Mapping Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl

Shelley Jackson’s hypertext, Patchwork Girl, begins with a series of, not so much headings, but hyperlinks: ‘a graveyard, a journal, a quilt, a story, & broken accents’.[1] To click on each hyperlink is to venture into a different zone of the story; I hesitate to say chapter; that would imply some kind of linear progression to this story. A hypertext is primarily displayed through electronic media and appears as a ‘complex textual webwork[] of multilinear narrative[s]’, composed out of ‘architecture, mapping, design, and navigational procedures’.[2] In the first instance we might therefore call Patchwork Girl an architecture; a structure that is blueprinted and navigated and is, for all intents and purposes, a map. Peter Turchi argues that for some time ‘mapmakers have not started at the beginning. Rather, they have started with other maps’[3] and thus we enter into a space that has not begun its construction at a beginning; and is therefore not a linear construct, but in fact spatial. The complex webwork within which Patchwork Girl makes its appearance does not begin with Jackson’s hypertext, but with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and therefore not at the beginning. Further meta-textual links back to earlier texts and sources are made even more apparent during ‘a quilt’ which is built up out of quotes from earlier texts, ‘pieced together in an intuitive crazy-quilt style’ (Jackson). At the very basis of its construction it is clear that, as mapmaker, Jackson has built upon earlier texts… she has, as Turchi says, ‘started with other maps’.[4]

The architectural map remains a significant concept when considering the text in and of itself, as the reader/explorer must negotiate the spaces they are presented with, and actively interact and respond to them. The map, for all its supposed intent of leading the explorer, is not without its shortfalls. Eric Bulson warns that maps ‘are built around selections, omissions, classifications, and hierarchies’[5] and indeed this proves to be true with the hypertext, a medium which lets us enter each space with only a click of a mouse. Jackson herself asserts that ‘in an electronic space, I feel half-blind, as if the entire text is within reach, but… I can see only the part most immediately before me’ (Jackson). Selections and omissions are unavoidable in any map, but particularly within an architectural space that applies blinkers to the reader; as one lexia (a text box) is opened, a threshold, an opportunity; the previous closes; only one space can be observed at any one time. The exception to this rule is the hyperlinks that connect each lexica… each space. Just as we are presented with an initial list of spaces available to us in the title page, this list format persists as we set off on our virtual journey. If you enter the ‘history’ tab in Patchwork Girl the reader/explorer can track the path they have taken and the mapped space that they have thus far constructed (although they still cannot see more than one step in front of them at any one time). The electronic space is primarily an interactive space and the process of mapping this space is dictated by the responses of the reader and the click of the computer mouse. Interestingly, one cannot just simply view the path that they have taken, they can actively step backwards in metaphorical leaps and bounds… the reader/explorer is granted more freedom along the path that they have already travelled, able to skip lexica/spaces and jump back to a chosen spot. However, the reader can also choose to become an amnesiac; by clearing the ‘history’ tab the reader can no longer back track… they can only go forward.

These spaces, mapped and layered, shadowed, iterated and spectral, appear to us as a palimpsest, a space that is ‘created by a process of layering – of erasure and superimposition’.[6] This network of hyperlinks between spaces (as that is, ultimately what these lexica are within the explicitly and tellingly titled ‘Storyspace Map’ (Jackson) prove to build, supplement, and override other spaces within this electronic architecture and even further still through the text’s connections to earlier texts such as Frankenstein. There is an additional palimpsest that is made known within Patchwork Girl: the method of construction. We have discovered the architectural space and the electronic platform, but this story space is also constructed out of a pen, a needle, and a body. Within the same lexica (‘Sight’), the reader/explorer may take two different directions that, layered, appear palimpsestuous as, both ‘written’ or ‘sewn’, the creature is constructed: ‘I had made her’ / ‘I had sewn her’ (Jackson)… I constructed her.  The similar speech patterns used between these two separate lexica, both mapped from the same point and dealing with the construction of the monster, enters into a palimpsestuous space through not just the map itself, but the very means and purpose of the maps construction. And at its core: ‘her’… an image at the centre of a mapped, textual space… a body of writing/ a writing on the body for, as Jackson says: ‘You could say that all bodies are written bodies, all lives pieces of writing’ (Jackson).

[1] Shelley Jackson, Patchwork Girl; or, A Modern Monster (Watertown: Eastgate Systems, 1995)

[2] Robert Coover, Literary Hypertext: The Passing of the Golden Age (29 Oct. 1999) <http://nickm.com/vox/golden_age.html> [accessed 12 Aug. 2014]

[3] Peter Turchi, Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer (San Antonio, Texas: Trinity University Press, 2004), p.220

[4] Ibid

[5] Eric Bulson, Novels, Maps, Modernity: The Spatial Imagination, 1850-2000 (New York and London: Routledge, 2006), p.41

[6] Sarah Dillon, The Palimpsest: Literature, Criticism, Theory (London and New York: Continuum, 2007), p.12

About Rachel Fox

I am currently a PhD candidate at Lancaster University, having completed a BA in English Literature and an MA in Contemporary Literary Studies. My provisional thesis title is: Voicing and Visualising Identity: The Discursive Figure of ‘Woman’ in Contemporary Poetical and Polemical works of Literature arising from Western Asia
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