Calculated Terror

The commercial, scientific, and terrifying were often intermixed in accounts of Arctic exploration.

Illustration: R. K. Greville, "Representation of the Ship Esk of Whitby, Damaged by Ice and Almost Full of Water," from William Scoresby, An Account of the Arctic Regions, with a History and Description of the Northern Whale-Fishery, Volume 1 (Edinburgh: Archibald Constable and Co., 1820) (https://archive.org/details/accountofarcticr01scor/page/n7).

​The commercial, scientific, and terrifying were often intermixed in accounts of arctic exploration, such as William Scoresby’s two-volume Account of the Arctic Regions, with a History and Description of the Northern Whale-Fishery.

Like many such writers, Scoresby includes tables with data and of every kind, but he recognizes that the power and violence of the ice is equally a source of overwhelming terror. His articulation of this dynamic suggests how developed—"calculated," even, like the game that generated Frankenstein itself—the aesthetics of arctic terror had become even by 1820: "The view of those stupendous effects in safety, exhibits a picture sublimely grand; but where there is danger of being overwhelmed, terror and dismay must be the predominant feelings" (250; 247-248). This management is manifest in the image above, which represents an accident that ended Scoresby's 1816 expedition; the horrors of shipwreck amidst a vast frozen waste are offset by the alacrity and industry of the crew, whose tents and smoke stretch across the polar horizon.