Saturday, April 6, 2013

Attitudes toward tragedy

I was a bit taken aback by Whymper’s account of his fellow climbers’ deaths, especially compared to those we have read from other authors this semester. He speaks rather objectively of Mr. Hadow’s slip and fall into Croz, followed by the dragging of Hudson and Lord F. Douglas (371). In the accompanying footnote he further expounds upon the details of the men’s positioning and concludes with a rather insensitive sentiment: “We were compelled to pass over the exact spot where the slip occurred, and we found—even with shaken nerves—that it was not a difficult place to pass. I have described the slope generally as difficult, and it is so undoubtedly to most persons; but it must be distinctly understood that Mr. Hadow slipped at a comparatively easy part” (371).

Why Whymper feels the need to seemingly belittle the skills and ability of the deceased I do not understand. He refers to the four as his “unfortunate companions” and again, without emotion, describes the climbers’ downward slide, attempts to save themselves, and inevitable fall onto the Matterhorn-gletscher. “So perished our comrades!” he exclaimed. Quite the interesting phrasing, I thought.

As if he was unaffected by the tragedy, Whymper goes on to ridicule the reactions of the remaining three climbers. He describes, “The two men, paralyzed by terror, cried like infants, and trembled in such a manner as to threaten us with the fate of the others” (372). He apparently tried to assuage Peter’s cries by urging him further down the mountain. “The young man’s fear was cowardly,” he writes, “he thought of self alone” (372). After witnessing the unexpected deaths of four fellow climbers, the kid deserves a break.

Whymper’s insensitivity reflects the intensely goal-oriented nature of his assault on the mountain; however, I found his writing style and tone slightly off-putting and not very exciting to read.

1 comment:

  1. I also found Whymper's lack of response quite shocking. It also seemed completely unnecessary for him to scold his fellow survivors for conveying any emotion. I can't help but wonder if perhaps Whymper depicted his response in this way to fit it to his dominating and ultimately masculine outlook on mountaineering, which is demonstrated throughout but emphasized in particular in the last pages of the text.