[Note 11, Chapter two, in print version] The cultural expectations against which a crisis or disaster is perceived may of course provide a dominant interpretation. For example, the disastrous end of Sir John Franklin's 1845 expedition to the Arctic, which at its onset contemporaries in Britain and Europe regarded as a test case in man's quest to prevail over nature, brought with it an obvious conclusion about human heroism, power, and place in the universe. As Chauncey C. Loomis, "The Arctic Sublime" in Nature and the Victorian Imagination (1977) Berkeley and Los Angeles: U. C. Knoepflmacher and G. B. Tennyson, 107, 110, has written:

There was a feeling that if Franklin went out into the Arctic and mastered it, man would somehow be enlarged in mind and soul. Instead, the Arctic had swallowed him, obliterated him. . . . In their imaginations, the British people, and other peoples as well, had voyaged with Franklin "toward no earthly pole".... [Their imagined Arctic] was an environment within which a cosmic romance could be acted out: man facing the great forces of Nature and surviving if not prevailing over them. The fate of the Franklin expedition soured the romance and at least partly subverted the image of the Arctic sublime. It was one thing to image the expedition disappearing into the Arctic forever: that would have been terrible, but in a way sublime. It was another to know that the men of the expedition had died slowly in an agony of scurvy and starvation. Bleeding gums, running sores, and constricted bowels are not sublime.

None the less, no matter how much the fate of the expedition into the Arctic wastes had shocked contemporary optimism, initial cultural expectations did not indicate whether one should take the sad outcome as an instance of divine punishment on human presumption or simply as one of man's basic isolation and helplessness.

Not in print edition

Russell A. Potter, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of English, Rhode Island College [rpklc@URIACC.URI.EDU], whose "recent research has involved Panoramas and Dioramas representing the Arctic regions (of which there were nearly two dozen in the nineteenth century)," has kindly written suggesting two valuable sites:

1. The Fate of Franklin, his site based at Rhode Island College, which also contains his essay, "Sir John Franklin: His Life and Afterlife."

2. His general history of panoramas as a popular art form his his review essay of Stephan Oetterman's The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium on the UCLA Art Department's iconsomania site, which "includes a panel from Barker's Panorama of London, as well as scenes from other Continental panoramas and a scarce daguerreotype of a man standing in front of a moving Panorama of the Arctic, circa 1855 (also linked from my Franklin page)."

Related Materials

Back to the text

Table of Contents Victorian Web Homepage Literary Technique

Last modified 28 December 2004