together all of the map quotes I've collected into one place, drawing out some of the connecting themes as I go.

The first occurrence of maps in the thesis is in reference to Victorian spatial awareness, noting how maps appear as indicators of global spatial knowledge: maps are often used to demostrate knowledge about the world's spaces, indicative of the "opening-up" of global spatiality that's occuring in the period and ensuing wider cultural knowledge about global space that this effected. So maps are often associated with education and learning: in M.E. Braddon's John Marchmont's Legacy, we see Mary “consulting her terrestrial globe, and informing herself as to the latitude and longitude of the Fiji Islands” (p. 105); “she could", we are told "have named the exact latitude and longitude of the remotest islands in the least navigable ocean, and might have given an accurate account of the manners and customs of its inhabitants” (p. 131). Likewise, Dorothea in Middlemarch is shown educating herself in “the geography of Asia Minor, in which her slackness had often been rebuked by Mr. Casaubon” and, unrolling a map, decides that “this morning she might make herself finally sure that Paphlagonia was not on the Leventine coast” (p. 806).

Maps are a source of knowledge (the main source) about global space; and the flip-side of this is when maps are used to convey the ignorance of a character:in Gaskell's Cranford, the narrator tells us that  “as for the use of the globes, I had never been able to find it out myself, so perhaps I was not a good judge of Miss Matty’s capability of instructing in this branch of education; but it struck me that equators and tropics, and such mystical circles, were very imaginary lines to her, and that she looked upon the signs of the Zodiac as so many remnants of the Black Art” (p. 185). It's not unusual that this is a female character; maps, gender and knowledge are interlinked and characters that are shown to lack knowledge about maps or globes are typically female; in Mary Barton Gaskell makes a similar comment, for when Alice knows only of South America, where her son is gone, that it’s “‘at t’other side of the sun, they tell me’” (p. 34), Mary’s small amount of geographical knowledge – “she had seen a terrestrial globe, and knew where to find France and the continents on a map” – gives her a sense of smug satisfaction over Alice and Margaret who, at “Alice’s geography” is “so quiet and demure, that Mary was in doubt if she were not really ignorant” too (p. 34).

"Where papa is" by Davidson Knowles

So maps are part of access to education, but for the female characters who do have access to this knowledge it highlights a stark contrast between the containment of their lives within a narrow spatial radius, and the expansive global space about which they're learning. There's a telling comment in reference to Dorothea about how this form of knowledge shouldn't bear any relation to a woman's sphere of daily life: looking upon the spoils of her uncle's travels which includes maps, Dorothea feels no affiliation with these objects because  “she had never been taught how she could bring them into any sort of relevance with her own life” (p. 74). This is a particularly masculine form of knowledge, and must be interpreted, understood, given the correct tools. And this knowledge is a tempting awareness of a world that will never be experienced by many of these women: in John Marchmont's Legacy, although Mary's geographical knowledge is astute, she is expected to never venture further than the confines of various houses which she is moved between by those around her: "where was she likely to go in her experience of the wider world?"

Just as there are ways of reading maps, maps encourage a certain type of reading spaces. In Jane Eyre, Jane stands and “surveys the grounds laid out like a map” (p. 106); map-reading encourages that survey/ prospect view. There's a sense of distance played with too- the grounds as not belonging in any sense toJane, being a space that she occupies with no sense of interrelation with the landscape; she stands back and looks down, rather than experiencing it (a nice contrast to the highy sensory and embodied experience that comes later in her traversal across the heaths). Survey also comes up in Cranford: “Miss Jenkyns had learnt some piece of poetry off by heart, and used to say, at all the Cranford parties, how Peter was ‘surveying mankind from China to Peru,’ which everybody had thought very grand, and rather appropriate, because India was between China and Peru, if you took care to turn the globe to the left instead of the right” (p. 164). The imperial connotations of mapping and the surveying gaze are clear here- Peter as the monarch-of-all-I-survey in colonialised India, casting a British eye over "mankind". And there's a lovely bit of humour in that last line, casting an eye to how map-reading is all a matter of perspective and the way in which you look at the globe or map.

Not only gender, but class too impacts upon the use of maps. Characters of the lowest classes demonstrate but a vague awareness of what "foreign parts" might look like: Jo, the street-sweeper in Bleak House, “has no idea, poor wretch, of the spiritual destitution of a coral reef in the Pacific, or what it costs to look up the precious souls among the cocoa-nuts and breadfruit” (p. 258). But in Dickens we see more rudimentary forms of maps circulating amongst lower classes: in David Copperfield Peggotty meets “some foreign dealers who knew that country, and they had drawn him a rude map on paper, which he could very well understand” (p.573) to help him traverse the continental landscape, the type of map drawn pertaining very well to the type of journey he is undertaking as he wanders with almost nothing in search of Em'ly, the map one of his only possessions. There's also the scene at the beginning of Little Dorrit, in the prison at Marseilles, with Cavalletto “on his knees on the pavement, mapping it all out with a swarthy forefinger; ‘Toulon (where the galleys are), Spain over there, Algiers over there. Creeping away to the left here, Nice […] So away to – hey! there’s no room for Naples;’ he had got to the wall by this time; ‘but it’s all one; it’s in there!’” (p.3). The selectivity of a map is apparent here, the artificial framing that a map demands, the choices of representation that it requires, the subjectivity of the map-creator.

These are just some of the preliminary ideas I've been coming across- I'll hopefully keep adding to this collection of references and expand the scope of this bit of research further (I'm sure I have a few more references tucked away in the depths of my notes, too), and having drafted out some of the key themes I hope to develop some of these ideas in greater detail in future work.


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