Literary Space/Literary Place
Setting is an essential component of literature, particularly narrative, but it has normally been conceptualized as space, and viewed in symbolic and generalizing terms. Even when considering literary models of real cities, the mythopoetic and purely spatial aspects tend to dominate, obscuring questions about the physical environment and its translation into textual form. The developing field of literary geography is beginning to examine the role of real place, as opposed to symbolic space, in literature. Understanding the representation of real geographies in literary works has the potential to explain our response to our physical surroundings and the way the landscape in which we live shapes our culture.
Petersburg in Literature
The city of St Petersburg not only provides the setting for a large body of Russian literature, but becomes a central character and theme in itself. Since Petersburg’s evolution as a literary space coincided with the evolution of Russian literature throughout the nineteenth century, it has the potential to reveal a great deal about the role of geography in literary production. What is the relationship between the real and the imagined city? How is the city’s geography represented in literature? How are the different spaces and times of the city inscribed?
Literary cartography employs mapping techniques not to illustrate texts, but to interrogate them. Using geographic data of both place names and descriptions to produce geo-spatial visualizations for analysis enhances understanding of the interaction of literature and place. Adding layers of historical data through the use of cartograms and old maps enables a broader picture of the various dimensions of life in the city in different periods, and their relation to the images of the city in literature, to emerge.
Mapping the abundant geographical detail in Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment, one of the central works of the Petersburg text, gives the opportunity to develop and test approaches to literary cartography. What does it mean to map a text? What can – and cannot – be mapped? How can it be mapped? And what can the resultant maps and focus on the specifics of place tell us about both the novel and the city?
This is the first stage in a larger project that will enable comparative cartographic analysis of the Petersburg text, with interactive maps enabling exploration of different periods, authors and texts, and the different geographies of the city they create. As new maps are created, they will be added to the site; Gogol’s Petersburg Tales are the subject for the initial expansion.
Using the Site
The annotated maps are the main focus of the site, plotting the events, places, notebooks, ambiguities and institutions in Crime and Punishment, two different maps of Gogol’s Petersburg Tales, and overlay maps showing historic administrative districts and the use of old cartography. There are also background sections covering Petersburg, Dostoevsky, and Crime and Punishment, and bibliographies on Petersburg, Dostoevsky, and Cities, Spaces, Cartographies. Updates and additions will be noted on our News section.