This Is Not a Map

By Byrd, Max | The Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

This Is Not a Map


Byrd, Max, The Wilson Quarterly


IN THE MELANCHOLY YEAR 1882, ROBERT Louis Stevenson was 31 years old and in poor health. Though he had published by then, as he modestly said, "little books and little essays"--including Travels With a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879), the immortal tale of his tour through central France--his burning ambition was to write and publish a novel. He had actually begun a great many novels, from the age of 15 on, but none were ever finished. They all seemed to go along for a while, he observed, then suddenly quit, "like a schoolboy's watch." Meanwhile, his essays and books earned him not quite 200 [pounds sterling] in a good year, which was far from enough to support a family. That summer, he and his wife were forced to go and live with Stevenson's parents in the mountains above Pitlochry, Scotland.

Then his bad health drove him farther north, to a retreat at Braemar. And there, as an escape from the Highland rain, he passed a great deal of time indoors as friendly companion to a local schoolboy, home for the holidays, who had a passion, not for literature, but for watercolors. Some days the two of them would spend whole afternoons standing side by side painting together. Soon enough, doubtless in a fit of jealousy, the Muse of Fiction looked down and took a hand. "On one of these occasions." Stevenson recorded in the most charming possible understatement, "I made the map of an island." Few readers will need to be told what happened next. The shape of the map, he said, "took my fancy beyond expression; it contained harbours that pleased me like sonnets; and with the unconsciousness of the predestined, I ticketed my performance Treasure Island."

Stevenson is the only novelist I know of who was inspired by imaginary inlets and hills and harbors to begin a book. He wrote the story, as he cheerfully confessed, "up to the map. The map was the chief part of my plot." But he is hardly the only novelist to have drawn a map of his fictional creation. William Faulkner drew at least two maps of Yoknapatawpha County, one for the first edition of Absalom, Absalom! published in 1936, and a slightly different one 10 years later for The Portable Faulkner. J. R. R. Tolkien sketched several maps of Middle Earth for The Hobbit (1937); his son Christopher made the ones for the subsequent Lord of the Rings volumes. James Michener is said to have painted a map of the setting of each of his many novels. And if you had read Thomas Hardy's The Return of the Native (1878) as a magazine serial first, then later picked up the three-volume novel version, you might have been surprised to find opposite the title page a very somber-appearing "Sketch Map of the Scene of the Story," drawn by the very somber author himself.

Hardy may have had several reasons for adding the map. For one thing, he was proud of having observed a classical unity of place, confining the whole story to a single setting, the fictional Egdon Heath. For another, the novel itself concerns characters so psychologically disoriented and lost--adultery, mother-son estrangement, and two drownings figure in the plot--that he may have been projecting for the reader a kind of graphic key to its themes. But surely at bottom was the motive that underlies all such fictional maps: the drive for realism, verisimilitude, mimesis--the nearly perfect representation of reality that makes a fiction seem to be true.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

We trust a map. It describes the known physical world, the most certain knowledge we have, and in such detail that we can easily check its accuracy. If a map sometimes reveals things we didn't know--for example, that Italy, as seen from above, is the shape of a boot--that only increases its air of authority. Some part of our mind is probably always aware that the map is not the real thing itself, or even always truthful--certain Soviet maps used to omit from the city plan of Moscow the streets where the KGB was headquartered. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

This Is Not a Map
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.