Explorers and Expectations

Dear Charlie,

Sorry I haven’t written in a while. It was the Canada Day long weekend, so I spent it in a tent trailer in the woods, getting sunburned, eating fire-charred meat and donating huge quantities of blood to starving mosquitos. Oh, and getting through the first part of Pip’s adventures in Great Expectations.

franklin-sir-john-1403

Sir John Franklin

I did, however, finally finish volume one of your Miscellaneous Papers, which ended with a curious two part essay called “The Lost Voyagers,” which argued against the notion, put forward in an 1848 report by John Rae, that the victims of the unfortunate Franklin Expedition (which had disappeared in 1845) had resorted to cannibalism in their final hours. I admire your passion, Charlie – you’re clearly well-read on the subject of exploration and feel very strongly about your topic. But I find it interesting that you should feel the need to refute the findings at all. Maybe I’ve been completely desensitized, but cannibalism would seem to be a definite option when faced with starvation in the Canadian arctic, moral misgivings aside.

WilliamBraine

Hard to be moral when you’ve got some serious lead poisoning going on.
(Library and Archives Canada)

But you seem to put extraordinary emphasis on the moral and ethical ramifications of eating one’s comrades. By the end of the article you’ve basically argued that cannibalism isn’t a moral or upstanding thing to do, and because British Explorers, and Franklin’s men in particular, are the epitome of all British exploration-y virtues, and are therefore the most moral and upstanding people in the entire Universe, it’s totally obvious that Franklin’s men didn’t eat one another, and never even considered eating one another, and why are you taking the word of uncivilized “Esquimeaux” savages over this perfectly obvious line of reasoning, even if they are eye witnesses? Witnesses shmitnesses.

Of course, you do mention several documented instances of cannibalism (which you take a rather suspicious delight in recounting), but you’re quick to point out that in those cases the explorers were either a) not British or b) not British enough to prevent moral lapses in their non-British travelling companions. Britannia rules the waves, and England never, never, never shall be entrees. 😉

And with that great lesson in Victorian reasoning, I quite happily closed the book. All joking aside, Charlie, I wish you’d been around to see the remains of the Franklin Expedition unearthed – I’m sure you would have been as fascinated as I am to see the mummified bodies of the crew.

Finishing that article meant that I could bound into Pip’s life with joy and a certain amount of relief that there’s not an arctic explorer in sight. I’m now almost half way through Great Expectations, and even though it’s shorter than some of your other works, it doesn’t feel rushed or any less richly populated than your earlier novels. On the contrary, the pace is lively, and there’s so much that has happened already that I’m certain will have repercussions down the road – a couple of convicts who we keep being reminded of, the strange Orlick who loomed up out of nowhere, the creepy-ass Mrs. Havisham (mummified herself, in a manner of speaking) and her creepy minion Estella, Pip’s “mystery” benefactor, and the unreadable Jaggers.

This is all great stuff, Charlie, and I can’t wait to see how Pip handles his new circumstances and how all of these things are connected (because if I’ve learned anything from you, my friend, it’s that there’s only ever a degree or two of separation between seemingly unrelated characters).

And with that I shall bid you a fond farewell, and I shall try to get lost in Pip’s story, forget Franklin’s and ignore my many mosquito bites.

Affectionately yours,

Melissa

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