A novel comes alive to the reader when he or she can relate to its landscape or themes. The Victorian world of Dickens and Austen, for example, becomes much clearer to a reader removed from it by 150 years through such excellent surveys as What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew (Simon & Schuster, 1993). Novelist and retired professor of American Studies Malcolm Bradbury has compiled a much more inclusive picture of the world of literature in The Atlas of Literature.
Drawing on the critical talents of fellow writers and academics, Bradbury looks at places in literature and how they affect and are affected by writers. The book is arranged in eight sections detailing various literary periods from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance to contemporary times. Each of these sections is divided into chapters that deal with locations such as France during the Enlightenment, London in the 1890s, or the world after the Wall. The chapter on Thomas Hardy's Wessex, for example, examines the area of southwest England in which the author set the majority of his novels, noting the corresponding real places and their significance to Hardy. The chapter on divided Ireland, on the other hand, discusses the influence of "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland on the writings of Seamus Heaney, Brian Friel, and others. The text is illustrated with 450 black-and-white photographs, drawings, and maps. The volume concludes with brief biographical notes about authors discussed, a list of sites around the world associated with famous authors that can be visited, a bibliography by country, and an index.
This is not an atlas in the conventional sense of the word but is a worthy addition to literature collections. It will be of interest to the beginner and the advanced scholar alike. It does not compare in scope or breadth to other standard literature reference tools, such as the Oxford Companion series, but covers the impact of place on literature and vice versa. Public and academic libraries will probably want to add this to the circulating collection.