Bernhard Klein, Maps and the Writing of Space in Early Modern England and Ireland. Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2001. xii+235 pp. ISBN 0 3337 7933 9. £47.50.
Andrew Murphy
University of St Andrews

Murphy, Andrew. "Review of Bernhard Klein, Maps and the Writing of Space in Early Modern England and Ireland." Early Modern Literary Studies 8.3 (January, 2003): 7.1-6 <URL:

  1. In his Image of Ireland, published in 1581, John Derricke famously offered an anticipation of Bentham's Panopticon, when he envisaged a pyramid being erected in Ireland which will give him visual access to the entire island, so that he might describe it in great detail. "It was concluded on," he writes,

    That of the famous Irish soile,
    I should enlarge vpon.
    And least thereof in any parte,
    I might relate a misse:
    By reason of the longitude,
    or latitude, there is.
    A goodly braue Piramides,
    erected passyng high:
    from whence all corners of the lande, I might at large discrie.

    Derricke's conceit is emblematic of a complex strain (in a double sense of that word) in English thinking about Ireland in the early modern period. It is a fantasy of complete control and utter transparency, offered, however, at a time when English domination in Ireland was far from complete and when much of the island was a closed book to the English.

  2. Bernhard Klein's Maps and the Writing of Space in Early Modern England and Ireland concerns itself very largely with such fantasies of territorial perception and their political consequences. Refreshingly, this is not yet another book about Renaissance literature and early modern Ireland, but it is a book for which Ireland consistently serves as an end-point, and while some predictable texts make an appearance along the way (the four captains scene from Henry V, Spenser's Faerie Queene, for example), Klein's approach to them is, for the most part, novel and they simply form a small section of a much larger interpretative field - a field dominated by Klein's very interesting analysis of the texts and cultures of early modern cartography.

  3. Maps and the Writing of Space has an interesting double-tripartite structure. Klein isolates three important innovations in cultural thinking prompted by the cartographic revolution of the sixteenth century: innovations in the way space is measured, visualised, and narrated (3). These distinctions serve as the basis for the division of the book into three segments, entitled "Measurements", "Cartographies" and "Narratives", and each of these segments consists of an introduction and three chapters. In each case, the opening chapter identifies certain broad general paradigms prompted by cartographic reconceptualisations of space, the second registers the application of those paradigms primarily in a largely British context, and the third discusses the implications of applying such paradigms in the confused part-colonial/part-domestic space of Ireland. Ireland is thus, in a sense, the ultimate point of articulation for Klein's analyses - the point around which his arguments turn.

  4. This is a subtle, penetrating, and immensely rich book and, like many of the cartographers whose work it charts, it traverses wide tracts of territory. In the opening segment, Klein provides an account of the shift in conceptions of the status of the land which surveying made possible. He notes that, domestically, the English gentry and governing class moved from a social to a segmented, proprietorial conception of the land. In Ireland, surveying techniques facilitated something like the kind of vision that Derricke imagined: a colonial eye which could open up the rebel fastness, leaving the land available for sight and exploitation. In his second section, Klein builds on the work of Richard Helgerson to discuss the importance of map-making to the forging of an English sense of national identity. Ireland represents a problematic element here, since it is unclear whether the island is to be assimilated within the ambit of this imaging or excluded from it. Klein's analysis of particular cartographic exemplars is especially interesting here, as he notes the manner in which the geographical proximity between the two islands is adjusted from map to map. In the final segment of the book Klein concerns himself in the first instance with chorography, using the increased interest in chorographic description from the closing decades of the sixteenth century as a point of entry into a discussion of Spenser's Faerie Queene and Drayton's Poly-Olbion. His contrasting of these two texts is particularly interesting, in that he suggests that Spenser's text "persistently invites the reader to engage actively in the dynamic performance of space, while Poly-Olbion unfolds its national scenario against the secure background of a fixed and intransigent geographical order" (150). Klein's tripartite structure serves him least well in this segment, in that the Irish chapter of this section of the book seemed to me the least convincing. It begins with a discussion of Luke Gernon's 1620 Discourse of Ireland, which famously feminises the island and offers a frank fantasy of colonial rape. In a sense, however, Gernon's text is so unashamedly explicit in its intent that it leave little enough for the scholarly commentator to explicate. From here, Klein moves into a general discussion of tropes of savagery (most notably cannibalism) and the book loses some of the clear focus which is characteristic of the text at its most engaging and impressive.

  5. Maps and the Writing of Space is copiously illustrated and the illustrations are well-chosen. The book offers a mixture of 8 figures and 16 plates. While the figures have reproduced well, the plates are, in a number of cases, less successful. This is, in a sense, only to be expected, since the size is so constrained and the original colours are reduced to black and white. At times, however, the quality of the plates hampers the arguments which Klein seeks to put forward. In chapter 6, he makes an interesting series of points concerning three figures who "visibly guard the terrain" (118) of gaelic Ulster in John Goghe's 1567 map of Ireland. The quality of the reproduction of this map is quite poor, however, and so attempting to find these figures in plate 10 practically reduces the reader to a curious scholarly version of "Where's Waldo?". While, in general, Klein's analyses of the maps included in the text are convincing and provocative, in one case his arguments seemed to me unconvincing. He attempts to re-read the curious figures at the bottom corners of Laurence Nowell's General Description of England and Ireland (a cartographer assailed by a baying hound and a seated figure) in an Anglo-Irish context:

    Representing the two halves of an unequal political union between a superior England on the right and a dejected Ireland on the left, the respective attitudes are indicative of the political relationship between Britain's 'core region' and its most recalcitrant outlying province, the stubbornly rebellious Ireland. In so far as both figures assume classic postures of melancholy, they amplify the English-Irish duality into a double state of dejection; but it is the depressed stance of the cartographer, attacked by the bane of surveyors, a baying hound, which condenses into one image the English frustration with the canine Irish, perceived as savage and barbaric, over whose territory the seditious contents of Pandora's box hold sway at will. (115-116)

    An interesting way of interpreting the marginal figures, to be sure, but it is hard to feel that it is wholly supported by the evidence produced.

  6. This is, however, a rich and deeply engaging book - a genuine work of interdisciplinary scholarship from which everyone interested in early modern culture, politics, literature, and, indeed, science, will have much to learn.

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2003-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS)