Monday, 7 June 2010

15th entry - Englishmen on Ice - The Voyage of the Fox - Lady Franklin Expects

I'm looking now at the first edition of this book, The Voyage of the Fox, whose provenance I described in my previous posts -

You can see it here, and Lord, it is a beautiful thing! Published by John Murray III in the same month as Darwin's Origin of Species...(there's an advert for this in the back)...this is Captain McClintock's narrative of not only his own voyage, with a ship bought and refitted by Lady Franklin, but of her husband John Franklin's redemption...his redemption from failure and loss, and from the evidence of cannibalism collected by Dr John Rae.

Let's have a look at McLintock's instructions, as lovingly reproduced in the book, from his employer: Lady Franklin herself...

"Aberdeen June 29th 1857

My Dear Captain McClintock
You have kindly invited me to give you "Instructions" but I cannot bring myself to feel that it would be right in me in any way to influence your judgment in the conduct of your noble undertaking; and indeed I have no temptation to do so, since it appears to me that our views are almost identical...I am sure you know that the rescue of any possible survivor of the Erebus and Terror would be to me, as it would be to you, the noblest result of our in importance is the recovery of the unspeakably precious documents of the expedition, public and private, and the personal relics of my dear husband and his companions.

And lastly, I trust it may be in your power to confirm, directly or indirectly, the claims of my husband's expedition to the earliest discovery of the passage"

To which one immediately responds, "What claims? Whose claims?" There are no survivors, no written records have been found.

Franklin's "claim" to be the discoverer of the North West Passage is exclusively an emotional one. And to substantiate that claim, Lady Franklin has to follow the despised Dr Rae's directions, (the detestable Dr Rae, who brought back Inuit reports of mass death and cannibalism...)
Lady Franklin is telling McClintock where to look...King William Island, where she continues...

"if Dr Rae's report be true (and the govt of our country has accepted and rewarded it as such) these martyrs in a noble cause achieved their at their last extremity, after five long years of labour and suffering, if not at an earlier period."

I savour the irony of this. The very purpose of this new voyage is to rubbish Rae's account of cannibalism, but to launch the Fox at all, she needs to accept the rest of Rae's information as accurate. I think, in fact, she knew that it was all true. As a character, she gets better and better.

(see blog entry 12 and 13 in this Englishmen on Ice series for the story of Rae's discoveries and reactions to them.)

Lady Franklin is sending McLintock out there to confirm what she knows in her heart to be true: that her husband succeeded, that he died a successful hero. No other outcome is acceptable...especially since he'd probably never have gone back out there aged 59 if she hadn't got him the gig... (again, see previous posts, especially part 9..."It's not my fault!" ).

It also tells me, from the dramatist's point of view...that if she knew ALL of Rae's narrative to have been accurate...she therefore had to make all the greater effort to succeed, suppress and replace it with the story of heroism that England, and her super-ego, required...

This book, then, is a propaganda excercise of retrospective justification, and a quite brilliantly executed one too.

Next time, I get past the prologue, and discuss what McClintock actually FOUND...

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