The Worst Journey in the World (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Since Robert Falcon Scott's expedition to the South Pole in 1910-1912, controversy has raged about the correct interpretation of and explanation for the tragedy. Some writers have drawn a picture of Scott as a bumbling incompetent, whose lack of experience and preparation condemned his men to their deaths. Aspley Cherry-Garrard's account The Worst Journey in the World written ten years after his narrow escape from the fate of his companions tells another side of the story. Here he portrays Scott as a fearless and...
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The Worst Journey in the World (Barnes & Noble Library of Essential Reading)

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Overview

Since Robert Falcon Scott's expedition to the South Pole in 1910-1912, controversy has raged about the correct interpretation of and explanation for the tragedy. Some writers have drawn a picture of Scott as a bumbling incompetent, whose lack of experience and preparation condemned his men to their deaths. Aspley Cherry-Garrard's account The Worst Journey in the World written ten years after his narrow escape from the fate of his companions tells another side of the story. Here he portrays Scott as a fearless and noble leader whose only thought upon his death was concern for his companions on the expedition and for his wife and child.

The questions raised by the fate of the British Antarctic Expedition of the Terra Nova remain evocative and unsettling: What sort of man was Scott? What was at stake in the race to claim the South Pole? Why did these men perish, and what was their legacy? Ten years after his narrow escape from the fate of his companions Cherry-Garrard attempts to answer these daunting questions in The Worst Journey in the World (1922).


About the Author:

Apsley Cherry-Garrard was born on January 2, 1886, in Belford, England, the only son of Major-General Apsley Cherry-Garrard. His family had been lords of the manor of Lamer since the mid-sixteenth century, but Cherry-Garrard was much more interested in travel and adventure than the life of an English country gentleman. Because of his extremely poor eyesight, Cherry-Garrard was an unlikely candidate to join Scott on his expedition to the South Pole. He was, however, persistent, and Scott agreed to take him. Cherry-Garrard (nicknamed "Cherry" or "The Cheery One"), age twenty-four, became the youngest of the thirty-three-member expedition and one of its survivors.

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Introduction

Since Robert Falcon Scott's expedition to the South Pole in 1910-1912, controversy has raged about the correct interpretation of and explanation for the tragedy. Aspley Cherry-Garrard's account The Worst Journey in the World portrays Scott as a fearless and noble leader whose only thought upon his death was concern for his companions on the expedition and for his wife and child. Later writers have drawn a picture of Scott as a bumbling incompetent, whose lack of experience and preparation condemned his men to their deaths. The questions raised by the fate of the British Antarctic Expedition of the Terra Nova remain evocative and unsettling: What sort of man was Scott? What was at stake in the race to claim the South Pole? Why did these men perish, and what was their legacy? Ten years after his narrow escape from the fate of his companions Cherry-Garrard attempts to answer these daunting questions in The Worst Journey in the World (1922).

Apsley Cherry-Garrard was born on January 2, 1886, in Belford, England, the only son of Major-General Apsley Cherry-Garrard. His family was prominent and had been lords of the manor of Lamer since the mid-sixteenth century. While he was studying classics and modern history at Oxford with rather undistinguished results, his father died, and the younger Cherry-Garrard assumed control of the family estate and fortune. He was, however, much more interested in travel and adventure than the life of an English country gentleman. When he befriended Edward Wilson, who had been on Robert Falcon Scott's first expedition to the Antarctic in 1901-1904, Cherry-Garrard learned of Scott's plans to make an attempt to reach theSouth Pole, and he begged to join. Because of his extremely poor eyesight, Cherry-Garrard was an unlikely candidate among the eight thousand men who applied to join Scott. He was, however, persistent, and he wrote to Scott several times, offering a thousand pounds towards the expedition's expenses whether he was accepted or not. Acting on the advice of Wilson, Scott agreed to take him, and Cherry-Garrard (nicknamed "Cherry" or "The Cheery One"), age twenty-four, became the youngest of the thirty-three-member expedition and one of its survivors.

At the time that Scott decided to try to stake the British claim to the South Pole, there was a long history of British exploration and interest in both the Antarctic and Arctic. Throughout the nineteenth century, British explorers such as Sir John Franklin were popular heroes, and the search to find Franklin in the Arctic and discover the fate of his 1845 expedition engaged the attention of all of Britain. In 1841, Sir James Ross first sailed into Antarctic waters and observed the ice barrier that was later named after him. Some fifty years later, the president of the Royal Geographical Society, Sir Clements Markham, decided to organize a British expedition to explore the land beyond the Ross Ice Shelf. Almost one hundred thousand pounds were raised, and the ship Discovery was designed and built for the journey. Markham favored young, energetic officers for commanding posts, and chose Lieutenant Scott, who at that time had no experience with polar travel, for the job. The young Ernst Shackleton, who would later attempt to be the first to cross the continent of Antarctica, was also along on this journey.

On New Year's Eve 1903, the land crew of the Discovery started their march home. They covered almost 1,000 miles, achieving the furthest point south, 82º16' S., or about 500 miles from the Pole. Their goal had been to collect as much scientific material as possible and to map and observe the unknown territory. After this journey, Scott considered making an attempt on the North Pole, but was forestalled by the twin claims of the Americans Robert E. Peary and Frederick Albert Cook in 1909. Since that end of the earth seemed to have been conquered already by a rival power (although, as it later emerged, these two claims were severely questioned and criticized), Scott turned his attention back to Antarctica. As he was selecting his crew and outfitting the Terra Nova, again with the support of Markham, Scott received a telegram while in Melbourne from the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. Amundsen, who had become renowned for his explorations in the Arctic and of the Northwest Passage, tersely informed Scott in a now-lost telegram that he was headed to the South Pole. Thus the long-standing competition between the British and Scandinavians in polar exploration had erupted into an open race for the South Pole.

The differences between the preparations, route, and techniques of the British and Norwegian expeditions have been much discussed, and were part of the debate over Scott's competence, following his tragedy, contrasted with Amundsen's success. One important point of contention was Scott's reliance on ponies and men for hauling sledges as well as dogs, while Amundsen used only dogs. Furthermore, the animals were treated quite differently. Scott did not have experience with training animals and relied upon Lawrence ("Titus") Oates' expertise for the ponies and Cecil Meares' for the dogs. It quickly became clear that Shetland ponies were not at all suitable for polar travel. They suffered greatly and several died before the land journey was even under way. The food rationing for the dogs was inadequate: The enriched biscuits that had been provisioned were insufficient for the nutritional needs of animals doing heavy labor, and the British were reluctant to slaughter some dogs in order to feed others, as well as the men themselves, as the Norwegians did. This different use of animals by the two expeditions has been attributed to cultural differences between the British and Scandinavians in their relationship to animals; the British writings (including Cherry-Garrard's book) express great sentimentality and compassion for the suffering and deaths of the dogs and ponies, whereas Amundsen included in his calculations before the journey how many dogs he expected to butcher in order to feed the others and his men. Furthermore, the British were less experienced in the use of skis than the Norwegians, even forgetting to take along a pair at one point in the trip. The British crew also suffered from dehydration and scurvy, which were probably contributing factors in the illness and death of Edgar Evans. Even though the use of limejuice in the prevention of scurvy was well known at this time, the party had no access to fresh supplies. Fresh seal meat is richer in Vitamin C than most people realize, but Evans particularly disliked it, and the explorers did not generally recognize the importance of eating fresh, rather than canned, meat.

In The Worst Journey in the World, Cherry-Garrard defends Scott's choices and his character, while also candidly pointing out some of Scott's flaws as a leader. According to his biographer, Sara Wheeler, Cherry-Garrard suffered a great deal over the public criticisms of Scott and the expedition after his return, and he made an effort in his published work to gloss over the conflicts among members of the crew and to soften character judgments that he was willing to express privately. Nonetheless, the publication of the book almost cost him his friendship with Scott's widow, Kathleen, because of his criticisms of Scott's character. She tried unsuccessfully to have the words "weak" and "peevish" in reference to Scott removed from later editions of the book. The reviews of the book were generally positive, although The Times criticized it for de-emphasizing the heroism of the story. However, it is clear that Cherry-Garrard fundamentally admired Scott and did not blame him for the deaths of his friends. For his part, in the diaries that were found after his death and later published, Scott describes Cherry-Garrard as "another of the open-air, self-effacing, quiet workers; his whole heart is in the life, with profound eagerness to help everyone."

Cherry-Garrard's own actions in 1910-1912 also troubled him in later years. In particular, he regretted his decision to remain at the "One-Ton" food depot rather than continuing south to meet Scott's party on its return from the final assault on the Pole. But Cherry-Garrard could not have moved south without sacrificing some of the dogs because of a lack of food supplies, and he was under direct orders not to do so. A miscommunication about the supplies for the dogs-a problem that characterized the entire expedition-had resulted in less dog food at One-Ton than Cherry-Garrard expected. In any case, he had no reason to suspect at that time that Scott and the other men would die only twelve and a half miles south of the depot. The official report of the expedition exonerated him of any wrongdoing. Cherry-Garrard was the youngest, least-experienced member of the expedition, with no training in either navigation or driving dogs before he set out for One-Ton, so it probably would have been unthinkable for him to disobey his orders. Since Scott was not behind schedule, there also did not appear to be any need to do so. Despite these mitigating factors, Cherry-Garrard was apparently unable to shake the feeling that he might have saved at least some members of the party, and he brought the question up over and over again even many years later. It was probably this feeling, combined with the experience of the journey and the return, that contributed to the depression from which Cherry-Garrard suffered in middle age.

Aside from the self-published The Worst Journey in the World, with Postscript, this book is Cherry-Garrard's only major literary work. He was a talented and lively writer, although he modestly attributes the merits in the manuscript to the editorial advice of George Bernard and Charlotte Shaw. He had some experience as an writer, for one of the jobs Scott assigned him during the expedition was writing the South Polar Times, the newspaper for the crew. Cherry-Garrard also describes much time devoted to reading, writing reports, as well as listening to debates and lectures given by other members of the party. He does not make light of the difficulties and the tragedy, but his tone in The Worst Journey in the World is generally humorous and optimistic. He points out that there are writers who both exaggerate and underestimate the strains of polar travel in the hopes of being admired, but, for his part, "I am not going to pretend that this was anything but a ghastly journey, made bearable and even pleasant to look back upon by the qualities of my two companions who are gone. At the same time, I have no wish to make it appear more horrible than it actually was: the reader need not fear that I am trying to exaggerate."

One of the central episodes of the book is the journey made by Cherry-Garrard, Wilson, and Henry Bowers to collect Emperor Penguin eggs. This was at the time a task of great scientific importance because the penguin was considered to be a very "primitive" bird whose embryos would show the development and evolution of bird life on earth. Ornithologists in the early twentieth century considered the Emperor Penguin a kind of "missing link." The six-week journey of these three men from Cape Evans to Cape Crozier and back surely count as one of the most amazing and appalling human experiences. The temperature in June and July reached below -70º F, with winds, blizzard, and fog. They were frostbitten, their clothes were so frozen they were barely able to move, and the ice began to crack, resulting in crevasses appearing beneath their feet. They retrieved three eggs from the rockery at Crozier, but lost their tent and cooker in a windstorm on the way back. Without the tent and already frostbitten, Cherry-Garrard prepared himself to die. His account of his feelings at this moment is profoundly moving in its tragic-comedy: His regret at what he has left undone in life, his fear of the pain of death, his longing for the peaches and syrup that were back at the hut. Unbelievably, no one died; they found the tent after the blizzard and survived the trip back to the rest of the party. Cherry-Garrard describes this return as the "end of the worst journey in the world." He follows it with a comic description of his delivery of the eggs to the British Natural History Museum after his return from the Antarctic, where, ironically, the eggs turned out not to be of any real scientific value after all. "If you march your Winter Journeys," concludes Cherry-Garrard, "you will have your reward, so long as all you want is a penguin's egg."

After his return to England, Cherry-Garrard served as a lieutenant-commander in the Royal Naval Air Service in World War I, and the family house at Lamer was made into a convalescent home. After service in Belgium, Cherry-Garrard suffered from ulcerative colitis, a chronic intestinal disease often associated with nervous disorders, and was forced to return home. During his convalescence, he befriended George Bernard and Charlotte Shaw, who encouraged him to write the book about his experiences in the Antarctic that became The Worst Journey in the World. His time was also taken up with maintaining the family estate, disputing with tenants, bird watching, hunting, and petitioning to end the killing of penguins on Macquarie Island, south of Australia. He took part in the society functions appropriate for a man of his social class, and had several girlfriends, but did not marry until he was fifty-three, and then to a woman thirty years his junior. They did not have children.

Cherry-Garrard lived until the age of seventy-three, dying in 1959. During the course of his life he had seen two world wars, the Great Depression, the General Strike of 1927, and remarkable transformations in British society and in Britain's status as an international power. He was politically conservative and never seemed to accustom himself to these changes. He belonged to the class and generation of British society born during the Victorian age that perceived all the events of the twentieth century as a turn in the wrong direction. He had however, little aptitude for the life of an English county gentleman, regarding the country estate as "outdated as fox hunting," and was glad to sell off large portions of his own in 1924. He was further troubled by the deaths of his comrades in 1912; the suicide of his cousin, Reginald Smith, who had introduced him to Edward Wilson; and the death of Edward Atkinson, one of the polar party who went on the final search for Scott. Cherry-Garrard's wife, Angela, nursed him through several nervous breakdowns and relapses of his chronic illness. She commented that there were "two Cherrys," a darker side and a lighter one, and he seemed to agree with this himself, writing in 1951: "Know yourself, accept yourself. That seems a good rule. But which self? Even the simplest of us are complicated enough."

The Worse Journey in the World, however, reflects only a little of this ambivalence. It is an exciting adventure story and the work of a relatively young and optimistic man, who makes an effort to put a bold face on difficulties. In the closing chapters of the book, the author attempts to analyze seriously and rationally what went wrong for Scott and his men and what led to their deaths. Above all, the story is one of, in Cherry-Garrard's own words, "appalling risks," "super-human endurance," and "immortal renown."

Karen Oslund holds a Ph.D. in history from the University of California, Los Angeles, and specializes in the history of travel and polar exploration. She has served as an Andrew W. Mellon Research Fellow at the John W. Kluge Center at the Library of Congress and has taught at Cornell University and the University of Maryland, College Park.
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 25 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2002

    What Paul Theroux says

    OK. I haven't read it yet, I only just brought it home. To counter one of the very negative reviews I see here, however, allow me to tell you why I bought it. Because I just finished Paul Theroux's "Fresh Air Fiend" (I love Theroux's travel books), in which he described this as the adventure book which he reccomends to those who ask him, "What's the best adventure/travel book you have ever read."

    3 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 24, 2011

    a classic of polar exploration

    As one who has done field research in Antarctica, I can vouch for this classic in the field. Cheery-Gerard was the youngest member of the Scott's 2nd expedition. His narrative of his mid-winter travels to retrieve penguin eggs is awe inspiring.

    For those who would like a scientific inquiry into how weather was the critical element in the demise of Scott and his polar party, read Susan Solomon's 'The Coldest March.' Simply excellent.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2006

    Written Long After the Event

    I'm ordering this book because I've just read 'Race To The Pole' by Sir Ranulf Fiennes and it piqued my curiosity about another opinion of the Scott journey. In that book, Fiennes says Huntford's book about Scott basically trashed Scott's memory & was not based on evidence as much as Huntford's bias about Scott. Please read Fiennes book too to get a more rounded opinion. Cherry-Garrard wrote his book long after his journey & so might not be as clear as it should.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 1, 2012

    Great story, men with a very noble purpose

    Great account of the Tera Nova Expedition!
    Sometimes the book is a tedious read since its a bit heavy on the details. Otherwise the men described are of an immensely admirable kind of inspiration. The things they were willing to do for science is incredible. There are some sagely words of wisdom here for anyone on their own journey.

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  • Posted August 1, 2012

    Typically Regarded as the Best Adventure Book Ever Written

    This book typically appears at the top of any list of the best adventure books of all time, an assertion easily verified on the Internet. The most compelling story of endurance I have ever read. Detailed? Of course it's detailed! It's written by one of the surviving members of the expedition.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 4, 2012

    Good story but overly detailed

    This is a great story of the adventure to the Pole, but is most definitely over detailed for the average reader.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 28, 2004

    So good I'm waiting for snow!

    I'm halfway through and getting so into the adventure that I've decided to hold off finishing until the snow arrives. It's hard to imagine the cold temperatures of the South Pole and I want to feel part of the book every time I go outside this winter!

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