G.When I was boating in South Africa, most of the damp-speckled books I could get seemed to have been published in England. It left me with a very distinct (if partial and fictional) impression of the city. When I moved to the UK, I spent a few days wandering around London and felt a strong sense of déjà vu. Simultaneous perception and alienation resulting from the fusion of real and invented places.
Literature, of course, has always been about imaginary places. Odysseus struggles to return to Ithaca, which no longer exists. Dante travels through allegorical landscapes towards paradise. Shakespeare’s plays are set in places Shakespeare knew from his books, such as Bohemia, Syracuse, Venice, or Rome. Imaginary places, I think, are always elaborations or distortions of familiar landscapes.
Today’s ease of travel means that many people can afford to cross oceans and continents more casually than their ancestors. Coupled with the understandable notion that it needs to be believable, it means that writers are more likely to experience their fictional journeys in action in order to be believable.
But I found myself drawn to a more constrained way of writing about places, whether out of perverseness or lack of funds. To the novelist who writes empty, the novelist who travels irresponsibly or recklessly, the novelist who neglects his research, or the novelist who finds one landscape. Disintegrate into another.
1. Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Stoker’s famous novel contains two acts of speculative travel. First, he used the dramatic landscape of the Scottish Highlands to represent an imaginary Transylvania. The second takes place in Dracula’s castle. Jonathan Harker sees and discovers a vast collection of books “all related to England and British life” in your host’s library. Though he couldn’t quite lose the “strange intonation” of his accent, the Earl read himself into the streets of London as a prelude to the Reign of Terror.
2. À Rebours (Against the Grain) by JK Huysmans
For a more whimsical approach to moving in a chair, I recommend the Decadent method. Bored of his life and fascinated by Dickens, the aristocrat De Esseinz retreats to the French countryside, obtains Bedecker’s guide to London, and prepares to cross the Channel. Along the way, he endures downpours, drives through mud, sips sherry in cellars near Rue de Rivoli, and contemplates unflattering English faces from across the room. By the time his train was ready to depart, Des Esseintes found that he had wandered “idlely through imaginary London” and that he no longer felt the need to travel.
3. Dublinsk by Enrique Villas-Matas
The temptation to travel goes a little further in Vilas-Matas’ metafictional novel. Samuel Riva, a restless, retired publisher who lives in Barcelona, imagines going to Dublin for Bloomsday to hold his book’s funeral. Riva cannot speak English, but his idea of abandoning continental literary values in favor of the “English Leap” becomes increasingly appealing.
4. Voyage of Virginia Woolf
For Rachel Vinlace, the protagonist of Woolf’s first novel, the reality of South America is deadly. Accompanying her aunt and uncle aboard her Euphrosyne, Rachel’s voyage to an unnamed South American country with a cameo appearance by Clarissa Dalloway is as much existential as it is metaphorical. When British travelers arrive at their destination, the landscape of this South American country is generally tropical – hot afternoons, blazing sun, lurking heat – like something you would put together from a book. Empire. Wolf envisions the “Elisabeth ship” anchored where “the Euphrosyne floats”. The interior is full of shores with “Indians with subtle poisons” and “vengeful Spaniards and greedy Portuguese”.
5. A Way in the World by VS Naipaul
The colonial legacy evoked by Wolfe is addressed in conflicting nuances by Naipaul, a novel that explores the fates of several historical figures intertwined with the history of Trinidad. Sir Walter Raleigh imagines his final months. A failure, a sick and grieving father who knows only scaffolding awaits him at home. Raleigh’s fraudulent quest for El Dorado – he pays with his life – initially worked because it capitalized on the fictional trip Elizabethan readers so craved.
6. Invisible City Italo Calvino
In Calvino’s metafictional vanity, the Venetian traveler Marco Polo describes a trip to Emperor Hubli Khan, curious about the nature (and extent) of his vast territory. However, the Emperor soon notices Poro’s sleight of hand and deduces that the places he describes are all the same. or is it? The emperor’s mind “departed on his own, tearing the city to pieces and then rebuilding them in other ways”. Fifty years after its publication, Calvino’s novel still feels experimental, but its representation of territory as a woman conquered, explored, and possessed may seem all too familiar. .
7. Joseph and His Brothers by Thomas Mann
When Mann finished reading The Story of Jacob, the first novel in the Joseph tetralogy, he had not yet been to the Middle East. As he wrote in his 1948 afterword, his visit in 1930 “was no more than an on-the-spot examination of a related study into which I had been immersed from afar.” Rarely good, Mann’s novels offer powerful and contradictory encounters with well-traveled mythology. It makes the tetralogy worth fighting for.
8. The Book of Anxiety by Fernando Pessoa
Ledger, not literature, carries Bernardo Soares, the narrator of Pessoa’s fragmentary masterpiece and assistant bookkeeper undertaking “the commercial epic of Vasques & Co.” Simply “entering the name of an unfamiliar cloth,” says Soares, “opens the doors of the Indus and Samarkand.” The imaginary India he encounters through his account books forms a certain reality: Orientalist, luxury, expendable. Staying at home is dangerous. But those who read Pessoa do so for the exquisite defamilialization of the familiar and the dizzying interiority of the pilgrimage by his agency.
9. Inland by Gerald Marnan
Like Pessoa, Australian author Gerald Murnane has spent his life revolving around the familiar. The narrator is a melancholic Hungarian landowner from Alfeld the Great, who writes a letter to and for a young woman in the American Midwest prairie. (Murnane is a great poet of flatness.) By his own admission, Murnane never left Australia, never left Victoria. But one landscape is soon reconstructed into another reality, and we begin to perceive the familiar as foreign.
10. Ohio Murders by Adrian Kennedy
Kennedy’s 1992 play, which recently premiered on Broadway, features renowned author Suzanne Alexander speaking about the origins of violent imagery in her work. Her lecture takes her back to Ohio State University in 1949. At the time, black students were not thought to be able to complete an English degree. There, a young professor teaches Hardys her Durberville family Tess. Suzanne, constrained by the racial restrictions of the campus town she lives in, seems to recognize in Hardy’s Wessex landscape the antidote to restricted freedom. Among the materials used against her when she was expelled from the university were the maps she had created. Like Tess, Suzanne is an outsider to her and her sexual history puts her at a disadvantage.Like Tess, she loses her child. And like Hardy’s protagonist, the sexual encounter that led to her pregnancy is ambiguous, and that particular violence remains ambiguous until the play’s final revelation.