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I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination Hardcover – November 15, 1997

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 388 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Trade (November 15, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031217442X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312174422
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #649,558 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

What on earth could inspire so many men--so many British men, in particular--to brave unimaginable cold, hunger, fear, and physical danger in the planet's most remote and forbidding locales? In the case of many polar explorers, writes Francis Spufford, it was a complicated amalgam--English notions of sportsmanship, heroism, and honor mixed with romantic notions of the sublime. In his I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination, Spufford explores the British obsession with the world's coldest and bleakest climes, using their literary representation as his guide. Although his book gives some historical background about early polar explorations, Spufford concerns himself more with English perceptions of snow and ice than with the snow and ice itself. He considers the writing of Byron, Coleridge, Tennyson, Melville, Mary Shelley, and others, as well as that of the polar explorers themselves, expertly limning how coldness and its metaphors captured the imagination of a generation of Englishmen. Along the way Spufford examines exploration's often unsavory ideological bedfellows, including Victorian views about class, race, and empire.

From Kirkus Reviews

Spufford, of the Guardian in London, plumbs the cultural fascination and aesthetic attraction of cold regions for British explorers, and how their romance with snow was fashioned by an evolving national sensibility, in this smartly argued, wide-ranging book. The polar regions--with their isolation, nullity of landscape, cold so extreme that ``the breath of the travellers crystallizes and falls to the snow in showers''--were explored by many nations (not to mention the Inuit, who lived there), but by none more than the superbly ill-experienced British. Cook, Franklin, Scott, Shackleton--what drove these men to the ends of the earth, wondered Spufford, ``Why do these insane things?'' Well, he answers, it's more than just a passing fancy. Drawing on the diverse works of Byron, Coleridge, Cruikshank, the Shelleys, Conrad, and many others, the author paints an extraordinary portrait of a culture shaped by the notion of cold and its representations. A yearning for the sublime, for sights great and terrible, played a part, as did the strength of soul necessary to tangle with the most hellacious elements--to brush with them, or even to be utterly beaten by them, was to be touched in a rare way. There were the uncertainty and filtered truths from which spring romance and fantasy. There was the chance for the explorers to distinguish themselves, to shoulder a heroic mantle. Each chapter is an archaeology of the British love affair with ice, Spufford often unearthing unattractive strata: the class nature of exploration, colonialism, racism toward the Inuit, who undercut all the heroism by the simple fact that they lived where the explorers more often died. Spufford elegantly details how all these images, elements, and metaphors came home to roost in the Edwardian imagination, leading directly to parts unknown. -- Copyright ©1997, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

I'm a writer of non-fiction who is creeping up gradually on writing novels. I write slowly and I always move to new subject-matter with each book, because I want to be learning something fresh every time, both in terms of encountering history and people and thinking which are new to me, and also in the sense of trying out a new way of writing. My idea of a good project is one that I can only just manage. I've written a memoir of my childhood as a compulsive reader, an analysis of the British obsession with polar exploration, a book about engineers which is also a stealth history of Britain since 1945, and a fusion of history with novel called "Red Plenty", about the USSR in the early 1960s. My next book will complete my slow crabwise crawl into fiction by being an honest-to-goodness entirely made-up story, without a footnote in sight. But before that, I have out a short polemic about religion called "Unapologetic". Despite the impression given by some of the reactions to it, it isn't, in fact, an attack on atheism, a position I have no trouble at all respecting. I am a little rude and a little mocking to the likes of Richard Dawkins - but it seems to me that when it comes to the lived experience of faith, Dawkins and co. are, as they say, not even wrong. So, though the book begins at the familiar address where the bust-up over religion has been going on for a decade now, it then goes entirely elsewhere, to try to convey to readers of all persuasions what Christianity feels like from the inside: actual Christianity, rather than the conjectural caricature currently in circulation. The book isn't an argument than Christianity is true, because how could anyone know that? It's only an attempt to show that it is recognisable, in ordinary human terms - made up of the shared emotions of ordinary adult life, rather than taking place in some special and simple-minded zoo. There is a tumblr for the book at unapologetic-book.tumblr.com.

(Oh, biography. I was born in 1964, I'm married with a seven-year-old daughter, and I teach on the MA in Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths College, London.)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 22, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fascinating exploration of how the romantic movement nurtured the creation of an ideal vision of arctic/antarctic ice that ultimately contributed to a sense that it was nobler to suffer than survive. I found the book a well-written survey of popular opinion and response to polar exploration in England that presents an interesting thought: the idea that the ultimate source of Scott's disaster in the Antarctic may not have been stupidity, ego, arrogance, or any of the character flaws with which Robert F. Scott has been charged so much as hopeless romanticism (a character flaw all its own, true enough, which may contain elements of All Of The Above).
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14 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Melissa L. Shogren on June 19, 1999
Format: Hardcover
If you are looking for a possible answer as to why Scott and Shackleton risked their lives to get to the South Pole, this is NOT the book. Written in the style of a very dry doctoral dissertation, I May Be Some Time clouds some interesting ideas with turgid prose, tortured sentence structure, and an air of academic snobbery.
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