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Scott of the Antarctic: The Conservation of a Story

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Murray, C (2006) Scott of the Antarctic: The Conservation of a Story. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

This thesis examines the present status and enduring significance of the story “Scott of the Antarctic.” It critically reviews the story’s century-long history of interpretation and, via literary analysis, considers its meaning for a contemporary audience. It argues that while Captain Robert Scott’s historic hut is being conserved as an icon of the heroic era of Antarctic exploration, the story which gives that hut its meaning is in a less satisfactory condition and is also in need of conservation. In keeping with the twofold nature of its subject—a story which is based on fact—the thesis acknowledges both historiographical and literary critical perspectives. In addition, it draws on a wide range of data: manuscript letters and journals, newspaper and magazine commentary, historical monographs, biographies, literary works and film. The thesis reviews recent scholarly commentary on Scott’s story and identifies a variety of shortcomings. These include the polarized nature of the discussion, heavy uncritical use of a single influential debunking biography and a concomitant neglect of earlier sources. A detailed analytical survey of the story’s interpretation, from its genesis to the present, highlights principal themes and the influence of intellectual fashions. Veneration of the central character has always been accompanied by criticism. But judgements of Scott’s last expedition necessarily lack full knowledge of the circumstances, and many exhibit partisanship, faulty reasoning and the bias of hindsight. Two aspects of the story that have remained surprisingly unexamined are critiqued: the saintly reputation of Lawrence Oates, and the methods and accounts of the other contender for the South Pole, Roald Amundsen. Despite some recent favourable appraisals of Scott, evidence is presented that the character assassination that began in the late 1970s persists today. The final part of the thesis directs attention away from judicial and historical debates, and seeks the story’s deeper resonances through literary analysis. Although the quality of Scott’s writing and the tragic nature of his story are often mentioned, they have previously received scant critical attention. Aspects of the explorer’s literary skill are examined, and comparisons explored between his story and Greek tragedy as described in Aristotle’s Poetics. The discussion locates a large part of the transhistorical meaning of “Scott of the Antarctic” in its tragic qualities, and concludes by considering how the story’s potential has been exploited in imaginative renderings.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Antarctica, Explorers, Biography, Literary Criticism, Historiography
Date Deposited: 04 Dec 2007 22:08
Last Modified: 18 Nov 2014 03:25
URI: http://eprints.utas.edu.au/id/eprint/2627
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