Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A Woman in the Polar Night

In his introduction to A Woman in the Polar Night, Lawrence Millman notes that is author, Christiane Ritter, had no interest in any of the "Arctic Grails" that drove most northern explorers -- the northwest passage, the pole, or the discovery and naming of some unknown spot. And yet, he notes, she could appreciate the Arctic in ways that those "great explorers," with their "Grail-oriented blinders," could not. Hers was an exploration, not of lands to be named or passages to be navigated, but of the inner nature of life and consciousness in a world in which everything that she -- along with most people of her class and background -- took for granted as much as the air they breathed. It's an exercise in long subtraction: the subtraction, at first, of creature-comforts and little things, then of greater ones, such as predictable food, predictable weather, or the ability to just go get another something when something important breaks or is lost, and at last the subtraction of human company itself.

It's notable that her journey begins in relative luxury, aboard a German cruise-ship with its deck-chairs, its "illuminated coffee lounge," and snug, comfortable beds -- just the sort of cruise ship that presently navigates these regions, though now they are even larger and more luxurious. It's a perfect contrast to the life that awaits her in the little hut with its felt roof, ancient broken stove, and puttied-shut windows. Her sojourn begins in endless day, continues through seemingly endless night, and becomes for her an almost cosmic sort of rebirth, a witnessing of life's great circuit that forever changes her perspective on civilization. Indeed, as Millman notes, not long after her return home, after her family estate catches fire and burns to the ground, Christiane is not perturbed or mournful, but secretly grateful. For the fire had done what ice did: reduced her life to its essentials. 

1 comment:

  1. What I found most interesting about "Woman in the Polar Night" is how her gender had it's own role in the way her 'adventure' played out. One of the moments that was most striking in the novel was when she requested to be dropped off and the captain refused until hearing about her husband. Without a man she wouldn't have been trusted or considered competent to take care of her self. Throughout the novel we also get the general idea that the men have gendered expectations of her (to cook, clean, wait around, do 'womanly' things), even though she get to go on her own little adventures. Her perspective and journey of exploring nature and the self was interesting and a nice change in comparison to the explorations of the men we've read about this semester.