Sunday, 28 January 2007

The Frozen Deep

Another book from Hesperus Press, an unashamed wallow in Victorian melodrama. The Frozen Deep was originally written in 1856 as a play. It was inspired by the true story of Sir John Franklin's ill-fated expedition of 1845 to chart the final, unknown parts of the Northwest Passage. Traces of the expedition, and some records, were subsequently found, indicating that the two ships had become ice-locked and the entire crew eventually perished, some from starvation, others being frozen to death when they abandoned the ship and attempted to escape overland on sledges.

Wilkie Collins' tale begins as a love story set in a seaport on the night before an Arctic expedition is due to sail. By a terrible mis-chance, rivals for the hand of a 'young girl, pale and delicate', sail on the same expedition and their rivalry is eventually, tragically, played out in the icy wastes of the Arctic and on the shores of Newfoundland. What adds a distinctly gothic atmosphere to the narrative is the fact that the heroine is reputed to have 'second sight', so is constantly racked by guilt and terror as she foresees the tragedy looming. There is, in appropriate Vistorian style, an uplifting moral element to the tale, when the deadly rivals are united in a desperate fight for survival, one of them making the final sacrifice for the sake of the heroine.

The play was first performed in 1857, with Dickens and Collins playing the leading roles. Collins re-worked it into a novella in 1874, for his reading tour of America.


billo said...

Celia, have you read Jonathan Raban's book on the sea?

Celia said...

No. What's the title?

I read his novel, Waxwings, recently. Very impressive.

billo said...

Passage to Juneau (?), I think. Haven't read it but it is floating around somewhere in the house. I like some of his journalism though. Bad news: Google have got a deal to make millions of books available on-line.