Research Blog Antarctica #45

Non-fiction: Jennie Darlington & Jane McIlvaine: My Antarctic Honeymoon (Doubleday, 1956)

An excellent Antarctica book. A hidden classic, even. Had to hunt for it through a rare book website, and got a really nice first edition. It’s Jennie Darlington’s autobiographical account of how she ended up on Finn Ronne’s 1946-1948 expedition to map and explore the Weddell Sea coastline. She became one of the two first women to overwinter on the continent, quite a feat considering that she ended up on the expedition by accident. She also got pregnant there, which may have been another first.

At the time pf the expedition she’d just been married to her husband Harry, who was the third-in-command on Ronne’s expedition, and who managed to become of of the many, many people who couldn’t get along with Ronne to such a degree that he was relieved of his duties. From a modern perspective, the book has a lot of, shall we say, old-fashioned stuff about women and marriage, but once you get past that, its very observant, highly readable, and very human. Darlington has the sensibilities of a post-war American housewife, and it saves her from the usual Polar machismo.

Antarctica, to me, is female. Fickle, changeable, unpredictable, her baseness disguised by a white make-up of pristine purity. Suddenly she strips off her gloves, rolls up her sleeves and, with the ferocity of a wolf, springs at your throat. The deceptive white mask becomes a shrieking, demoniacal darkness, a savage reiteration of her sheathed power, lest man let down his guard and forget.

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