Oriana F. Wilson, By Katherine MacInnes. ISBN: 9780750991537. Published: 07-10-2019
Another of my recent purchases from PostScript Books, and a very readable one it is too. I had never heard of the lady, but as a boy there were many tales about the explorers who tackled the Antarctic, who tried and failed, the most famous of all, I suppose, being Captain Scott, whose son Peter was so much in evidence on TV in the early days in connection with wild life, especially, birds and the wild life sanctuary he had at Slimbridge.
The best summary I can give is from the publisher’s own blurb . . .
“Captain Scott’s expedition to the Antarctic, the most famous story of exploration in the world, played out on the great ice stage in the south. Oriana Wilson, wife of Scott’s best friend and fellow explorer Dr Edward Wilson, was watching from the wings. She is the missing link between many of the notable polar names of the time and was allowed into a man’s world at a time when the British suffragettes were marching. Oriana is the lens through which their secrets are revealed. What really happened both in the Antarctic and at home? Why did Scott’s Terra Nova expedition nearly end in mutiny before it had even begun? Were the explorers’ diaries as ‘heroic’ as they appeared to be? Only Oriana can tell. She began as a dutiful housewife but emerged as a scientist and collector in her own right, and was the first white woman to venture into the jungles of Darwin, Australia. Edward Wilson named Oriana Ridge, a little-known piece of Antarctica, after her on their tenth wedding anniversary. Oriana Wilson has been quiet for a century, but this biography gives her a voice and provides a unique insight into the early twentieth century through her clear, blue ‘iceberg eyes’.”
This somewhat over eggs the pudding, as one might expect from a blurb, but puts you on the right track. In fact the book is not solely about Scott, but is mainly about her husband Ted Wilson who died with Scott in that tent on the way back from the pole. It covers their meeting and marriage and all the many, many, activities in which they were involved together or apart to get these expeditions of the ground, and what the participants specialised in, what they though they were doing. The sad thing is that they were only married for a comparatively short time – nearly 11 years – and that so much of that time they were apart as her husband was away organising things or actually on some trip or other. And, of course, when he died on the return from the pole, t was some time before the rescue operation found their bodies and the world knew what had happened.
As always, these biographical studies tell you so much about the world as it was, about society and the way it functioned, the differences between then and now, but also the fact that people is all ages are really much the same, react in the same way to evens, do the same things.