Paola D’Ercole (University of Salerno)

Posted on Friday, March 5th, 2010

‘Territorial Mapping: The Sense of Place in Treasure Island

In the 1980s and ‘90s critics’ attention began to move away from the analysis of time to that of space as Franco Moretti’s Atlas of the European Novel (1998) demonstrates. In literary studies new efforts were made to determine precisely how and to what ends texts ‘map’ social space: mapping is mainly used as a metaphor for an imaginative construction of social space, which is also a version of a more literal space. However, beyond this metaphor of the text-as-map, there is also the more particular use of mapping as an analytical tool that Moretti has developed.

Illustrative maps appear in a wide range of late-nineteenth-century novels, including those which might be broadly defined as pursuing a realist project – like Hardy’s Return of the Native (1878) which opens with a sketch of the region where the story is set – as well as fantasy adventures like Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883) which also has its beginning in a map. As Moretti’s interpretation suggests, far from securing the relationship between the real and the imaginary, as Stevenson – for instance – claims to want, maps can also work to unsettle that relation, provoking anxieties of persecution that are tied into a larger rhetoric of imperial projection and fantasy. To view these uncertainties and ambiguities about geographical, social, and fictional space as emerging during this period, even in the localized and highly specific forms that this paper will analyze, helps us to view the period against the grain of its own self-confident assertions and to reconsider its position within literary histories. In this specific case, the presence of an illustrative map has highlighted a particular change, and suggested a rich ambiguity that seems strikingly in opposition to the assumed neutrality of represented space: a hesitation about colonial conquest that emerges even in overtly imperialist adventure story by Stevenson. This paper will analyze intersecting questions about the authority of map itself (what it means to draw it, to read, and act upon it); and questions about which spaces – real, past, or imagined – lie outside of the frame.

Categorized as Abstracts

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