Literary Cartography and Arthur Hugh Clough’s Amours de Voyage

Alyssa Fernandez and Ayla Wilder

Without the use of maps in our everyday lives, we would struggle to navigate into and through unknown spaces, as we would lack a visual representation of such spaces. It is through maps that we are able to establish a spatial, holistic understanding of our surrounding environments. Maps and literature are related in this way. As Fabio Lando states in “Fact and Fiction: Geography and Literature,” “[a]rt in general, and literature in particular, constitute a ‘valuable storehouse’ or ‘diagnostic index’ that captures best peoples’ emotional reactions to their environment” (3). Literature can function as a way for geographers to see a location as a created ideal. Geographical landscapes in literature are imbued with so much symbolism that they impart values and sentiments that transcend “the physical reality, they impart a certain ‘sacred’ sense of place” (Lando 4). This “sacred” sense of space sheds light on how literature and geography influence society and reality itself. The geographer could even be said to function as a mediator between literature and the scientific process: “He is able to transpose artistic experiences into themes that can be dealt with and dissected by the scientific method” (Lando 4), specifically geolocation.

Travel narratives, in particular, lend themselves to interpretation through the lenses established by literary cartography. Whether they depict stories about fictional travel or actual travel experiences, as in the Grand Tour, travel narratives can be understood not only through the written travel narrative itself, but also through the locations with which the narrative interacts. Mapping Amours de Voyage in order to depict not only the geographic scope of the setting of the verse-novel, but also the characters’ movements throughout the verse-novel, may encourage readers to think more carefully about the real-world geographic spaces the verse-novel exists within, to consider different ways of visualizing and dissecting the verse-novel, and to consider how maps impact our understanding of spatiality. The map we created for the Amours de Voyage edition also helps establish historical context alongside the geographical context for the verse-novel by providing narrative descriptions of each of the locations on the map.

Literature often includes different landscapes, a fact that has interested geographers. This is particularly prominent in works set in particular regions, where place becomes important to the events of the literary work. E.W. Gilbert suggests that we can add dimension to regional geographies by considering novels set in particular regions, taking into account representation of the area by “academic geographers, poets and novelists, political thinkers and administrators” (quoted in Lando 5). Another approach to regional geographies suggests that we look at “the ambiance of a novel, the veracity of literary-expressed places” (Lando 5). This approach focuses on how the author uses literary language to describe the geographical elements of a location. This language is usually more descriptive in nature and assists in describing a sense of place.

Just as a sense of place is necessary in a geographical novel, so too is the concept of cultural rooting: “Literary works can further be interpreted as true testimonies of the cultural roots and rapports that bind a society to a particular place or landscape” (Lando 6). The process of determining and constructing a landscape is a personal and socio-cultural process (Lando 7).  Because this process is both personal and socio-cultural, we cannot separate the subject of a people from the literary landscape in which they appear. This process ingrains cultural value into a territory. These three modalities—geographical fact, sense of place, and cultural rooting—all contribute to the features that make a geographic location utterly unique: “In geography, artistic expressions can also serve as powerful vehicles for penetrating the man/environment relations at a deeper level than by verisimilitude alone” (Lando 7). Literature is one such art form. It allows us to explore geography in a way that moves beyond basic objective knowledge, engaging also our imagination and spirit (Lando 8).

Maps can facilitate this exploration through literary cartography, or mapping in literature. In “Theorizing Maps with Literature,” Tania Rossetto summarizes the state of literary cartography in 2004. Maps can be used in literature as tools with which readers can establish “spatial understanding of novels”; maps can also be used by authors as tools for navigating their own writing. Rossetto argues that “literary texts reflect (and play) on: the peculiar visual language of maps; maps as the symbolic and metaphorical content of maps; the limits and the intentions of cartographic communication; the multiple functions, contexts and reading practices for which a map is produced; the sense of truth coming from maps; the authority and the power of cartographic representations; the role of maps in anticipating and conditioning place knowledge” (Rossetto 516). For this edition of Amours de Voyage, the play between literary texts and maps is crucial—indeed, a reader is able to develop place knowledge of the locations represented in Amours de Voyage more through the map and mapping descriptions than the narrative itself.

In addition to conditioning place knowledge and helping people locate and navigate, mapping can be used as a tool “appropriated for power and conquest” (Gladwin 161); however, maps do not have to be utilized in this way. Gladwin states that “[t]o map, on the one hand, is to claim territory and ultimately define ownership. It is, on the other hand, also a way to experience landscape through memory and imagination” (Gladwin 161). In the case of Amours de Voyage, mapping is a useful tool for the latter—through mapping, readers can experience the landscape through the memories of others, as well as through their own imaginations, spurred on by the descriptions contained in the map itself. Gladwin explains that authors and mapmakers can spatially arrange and document spaces in different ways, which is how mapping can present “literary alternatives to the novel” (Gladwin 168-170). Citing Eric Bulson, Gladwin concludes that maps in literature grant readers access to something that novels do not: “an image, a structure, a way to visualize form and narrative design” (Gladwin 170).  Through mapping, we can visualize the contents of literary works in unique ways.

As Phillip and Julian Muehrcke state, “[a] map is a paradox in that physically it is mere marks on sheets of paper, yet visually it brings to mind a multidimensional world, containing objects and even emotions not perceived directly on the piece of paper. Even more paradoxically, a map can stimulate its reader to think in terms of a whole range of scales, even though the map itself is limited to one scale. Thus, the same map can evoke things as large as a mountain and a river and things as small as ‘a deer's eye’ and ‘a single stone’” (Muehrcke and Meehrcke 323). This paradox is evident in the way literature and mapping interact. Maps can trigger our imagination and engage with the story. They assist in moving the plot and the characters along a given path. However, they are also anchored in real objects and places.

A map is capable of representing an actual, physical location through the subjective lens of its maker. Literary cartography adds further dimensions to the practice of mapping by allowing the reader to experience not only the physical location of a place, artifact, geographical feature, or architectural feature while they read, but also images, descriptions, and even representations of movement through the depicted spaces. In Amours de Voyage, the reader can follow Claude’s journey as he travels around Italy and the surrounding countries without a map, but tracking his venture is more sensually-engaging, more accessible, and perhaps even more intuitive. Through the practice of mapping, readers of Amours de Voyage are able to grasp both the  literary and cartographic significance of the verse-novel.


Works Cited

Gladwin, Derek. “The Literary Cartographic Impulse: Imagined Island Topographies in Ireland and Newfoundland.” The Canadian Journal of Irish Studies 38.1/2 (2014): 158–83.

Lando, Fabio. “Fact and Fiction: Geography and Literature: A Bibliographic Survey.” GeoJournal, 38.1 (1996): 3–18. JSTOR, Accessed 4 Apr. 2021.

Muehrcke, Phillip C. and Juliana O. Muehrcke. “Maps in Literature.” Geographical Review 64.3 (1974): 317–338. JSTOR, Accessed 4 Apr. 2021.

Rossetto, Tania. “Theorizing Maps with Literature.” Progress in Human Geography 38.4 (2013). SAGE Publications Ltd, Aug. 2014, pp. 513–30. SAGE Journals, doi:10.1177/0309132513510587.