Takket være min kompis Thomas leser jeg den deilige essaysamlingen «Ex Libris – Confessions of a Common Reader» av Anne Fadiman. Det var nesten et sjokk å oppdage at Fadiman er amerikansk – hun har en underdrevet måte å skrive på som virker britisk, og tilstår også en forkjærlighet for de ikke-helt-vellykkede britiske oppdagerne Ross, Franklin, Nares, Shackleton, Oates, og Scott. Fadiman skriver:

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I should mention that all of the above explorers were unqualified failures. Not coincidentally, they were also all British. Americans admire success. Englishmen admie heroic failure. Given a choice – at least in my reading – I’m un-American enough to take quixotry over efficiency any day. I have always found the twilight-of-an-empire aspect of the Victorian age inexpressibly poignant, and no one could be more Victorian than the brave, earnest, optimistic, self-sacrificing, patriotic, honorable, high-minded, and utterly inept men who left their names all over the maps of the Arctic and Antartctic, yet failed to navigate the North-west Passage and lost the race to both Poles. Who but an Englishman, Lieutenant William Edward Parry, would have decided on reaching western Greenland, to wave a flag painted with an olive branch in order to ensure a peaceful first encounter with the polar Eskimos, who not only had never seen an olive branch but had never seen a tree? Who but an Englishman, the legendary Sir John Franklin, could have managed to die of starvation and scurvy along with all 129 of his men in a region of the Canadian Arctic whose game had supported an Eskimo colony for centuries? When the corpses of some of Franklin’s officers and crew were later discovered, miles from their ships, the men were found to have left behind their guns but to have lugged such essentials as monogrammed silver cutlery, a backgammon board, a cigar case, a clothes brush, a tin of button polish, and a copy of The Vicar of Wakefield. These men may have been incompetent bunglers, but, by God, they were gentlemen.

The successful explorers – Roald Amundsen, for example, the ultrapragmatic Norwegian who sledged 830 miles to the South Pole, killed and ate his sledge dogs on a strict schedule, and sledged miles back again without the slightest touch of frostbite, scurvy, or snow blindness, though one of his four companions did get a toothache – don’t hold much interest for me. «Of course they don’t», said George. «You’re a romantic. What’s romantic about a guy wanting to go somewhere and getting there?»

 

Publisert 17. juni 2009.

 

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