First published from August to October, 1874
Hesperus Press, pb, 103 p.
Exchanging vows of love with sailor Frank Aldersley the night before his departure on an Arctic expedition, Clara Burnham is haunted by the memory of Richard Wardour, and his mistaken belief that they will one day marry. With her gift of ‘Second Sight’, Clara foresees terrible tragedy ahead and is racked by guilt. Allied to different ships, the two men at first have no cause to meet – until disaster strikes and they find themselves united in a battle for survival. It cannot be long before they discover the nature of their rivalry, and the hot-tempered Wardour must choose how to take his revenge.I had a feeling I was going to enjoy this story right from the start, as I couldn’t help but smile at the short opening paragraph.
Based on the doomed 1845 expedition to the Arctic, and originally performed as a play starring both Collins and Dickens, The Frozen Deep is a dramatic tale of vengeance and self-sacrifice which went on to inspire the character of Sydney Carton in Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. [From the front book flap]
The date is between twenty and thirty years ago. The place is an English seaport. The time is night. And the business of the moment is – dancing.It sets a nice scene, don’t you agree? I’ve been in the mood for a classic or two lately (I’m also in the middle of re-reading a Jane Austen) so this was a good fit, and it was good to finally read something else by Collins as it has been a few years since I read The Woman in White.
I have to admit that I think this was the first time I’ve ever read anything about that “doomed expedition to the Arctic” so I really didn’t know much about it. However, reading this short fictional account inspired me do a little research. OK, this consisted mainly of reading up on it at Wikipedia and a couple of other websites, but it was enough to provide some details about what actually happened. In Collins’ tale, names and events have been significantly changed, and it has a considerably different outcome than the historical reality. But I can understand why it would have still been a topic of much interest when Collins wrote the story about 30 years after the actual expedition, and even still is today.
As always, it was also interesting just to spend a little time in the 19th century, observing how their lives were different from ours now, and just how long everything took. In this day and age of cell phones and easy internet connectivity and even satellite phones, it’s hard to imagine waiting years for news!
Mrs Crayford rises, and puts down the volume that she has been reading. It is a record of explorations in the Arctic seas. The time has gone by when the two lonely women could take an interest in subjects not connected with their own anxieties. Now, when hope is fast failing them – now, when their last news of the Wanderer and the Sea-mew is news that is more than two years old – they can read of nothing, they can think of nothing, but dangers and discoveries, losses and rescues in the terrible Polar Seas.As the story is told in just around 100 pages, there’s not a lot of room for detail so we don’t get to know the characters as well as I would've liked. I especially would’ve liked more on Clara, and her ‘Second Sight’. The ending was also what I expected yet somehow I was still kept wondering for sure right up to the last. Ultimately, it can’t compare to the depth and twisty-ness of The Woman in White, but it was an enjoyable read all the same. Collins is definitely a master storyteller. I’ve got a copy of The Moonstone on my stack that I’m looking forward to reading and hope to get to before too long.
Read The Frozen Deep online
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My Rating: 3.5/5
(#56 for 2009)
I read this as part of The Classics Circuit Wilkie Collins tour which started this week and runs to December 10th. Visit the site for more information or see the full list of all Wilkie Collins tour stops.
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