In the introduction to Lost in the City, his book of linked short stories, Edward P. Jones writes that when he was a student at Holy Cross College, his fellow students displayed “an inordinate amount of ignorance” about “Washington, D.C., the capital of what [he] came to call the ‘unfree world'” (xiv). When Jones read James Joyce’s Dulbliners, he “admired Joyce’s bold and evident love of his Dublin people,” and Joyce’s text made him “want to follow Joyce’s example and do the same for Washington and its real people” (xiv-xv).
The geography of James Joyce’s Dublin has been traced lovingly and repeatedly: in academic treatments of Joyce’s writings, on souvenir maps available throughout the city and, more recently, in digital projects helping that help readers negotiate the terrain of a city from which they are often distant in geography and always distant in time. The Unfree World is, in some ways, our effort to give Jones’s Washington the scholarly attention that Joyce’s Dublin has received in such abundance. We might even take as our metaphorical starting point The Dubliner, a pub founded in 1974 near Washington’s Union Station, bringing to life the troubled resonances of “Union” in Joyce’s Ireland and Jones’s America alike.
As tempting as the Joycean connections are, however, we want this project to have a critical self-reflection lacking in the Dublin souvenir maps. Our thinking about geocriticism–meaning simply that we have focused our thinking of Lost in the City on issues that involve geographic space–has led us not into striving for mastery of the complex geographies of Jones’s Washington but rather to understand the limits and complexities of our approach.
As the title of Lost in the City suggests, Jones’s characters themselves struggle to understand the geography of the Washington in which they live, and they often use maps to express that difficulty. In “A New Man,” Jones writes, “Rita tacked up a giant map of Washington, on which she noted where she and others had searched [for her missing daughter]. ‘I didn’t know the city was this big,’ she said the day she put it up, her fingertips touching the neighborhoods, that she had never heard of or heard of only in passing–foreign lands she thought she would never set eyes on. Petworth. Anacostia. Lincoln Park” (211). And in “A Butterfly on F Street,” Mildred’s son protests that he doesn’t “know one thing about Anacostia,” so Mildred commands, “Buy a map. Get a map.” But mapping itself is not a full response to these stories, for the characters or for us.
Our efforts at literal and metaphorical mapping are contained in the rest of this site. In the Places and About pages, we explain further our approach to mapping and geography in the context of our course. The heart of the site lies in the four sections where students researched specific areas of connection between Jones’s stories and their setting in Washington: Education, Transportation, Health, and Home in the City.