Crushed like an Egg-Shell

The story of a ship immured in ice, the crew potentially doomed to starvation or hypothermia, appeared in a variety of forms in the decades surrounding Frankenstein.

​By 1818, O'Reilly could reflect on the awful "instances… wherein a ship so circumstanced has been crushed like an egg-shell" (89). On an expedition to Antarctica in 1915, the British explorer Ernest Shackelton's ship, the Endurance, was also famously crushed by ice, and its fate was captured in the photograph reproduced below.

For Shelley's novel, the most immediate reference would probably have been the account of John Phipps' abortive expedition, during which the two ships—the HMS Racehorse and the HMS Carcass—became trapped in the ice for more than ten days.

Phipps acknowledges the aesthetic features of the situation, but his emphasis on the "beautiful and picturesque" elements of the frozen landscape attest to an earlier sense of the arctic (60). There are some suggestive historical and stylistic connections between these two stories of arctic misadventure, but the perils of the pack ice combined with the ambition of explorers ensured that this became a persistent element of artic expeditions—the fate of both the Franklin and Shackleton expeditions, among a number of others.

John Cleveley Junior, "View of the Racehorse and Carcass August 7th: 1773," from Constantine John Phipps, A Voyage Towards the North Pole Undertaken By His Majesty's Command, 1773 (London: W. Bowyer and J. Nichols, 1774), 67. (Archive.org: https://archive.org/stream/voyagetowardsnor00mulg#page/n93).








Royal Geographic Society, "Endurance Final Sinking in Antarctica" (Wikimedia Commons).