Tropes of Ascesis and Ascent in Polar Expeditions from Verne to Amundsen

Lucia Claudia Fiorella


What we know of polar expeditions coincides with a number of fictional and non fictional representations using different registers: the iconic-technical-scientific, the auto/biographical, the literary/fictional. This paper draws a comparison between texts featuring contrasting views on the character and purposes of polar expeditions, their supposed usefulness and political consequences, and the certification procedures of scientific knowledge, reflecting broader concerns about the idea of progress, the man/environment relation, and international relations.

Fictional and non fictional texts are involved in this ideological confrontation in varying degrees of urgency. However, one cannot fail to note ongoing competition between the two, if only for the fact that the explorers’ accounts take pains to produce hallmarks of authenticity, veridicality and reliability in order not to be mixed up with fiction; on the other hand, fiction makes use of mimetic strategies achieving an amazing effect of realism.

The contributor offers a thematic reading of ascent-related tropes, focusing on Jules Verne’s Captain Hatteras (1866) as an example of critical optimism in contrast with the apocalyptic Purple Cloud (1901) by M.P. Shiel, as well as with R.E. Amundsen’s My Polar Flight (1925) – which features an optimism that has lost its Promethean overtones and comes closer to the elation for a sporting achievement.


polar expeditions; exploration narrative; Arctic; (Jules) Verne; (Matthew Phipps) Shiel

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