I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination

A fascinating study of the British flirtation with the Arctic and Antarctic in both intellectual and sociological terms, including its derogation (North Pole—Arsehole). Only the last chapter, dealing with Scott’s fatal expedition, covers an actual expedition, although there is a good bit on Lady Franklin’s attempts to find Franklin’s fate.

p. 15: Scott’s men had Jane Eyre in the Antarctic with them in 1910-13, as part of a useful cabinet library of classics donated by a sympathiser. It was not a favourite book. They were much more enthusiastic when they found, ‘encased in ice’ at a previous expedition’s hut, ‘an incomplete copy of Stanley Weyman’s My Lady Rotha: it was carefully thawed out and read by everybody, and the excitement was increased by the fact that the end of the book was missing’ (Cherry-Garrard).

Chapter on relics in the snow includes this passage from an article in Cornhill about relics of Franklin (p. 161): “There were also watches, chronometers, silver spoons, money, &c., besides a number of Bibles, prayer and other religious books; and although one of the Bibles was underlined in almost every verse, yet not a single writing was found to throw further light upon the history of the retreating parties.”

p. 263, re Tennyson going on Scott’s journey: “(Roland Huntford scouts evidence of morbidity everywhere. He even finds it ‘morbid’ that Wilson took along “In Memoriam’ for his nightly reading on the Discovery sledge journey, making Tennyson’s great poem of faith and doubt sound like a primer of gratuitous gloom. You wonder what bright, perky book Huntford thinks would have been appropriate.)”

p. 322-23: references to Book of Common Prayer and hymns.

p. 325: Scott’s party “have a running gag about future tourists on Ross Island admiring pyramids and obelisks left behind by the expedition. Wilson paints joke pictures on stone tablets, ‘Antarctic Archives’, showing red cartoon people sashaying hieratically across the snow in loincloths.”

p. 327, 4 June 1911, the Scott party in its hut: Oates re-opens his one book, Napier’s History of the Peninsula War. Scott brings his diary up to date for another day, seated at the plan-table by his bed, surrounded by pictures of Peter and Kathleen, behind the L-shaped partition that keeps him separate from the rest. Perhaps he searches out a quotation from Browning, or the library of polar voyages presented by Sir Albert Markham and Sir Lewis Beaumont….

See index for references to literary allusions to the ice: Coleridge, Shelley, Mary Shelley, Byron, Dickens and Collins, Melville, Jules Verne, and others.