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It is of little coincidence that a preoccupation with maps seemed to have occurred within the literature of the 18th century, for this was the era wherein a migration away from the ancient superstitious, mythological representations of the ‘ends of the earth’ – e.g.: dragons, sea monsters, and gods – were to be replaced by more or less accurate representations of coastlines of the ‘New World’, the African coast, and Asia.  Such attention to macro level detail would seem to be an obvious foil to Robert Hooke’s Micrografia, insofar as it provided a perspective which attempted to look at the world as a whole, and yet it would also lie in league with it, as well, for just like the Micrografia, improved maps would provide “enlargement of the dominion of the senses”, or ‘perspective’ in this case.  Indeed, it should come as no surprise that several different universities and organizations are attempting to reconstitute the patterns of knowledge created by the Republic of Letters and represent them in map form – something of which they most likely would have approved: a different perspective on the Enlightenment is always desired, lest we slip into barbarism.  Whether or not the Enlightenment succeeded in banishing superstitions is, as Marc Ruiz explores, still a live controversy; nevertheless, it would seem to have tempered it somewhat by bringing rationality into the conversation, as evidenced by the drive to represent the world as it was, as opposed to what we feared it to be.  As he states:  

It would seem the idea of superstitions as far as demons, or magic, at this point are seemingly banished from the literature we approached up to this point but there are some superstitions that seem to appear in a more theoretical sense during the time of the enlightenment.

Nevertheless, there was a belief that some type of underpinning logic existed within the universe.  Intended or not, Newtonian mechanics helped perpetuate – pun intended – this idea, insofar as it is a concept which deals with only caused events, viz., it is reactionary.  “For every action, there is an equal an opposite reaction. (Isaac Newton, Third Law of Motion); ergo, an event had to cause the beginning of every other event.  This is the very idea upon which Laurence Sterne's character Tristram Shandy ruminates for an entire novel!  If that is not superstition in play – magical thinking – then I am unsure as to what to call superstition at all.

All of the above being said, it is worthy of note that the rationality of maps function in different ways within different works, for while they each plot progression, the type of progression may be different.  Daniel Defoe's character Robinson Crusoe, for instance, was shipwrecked world traveller, whose sojourns about his tiny island became a large-scale metaphor for personal and spiritual growth.  Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s journey is just that: a literal journey, and her map was reconstructed in graphic form as a result of her tale.  Tristram Shandy remained largely stationary in life, with the exception of the seventh volume, wherein he undertook The Grand Tour; nevertheless, there are different – illustrated – ‘thought maps’ found within the text.

The Literal Map

Technically speaking, The Turkish Embassy Letters is not a novel, nor did she ever actually provide a map.  Indeed, the volume is a nonfiction travel narrative, and the provided ‘map’ is, therefore, the narrative itself, which is written in an epistolary form, wherein she provides dates and locations before supplying rich detail about said locations.  Moreover, she also provides details about her route:

Letter 5th
To the Countess of [Bristol]:
Nuremberg, Aug. 22, O.S. 1716

After five days traveling post, I am sure I could side down to write on no other occasion but to tell my dear Lady that I have not forgot her obliging command of sending her some account of my travels.  I have already passed a large part of Germany.  I have seen all that is remarkable in Cologn, Frankfort, Wurtzburg, and this place [Nuremberg], and ’tis impossible not to observe the difference between the free towns, and those under the government of absolute princes (as all the little sovereigns of Germany are). (Montagu, 52)

It is through this process that visual maps, complete with timelines, have been constructed.  In addition, much can be gleaned from this passage about the makeup in regards to the regional politics, insofar as the individual larger cities are ruled over sovereign individuals to whom she refers as ‘absolute princes’.  In this regard, not only can her route be laid out, but a rough understanding about the security and maintenance of the road system can be inferred by the pace at which she has travelled, and the approximate borders of the regional duchies, as well.  Victoria Peterson makes the astute observation and reflection in her article Dear World:

Allowing these letters to have such significance does have its downfalls though. Not all letters were delivered in a timely manner or in order. The reader observes this when she writes “I received Your Ladyship’s but the day before I left Vienna, though by date I ought to have had it much sooner” and then goes on about how the postal service is not a very reliable mode for communication.

Nevertheless, it is this very mode of transport that also serves as a reminder as to the time in which the form was developing.  Moreover, the fact that she ‘goes on about how the postal service is not a very reliable mode for communication’ is – first and foremost – a correct assertion, but it is also a subtle narrative thread that runs, however deeply and remotely, throughout the work.  It is a part of its very genetic code, insofar as the locations, the dates, the times between delivery, and the further away Montagu gets from England only serve to maintain or even heighten the interest of the reader in a form that has no narrative arc.

A key question remains, from whence did the idea of the epistolary narrative come?  It was partially borne from necessity: Montagu was traveling, and it needed to be documented.  Nevertheless, there was also a precedence for it.  Aphra Behn's three volume fictional work Love-Letters Between a Nobleman and His Sister (1684-1687), while not the first, may be the most apropos to this conversation, for it, too, is told in epistolary fashion.  Perhaps it is worth noting here that not only do the locations and names play a pivotal role in the unfolding of the narrative, but so do the methods of address, i.e. (after the consummation of the wooing) – “The unfortunate SYLVIA.”; (in the second volume, following Philander's arrival in Cologne from Holland) – “Direct your letters for me to your merchant Vander Hanskin.”; &c.  In the first case, the heroine identifies herself as 'unfortunate', yet not belonging to (the appropriately named) Philander.  In the second, not only is the business relationship expounded upon, but how they (Philander and 'the generous Octavio') will remain in contact: via paper transfer which is mediated by a third party, Vander Hanskin; ergo, a map of not just his travels, but of their communication – and how that communication is relayed – is established.  

The Map of the Narrative

More curious, then, would have been a printed map of all of the events of the novel, for this would be – as per the 21st-century parlance – a massive ‘spoiler’.  Yet, this is exactly what is provided to the readers of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.  A representation of Crusoe’s island was printed in Serious Reflections during the Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1720), wherein the major plot points of the novel were printed: the cannibals dancing around the fire, Crusoe’s home, Friday and Crusoe meeting the mutineers, everything.  This is, however, not without a direct descendent, for those who create the opening titles of long-form television shows strive to do much the same thing now: include pivotal moments from upcoming moments in the series.  In many ways, this is reflected in Montagu’s map – even though it was not provided by the publisher, as well, for we know where she will arrive – and how she will get there – before we even read the book.  

Nevertheless, this particular type of map is different, insofar as it is a map of ideas.  Moreover, it is presented in a manner that is achronological.  Perhaps it is this very fact that negates the idea of the ‘spoiler,’ for if the reader does not know that Robinson Crusoe and Friday meet the mutineers until after the the cannibals dance around the fire, then the ideas themselves are meaningless because of the lack of context, viz., those same ideas are like the Ikea furniture directions which tell you how to construct a table instead of the chair that you ordered: priceless in the presence of the chair, yet rendered worthless without it.

Interestingly enough, Robinson Crusoe plots itself on the map as it proceeds.  The narrator is precise with his dates and how they relate to his age, how that relates to a major point in the novel, and that moment’s relationship to a previous plot point: 

“The same Day of the Year I was born on (viz.) the 30th of September, that same Day, I had my Life so miraculously saved 26 Year after, when I was cast on Show in this Island, so that my wicked Life, and my solitary Lift begun both on a Day.  The next Thing to my Ink’s being wasted, was that of my Bread, I mean the Bisket which I brought out of the Ship […]” (Defoe, 159)

In addition, he often gives exacting directions: 

“[…] I began my Journey; when I had pass’d the Vale where my Bower stood as above, I came within View of the Sea, to the West, and it being a very clear Day, I fairly descry’d Land, whether an Island or a Continent, I could not tell; but it lay very high, extending from the West, to the W.S.W. at a very great Distance; by my Guess it would not be less than Fifteen of Twenty Leagues off.”

This is a trait that was seen in Montagu, as well, but is given a different type of impact due to the nature of the supplied map, and the implications which it holds, for we – as readers – are not only able to construct a map of Crusoe’s island, but place it in context, something which we had not been able to do before.  Furthermore, what begins as a sort of epistolary narrative when he arrives on the island – he keeps a journal with exacting dates and locations – begins to fall apart, until he finally runs out of ink.  Shortly thereafter, he meets Friday, and an oral history is necessitated, as opposed to the written one which had been presented to the reader before.  While it is true that everything does, indeed, end up on the written page, this dichotomy does exist; furthermore, it could be postulated once he had met Friday, Crusoe created a folklore-esque narrative history like those of the indigenous Caribbean cultures which Defoe and his ilk simultaneously romanticized and demonized.

The Thought Map

Most enigmatic are the full-page displays found within Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman.  In effect, the reader is provided with five fully illustrated pages – two black, two marbled, and three blank (seven pages in toto, two of which are blank, one of which is illustrated by the reader, and four of which are illustrated by the printer).  Additionally, Sterne provides drawings that are essentially graphic summations of Shandy’s seemingly endless digressions and opinions – they are timelines with regressions, loops, and squiggles: an accurate representation of Tristram’s style of narration.  This said, we will be examining the black, marbled, and blank pages.  

Directly before the marbled pages, Sterne writes: 

“Read, read, read, read, my unlearned reader! read,– or by the knowledge of the great said Paralipomenon– I tell you before-hand you had better throw down the book at once; for without much reading, […] I mean much knowledge, you will no more be able to penetrate the moral of the next marbled page (motley emblem of my work!) than the world with all its sagacity has been able to unraval the many opinions, transactions and truths which still lie mystically hid under the dark veil of the black one.” (Sterne, 180)

It is interesting to note the different colors that go into the marbled pages: yellow, orange, black – upon the white background of the page.  The question remains, what is the moral, the motley emblem, of the marbled page.  If we examine this as a type of chronicle (“Paralipomenon”) – a map – then we can draw a parallel to the strange, meandering timelines which he provides later on pages 379-380.  Moreover, it could also mirror the achronological book summation which was presented in the 1720 edition of Serious Reflections during the Life and Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe; this explanation, however, would not address the colors.  While the marbled page may very well be a chronicle of the book itself, it could also serve as a type of relationship map, wherein each of the colors would represent a character, the shapes they create would contribute to the stories that make up the book object that is Tristram Shandy.  

If this were to be the case, then the black and blank pages are polar opposites of one another, for “the world with all is sagacity has been [unable] to unravel the […] truths which still lie mystically hid under the dark veil of the black [page].” (180), whereas when Uncle Toby falls in love with the Widow Wadman and asks the reader to consider what she looks like, Tristram states: 

“To conceive [of Widow Wadman’s countenance] right,– call for pen and ink– here’s your paper ready to your hand.–– Sit down, Sir, paint her to your own mind––– as like your mistress as you can––– as unlike your wife as your conscience will let you– ’tis all one to me––– please but your own fancy in it.” (376)

and then presents us with a blank page.  The obfuscation of Tristram’s thought map following Yorick’s funeral (26-29) is balanced by the blank page (377).  This blank page allows the reader to map their own opinions and impressions into the book.  Therefore, the marbled page serves as a fulcrum between the two extremes that enables both the reader and Tristram the freedom to plot out their own thought processes.

Christina Crowley discusses Sterne’s – and, by extension, Tristram’s – thought process in Writing Dictionaries or Tristapedias: The Age of Johnson vs. The Madness of Sterne:

Laurence Sterne is the right man to turn to in order to explore the revolution of free thinking and get away from the straight-shooting Johnson. Tristram Shandy’s tale demonstrates many ideas presented du Marsais’ article—sometimes by following its tutelage, but more often than not demonstrating what not to do. 

This statement is largely true; nevertheless, the very fact that marbeled and black pages were supplied earlier in the narrative shows that Sterne wished to engage with the audience, and allow them the opportunity to, essentially, ‘show what they have learned’ through their own realization of Widow Wadman on the blank page later on, viz., he led by example first, and set the reader free after.  That blank page, then, is the moment of self-actualization, wherein – through their own handiwork – the participant could fulfill the promise of self-tutelage, courtesy of the gentle hand of the affable narrator who merely ‘wants to be [our] friend’.



The Grand Tour

The Grand Tour; Image: Indiana University.



Map of the Holy Roman Empire, ca. 1789, as rendered by Robert Alfers.  Note the tiny princedoms of which Montagu spoke.


A map showing possible routes from the Netherlands to Cologne, Germany.  Google Maps.




Robinson Crusoe's 'Island of Despair'

Robinson Crusoe's ‘Island of Despair’; Serious Reflections during the Life and Surpring Adventures of Robinson Crusoe (1720), Daniel Defoe.










A Marbled Page from 'Tristram Shandy'

“The Marbled Page”.  The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (Vol. III, XXXVI, pg. 169), Laurence Sterne.