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A Brit a Day [#720]

Today’s guest brit is author Sara Wheeler.  After I read Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s stunning account of the South Polar treks of 1912 in ‘The Worst Journey in the World,’  I wanted to ‘meet’ him you might say.  The only effective way to do that outside of his own words is in Sara Wheeler’s biography of him.

Wheeler recognizes that the quintessential element of British wit and prose is irony, and she uses it liberally.  Her Wikipedia entry sums it up pretty well–

“Sara Wheeler was brought up in Bristol and studied Classics and Modern Languages at Brasenose College. After writing about her travels on the Greek island of Euboea and in Chile, she was accepted by the US National Science Foundation as their first female writer-in-residence at the South Pole, and spent seven months in Antarctica. She successfully claimed the cost of a mandatory syphilis test against tax. In her resultant book Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica, she mentioned sleeping in the captain’s bunk in Scott’s Hut. Whilst in Antarctica she read The Worst Journey in the World, an account of the Terra Nova Expedition, and she later wrote a biography of its author Apsley Cherry-Garrard“.

She appreciates Cherry’s sophistication and notes how difficult it must have been for him to communicate with those whose sense of irony was not as developed as his own.  Reading ‘Cherry ‘ rounds out the obsession that started when I picked up Beryl Bainbridge’s ‘The Birthday Boys.’  The one book I’ve had a hard time coming to:  Captain Scott’s own journal.  The centennial of his death is this week, March 29.  We know that date because Scott wrote in his log until he could no longer hold the pen. I’ve feared reading its last words and knowing what they mean–the tragic nothingness that follows.  But through Wheeler’s book, you see that the real pain is for the survivor.

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beryl bainbridge brit a day captain titus oates literature lives of others my life robert falcon scott texts I would die to be the author of

A Brit a Day [#692]

I just finished reading Beryl Bainbridge’s novel, The Birthday Boys, an account of Robert Falcon Scott’s tragic march to the South Pole told in turns from the point of view of the five men who died there.  Here is an excerpt from the final section, the words of Captain Titus Oates as Bainbridge imagines them–

And of course that black flag told them that Roald Amundsen and his party of Norwegian explorers had beaten them to the Pole.

The photo of Scott in his Antarctic expedition hut can be opened in another window and examined for incredible detail.  My god, you can almost smell the penguins!

By the by, Beryl Bainbridge was an incredibly talented but unsung author.  She died last year at only 77 of cancer.  Send up some love to her spirit some time by reading one of her books, this one for example, or perhaps An Awfully Big Adventure.