Hopes and Fears

The transformation of hubris into horror, the danger of being immured in ice, and the abominations that might emerge from such a situation—had been imagined before.

Illustration (left):
William Henry Browne, "The Bivouac, Cape Seppings, Leopold Island," from Ten Coloured Views Taken During the Arctic Expedition of Her Majesty's Ships 'Enterprise' and 'Investigator' (London: Achermann and Co., 1850) (Google Books).

This illustration—a bivouac set up on Prince Leopold Island by one of the early search parties—demonstrates the sublimity and terror that has long been attached to the arctic landscape; the angle not only has the crew dwarfed by the sheer cliff, which seems almost to lean precariously over their tiny figures, but also allows the crag to extend imperceptibly into the fog-obscured distance, as if it knows no end.

Published in the wake of Sir John Franklin’s disastrous arctic expedition, the collection from which this illustration is taken taps into the intense emotions that the disappearance of Franklin and his crew generated—the “hopes and fears entertained by the millions of the habitable globe,” as the introduction to this timely volume put it (5). Though the perils of arctic exploration, and thus the imaginative power connected with the undertaking, were dramatized most memorably by this calamitous expedition and its aftermath, many elements of this atmosphere—the transformation of hubris into horror, the danger of being immured in ice, and the abominations that might emerge from such a situation—had been imagined before, not least poignantly in Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein.