Fascinating and disturbing traits

“The one member of the expedition who shows us such inner disturbance is Scott.”


“One of the most fascinating and disturbing traits in the British party is their clinging circumspection in such extreme circumstances. This is not to say that several men were not moved by the wilderness, the desolation and the natural evidence of human insignificance. Still the hut was a club; not a London club perhaps, but one that would have fitted any military establishment where club rules held. Of these rules, none was as profound, heartening or disappointing as the unwritten code that institutional hierarchy freed men from deeper philosophical thoughts on their station in life. But perhaps this sounds censorious or carping. Why should men not be jolly, decent and reasonable with one another near the South Pole? Of course they must be, but they might have been more, for surely life is not neatly wrapped up in these qualities? I have compared the Pole with the Moon, and there is another point to be added to that comparison. When Americans landed on the Moon, they sounded like the men they were: trained, eerily normal, undeviant, middle-class, healthy Americans. Therefore they were a little dull; and there was both charm and a deeper sense of valuable human ordinariness in their monotonous, cliché observations. But man has always nurtured the chance of poetry, and perhaps life on Earth now is so perilous that we needed to send a poet to the Moon. None went with Scott, but action itself, in the shape of disaster, made a sort of epic poem out of the journey and has ever afterwards left the question of going south in our imaginations.”

— David Thomson, Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen: Ambition and Tragedy in the Antarctic, p. 197.

About Ernest Shackleton

Polar Explorer. Leader of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914-1917.
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