The Geography of Literature

  

How many times do you read a novel and then pull out an atlas? I do it quite often. I love to be able to visualize the geography of the story I am reading. This is particularly true with novels that take place in London. I keep a London A to Z close at hand so I can look up particular parts of London as they appear in the books I read.

The novels of Anita Brookner provide abundant opportunity to explore London. I think all of her 24 novels take place at least in part in London. And her characters spend a lot of time walking around. I have always had it in my mind that I wanted to document Brookner’s London. Now that I am starting to re-read all of her novels in chronological order, I realize I have the perfect opportunity to construct a sort of Gazetteer of London place names in Brookner’s fiction. I am also tempted to chart the places out of London, or out of the country (mainly France and Switzerland) that Brookner’s characters visit. But her books are so London-centric, that I think the spirit of her characters live in London regardless of their temporary forays outside the metropolitan area.

For instance in The Debut/A Start in Life, the main character Ruth details one of her walks:

From Edith Grove (where she lives)

down to the river [presumeably following Cheyne Walk and the Chelsea Embankment] to Chelsea Old Church

to Victoria Station

turning back to Sloane Square

then following the King’s Road to Fulham Road where she catches a bus back to her flat on Edith Grove. 

It isn’t clear where she connects with Fulham Road from the King’s Road but using Google maps, this “walk” is about five miles.  I know many other Brookner characters take similar walks. I am looking forward to see where their perigrinations take them.

For a full list of the London places that appear in The Debut (and eventually all of Brookner’s novels) check out this link.

5 thoughts on “The Geography of Literature

  1. Laura June 19, 2011 / 4:52 pm

    Oh good, I'm not the only one! I have a London A to Z (“zed,” of course) that I bring out on certain reading occasions also. The first time was reading Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont; a familiar-sounding road was mentioned but I couldn't place it. Duh — the Brompton Road, right near Harrods.

    Not long ago I read 13, rue Therese which takes place in Paris and I used Google Street View, which is another cool way to experience the city you're reading about.

    Enjoy!

    Like

  2. teadevotee.com June 20, 2011 / 11:55 am

    I feel the same way about the novels of Virginia Woolf and London – especially because the Strand is a regular feature, which is where I went to uni – amazing to think that you are walking along the same pavements as Katherine Hilbery or Clarissa Dalloway!

    Like

  3. teadevotee.com June 20, 2011 / 11:55 am

    I feel the same way about the novels of Virginia Woolf and London – especially because the Strand is a regular feature, which is where I went to uni – amazing to think that you are walking along the same pavements as Katherine Hilbery or Clarissa Dalloway!

    Like

  4. nicole June 23, 2011 / 12:15 am

    Have you ever read any of Franco Moretti's (rather unusual) literary criticism? He is known for analyzing books in pretty non-literary, or at least unconventional, ways. You should check out his Atlas of the European Novel, a fascinating and thought-provoking exploration of the geography of several major works. Lots of very cool maps too!

    Like

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