The men of Captain Scott's Polar Party were heroes of their age, enduring tremendous hardships to further the reputation of the Empire they served by reaching the South Pole. But they were also husbands, fathers, sons and brothers.
For the first time, the story of the race for the South Pole is told from the perspective of the women whose lives would be forever changed by it, five women who offer a window into a lost age and a revealing insight into the thoughts and feelings of the five heroes.
Kathleen Scott, the fierce young wife of the expedition leader, campaigned relentlessly for Scott's reputation, but did her ambition for glory drive her husband to take unnecessary risks? Oriana Wilson, a true help-mate and partner to the expedition's doctor, was a scientific mind in her own right and understood more than most what the men faced in Antarctica. Emily Bowers was a fervent proponent of Empire, having spent much of her life as a missionary teacher in the colonies. The indomitable Caroline Oates was the very picture of decorum and everything an Edwardian woman aspired to be, but she refused all invitations to celebrate her son Laurie's noble sacrifice. Lois Evans led a harder life than the other women, constantly on the edge of poverty and forced to endure the media's classist assertions that her husband Taff, the sole 'Jack Tar' in a band of officers, must have been responsible for the party's downfall. Her story, brought to light through new archival research, is shared here for the first time.
In a gripping and remarkable feat of historical reconstruction, Katherine MacInnes vividly depicts the lives, loves and losses of five women shaped by the unrelenting culture of Empire and forced into the public eye by tragedy. It also reveals the five heroes, not as the caricatures of legend, but as the real people they were.
Katherine MacInnes was shortlisted for the Biographer's Prize for an early proposal for Snow Widows over a decade ago. Since then she has continued to research the five women, both in the UK and in New Zealand, the gateway to Antarctic exploration. While bringing up her family, she has written four children's books, three plays and graduated with a Master's degree from Oxford University. Formerly an arts journalist and commissioning editor, Katherine has written features for The Lady, Country Life, The Times, Telegraph and in New Zealand, The Press. She has reviewed polar literature for the Times Literary Supplement and given talks on the invisible women behind the golden age of polar exploration at the Royal Geographic Society, at history and literary festivals and on local BBC radio. She is a member of the Society of Authors and the Biographers' Club.
"A captivating, heartrending, emotionally exhausting, beautifully crafted bloody brilliant book"
– Ben Tarring
"[MacInness] handles the whole thing with masterly skill [...] takes us to the heart of the hope, love, anguish and grief"
– The Times
"'I am reading it with fascination. It's magnificent. [Katherine MacInnes has] an almost supernatural ability to conjure up the past."
– Sue Limb, co-author of Captain Oates: Soldier and Explorer
"'The story of the five women waiting at home for Captain Scott and his doomed polar party is naturally occluded in tragedy. In this engaging book Katherine MacInnes for the first time presents them – two mothers at the outset, and three wives – as distinct individuals, separated one from the other by class, education, faith and temperament [...] An elegant, densely textured work, like a tapestry [...] A welcome contribution to polar studies."
– Sarah Wheeler, Spectator
"A breathless parallel narrative, flipping from the Antarctic horrors to the worried women keeping calm and carrying on [...] Mesmerising [...] Movingly done"
– Kate Green, Country Life
"[MacInnes] relies [...] deftly on photographs, from which she derives many of her descriptions of precise moments. It is fascinating and impressive to have her prose bring these images to life, as she plausibly recaptures the moments they depict [...] She show[s] that history in the making is not only experienced but felt, poignantly and painfully."
– Stephanie Barczewski, TLS
"Combining historical research, including access to family archives, with a vivid storytelling style, author Katherine MacInnes presents [...] the public and private fallout of the tragedy, which reveals much about society at the time. In doing so she presents a fresh and fascinating perspective on a wellworn story, as well as a window onto a lost world."
– This England magazine
"A truly gripping, original and refreshing angle on the history of polar exploration"
– The Bay magazine
– Bute Museum
"[A] remarkable feat of historical reconstruction [...] Snow Widows offers a fresh perspective and a fascinating window onto a lost world [...] Fascinating and very readable biographical account by a writer whose passion for her subject shines through with every well written word."