Maps in novels?
November 7, 2010 7:23 PM   Subscribe

Researchfilter: Can you think of a old example in which a map of the city is used for navigation within a European/American novel? For example, a character walking on the street would pull out a map to study their destination, or such.

I'm doing research on the early history of the printed city map as an individual's navigational device (as opposed to a decorative object, or for military/sailing usage, etc) and I'm having trouble coming up with specific information about the usage of the map. Novels are pretty often good barometers/indicators/representations of a period at the time, and so I'd thought I'd try to look for an example in a novel in which a character looks at a map, or buys a map, for navigational purposes. I can't think of any, though! Can you help, AskMe?
posted by suedehead to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm pretty sure the main character in the book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time uses a map to get around London. (I'd look it up for you but my copy is being borrowed right now.)
posted by corey flood at 7:45 PM on November 7, 2010

Hello, I'm illiterate. I just realized that you're looking for earlier examples of map use. Can you pin it down to a particular time?
posted by corey flood at 7:50 PM on November 7, 2010

Best answer: What time period are you guessing it will be? I believe in Room with a View, the main character uses her map in Florence, but that's only 1908--surely not the first time maps were used by individuals.
posted by parkerjackson at 7:50 PM on November 7, 2010

Response by poster: I'd love it for it to be around the 18th or 19th century, or even earlier. Ideally, the earlier the better.
posted by suedehead at 8:07 PM on November 7, 2010

Best answer: No answer, but you might check with someone at the Smith Center for the History of Cartography at the Newberry Library in Chicago. Looks like the email for reference questions is . This sounds like the sort of thing they might be interested in, at least enough to let you know who might know the answer to this.

Or the MapHist List might be a place to dig up someone who specializes in literature and the history of cartography.
posted by BlooPen at 8:08 PM on November 7, 2010

On (failed) preview, the Newberry is probably the place to go for early stuff. If nothing else, they'll be able to more closely pinpoint when individuals might have had access to the kinds of maps you're talking about. The director of the Smith Center (his name is near the bottom) is probably who you want to talk to, though I don't know how hands-on he is with individual research questions.

If you can get your hands on the earlier volumes of The History of Cartography project, that might give you a better idea of when the kinds of maps you're talking about appeared. I doubt it will be very early, actually, but that's just a semi-educated guess.
posted by BlooPen at 8:14 PM on November 7, 2010

Novels where the characters use Baedeker guide books might be a good place to start. Baedekers apparently contained some really lovely city maps.
posted by teg at 9:13 PM on November 7, 2010

Best answer: George Gissing invites the reader to consider the map of London in his The Nether World (1889) but it's not a character using one; though looking up that reference came across this in one of his other novels (The Odd Women, 1893) I've not read where it seems they're using the Ordnance Survey map to plan a walk in the Lake District. Not sure if that's too rural for your purposes.
posted by Abiezer at 11:00 PM on November 7, 2010

Best answer: Great question. Seems just what full-text searching of a large corpus of electronic text is made for. After 5 minutes on Google Books (limiting search to dates 1600-1900), I got this:

I saw then in my dream, that they went on in this their solitary ground, till they came to a place at which a man is apt to lose his way. Now, though when it was light, their guide could well enough tell how to miss those ways that led wrong, yet in the dark he was put to a stand : but he had in his pocket a map of all ways leading to or from the celestial city ; wherefore he struck a light (for he never goes also without his tinder-box), and take a view of his book or map, which bids him be careful, in that place, to turn to the right-hand.

from The Pilgrim's Progress, 1678.

If you keep searching there and, for example, Internet Archive Texts Collection, I think you'll find a lot more...
posted by alb at 6:19 AM on November 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks a lot, everyone -- this was a really great help, and kickstarted my research a bit!
posted by suedehead at 7:46 AM on November 9, 2010

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