Norris’s turn-of-the-century novel is loosely based on George Washington De Long’s U.S. North Polar expedition aboard the Jeannette (1879-81). It borrows freely from the locale (Wrangell Island and environs), the beset and crushed ship, the forced march on ice and pressure ridges, the heroic commander, the few survivors finally rescued. He adds the love interest, a strong-minded woman who resists the commander, succumbs, marries, and subtly convinces the hero that he is the one who must achieve the North Pole for the United States, knowing his safe return to be doubtful. He sails from New York in a new ship clearly modeled on Nansen’s Fram. Sources in Greely’s expedition and parallels with Robert E. Peary, who had already begun his North Pole quest and was in Northern Ellesmere land at the time of publication, are easily drawn.
This edition is the first separate publication of the novel, a year after its first appearance in combination with McTeague. See also Sherwood, John C. “Norris and the Jeannette,” PQ 37 (April 1958) 245-55 which says the sources for the novel are 1) a San Francisco acquaintance, Joseph Hodgson, who was part of a Jeannette search aboard the Rodgers; 2) De Long’s own account; and 3) Greely’s Three Years of Arctic Services. Similarities of the two stories include two cutters and a whaleboat; McClintock sledges and dogs; mock moons; starvation diets; amputation of limbs; and a series of parallel passages of De Long’s journal and Norris’ novel which shows fairly direct borrowing. But Norris’s Ward Bennett doesn’t have the personality of De Long—if he had there would be no novel.