As you might guess, from the English editor and English press, The Atlas of Literature concentrates on the English tradition of letters.
Stratford and London are undeniably important: readers would be disappointed not to find them here (and the Lake District with its poets, Yorkshire with the Brontës, Wessex with Hardy, and Bloomsbury).
And they are joined by Spain with Cervantes, Prague with Kafka, and Paris with Balzac.
For the armchair traveller who loves European literature, this volume will be an essential addition to your shelves. And, even if that’s relatively familiar territory, some of the elements included are somewhat less traditional.
Another volume might have neglected to include, for instance, Aphra Behn with Defoe and Smollett and the like, in a discussion of the early novel.
Of course only Charlotte Lennox is included alongside, with none of the other female writers in Dale Spender’s Mothers of the Novel included here. But, it’s also true that one doesn’t expect to find every smaller town in an atlas: sometimes only a capital city appears.
The text is accessible, readable, and one could imagine storming straight through each of the 80+ essays, but the imagery is most appealing.
From author photograph to landscape art to original book cover illustrations, the imagery all contributes to an understanding of the connection between the creative work, the writers’ lives, and the geography therein.
What’s especially fun are the maps which consider specific novels’ contents and particular locales. (See sample to the right, though obviously the original is much more desirable.)
Of course you want to see all your personal favourites on the page. Of course if there is a writer whose work you feel you know well, you might disagree with the slant of particular details.
The essay on Canlit rightly included the authors who are internationally recognizable as Canadian writers, like Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje, and it roots them in Toronto, but including Alice Munro there (because she maintained an office in the city for many years) is not necessarily relevant, given that her stories are predominantly set in small towns.
Yet, how can I quibble over the Canlit essay’s Toronto-centricity when the map with the locations for The Robber Bride thrills me.
(I took a pilgrimage to the bridge that Iris drives off in The Blind Assassin, and now I want a map for that novel too!)
And the same simplification which might irk me in the Canadian literature chapter is working in my favour when I, instead, turn to the chapter on Caribbean literature, with which I am only fleetingly familiar (eveything I know I learned from Edwidge Danticat!): this short essay reads like an invitation.
In short, a lovely book to borrow, but even nicer to have on your own shelf, for on-the-spot bookish browsing.