Mapping England

Collected Items 16.09.12

My daily commute from South London to Paddington has its advantages. The very best of these is an hour-and-a-half every weekday of (relatively) undisrupted reading time. Lately, I have come to the end of what I have come to think of as Hilary Mantel’s wonderful lump of Tudor brick, Wolf Hall. As with any exceptional novel, the end comes with a small amount of grief-at-passing. So here, by way of a eulogy, is a beautiful quote from the final pages. It is especially apt as, in recent days, my proper job has involved a fair bit of cartography.

 There are maps, of a kind; castles stud their fields, their battlements prettily inked, their chases and parks marked by lines of bushy trees, with drawings of harts and bristling boar. It is no wonder Gregory mistook Northumbria for the Indies, for these maps are deficient in all practical respects; they do not, for example, tell you which way is north, it would be useful to know where the bridges are, and to have a note of the distance between them. It would be useful to know how far you are from the sea. But the trouble is, maps are always last year’s. England is always remaking herself, her cliffs eroding, her sandbanks drifting, springs bubbling up in dead ground. They regroup themselves while we sleep, the landscapes through which we move, and even the histories that trail us; the faces of the dead fade into other faces, as a spine of hills into the mist.

Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate: London, 2010) p. 648-49.

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