How did the Victorian fixation on the disastrous John Franklin expedition transform our understanding of the Northwest Passage and the Arctic? Today we still tend to see the Arctic and the Northwest Passage through nineteenth-century perspectives, which focused on the discoveries of individual explorers, their illustrated books, visual culture, imperial ambitions, and high-profile disasters. However, the farther back one looks, the more striking the differences appear in how Arctic exploration was envisioned. Writing Arctic Disaster uncovers a wide range of exploration cultures: from the manuscripts of secretive corporations like the Hudson's Bay Company, to the nationalist Admiralty and its innovative illustrated books, to the searches for and exhibits of disaster relics in the Victorian era. This innovative study reveals the dangerous afterlife of this Victorian conflation of exploration and disaster, in the geopolitical significance accruing around the 2014 discovery of Franklin's ship Erebus in the Northwest Passage.
Introduction: Northwest passages and exploration cultures
1. Arctic archives: Victorian relics, sites, collections
2. Exploration, publication, and inscription in the Age of Murray
3. Building upon disaster: adventurers in Hudson Bay
4. The famous mark of our discovery: social authorship and arctic inscriptions
5. Broken lands and lost relics: the Victorian rediscovery of the early modern Arctic
Epilogue: Franklin found and lost
Adriana Craciun is Presidential Chair at the University of California, Riverside. Her books include Fatal Women of Romanticism (Cambridge, 2003), British Women Writers and the French Revolution: Citizens of the World (2005), The Material Cultures of Enlightenment Arts and Sciences (with Simon Schaffer, forthcoming in 2015), and several collections and editions.
– Short-listed, 2016 Michelle Kendrick Memorial Book Prize, Society for Literature, Science and the Arts
"In Writing Arctic Disaster, Craciun seeks to historicize the Victorian obsession with the man, the expedition, and its various inscriptions, uncovering in the process the changing approaches to Arctic voyaging and authorship that shaped European understanding of the region from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. [...] Craciun's approach is richly interdisciplinary."
– Katherine Parker, Eighteenth Century Studies
"Every so often a book comes along which is strikingly original. Adriana Craciun's Writing Arctic Disaster is one of these. [...] In both seeing through the eyes of the past as if it were contemporary and in her exploration and analysis of subsequent cultural memory, Craciun's work stands out. This is one amazing book."
– Murray Pittock, The BARS Review
"[...] a rich store of ideas, evidence, and interpretation in how exploration cultures can be understood, as well as how, historically, methodologically, and theoretically, there is still much to grapple with and make sense of [...] In a little over 200 pages, readers get a clear view of how truly, in the sense of exploration cultures and the writings within them, it really was a case of, 'In the beginning was the Word' (John 1:1) – to take a line out of the King James Bible [...] [the text] compel[s] us, as readers, to move further away from past misreadings and missed readings and closer to more nuanced understandings of this complex past, as well as its continuing effects"
– Deborah Stiles, Journal of Canadian Studies
"Craciun's emphasis on Arctic exploration cultures is a welcome addition to contemporary, multidisciplinary scholarship on British Arctic exploration, which, as Craciun notes, is both rich and wide-ranging, encompassing archival periodical studies, theatrical events, popular novels, and – increasingly – indigenous perspectives as well."
– Stephanie L. Schatz, BSLS Reviews
"The importance of the book extends beyond the Arctic itself: pushing the boundaries of what literary criticism can contribute to the study of non-fictional prose and material culture, this book will appeal to readers with interests as diverse as print and manuscript culture, spatiality, exhibition culture, imperialist discourse, cultural memory, the materiality of texts, travel writing, geopolitics, authorship, and cultural geography. Writing Arctic Disaster is a landmark study deserving of the highest praise."
– Johannes Riquet, Prose Studies
"In a superb and subtle analysis of the relationship between print and material culture, Craciun reveals the ways in which the mania for collection and display of relics and debris from his last expedition cemented popular enthusiasm for the idea of the Arctic as a place of disaster."
– Penny Russell, Victorian Studies