Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Summit Fever?

Whymper's writing style is very different from those of the other writers we've read so far.  It is very poetic, and, according to his retrospective narrative, he is often occupied with philosophical topics rather than summit fever.  For instance, Whymper writes of one evening on the Matterhorn, "Time sped away unregarded, and the little birds which had built their nests on the neighboring cliffs had begun to chirp their hymn before I thought of returning...as I sat in the door of the tent, and watched the twilight change to darkness, the earth seemed to become less earthly and almost sublime" (101).  I do not recall any other adventure writer taking the time to observe and describe the natural beauty in such detail.  Perhaps this is due to the nature of the Alps as compared to that of the Himalayas.  Does the Alps' less extreme nature provide for more natural beauty or at least a less strenuous environment in which one can appreciate the surrounding beauty?  Whymper also seems to think and write (at least retrospectively) in a more lofty and philosophical manner.  For instance, he writes, "I was chiefly occupied in meditating on the vanity of human wishes" (108).  Whymper's more poetic and philosophical mindset suggests that he values the experience over the act of summiting a mountain.  Even on the summit, Whymper supposedly takes the time to enjoy the surrounding beauty.  He writes, "There was every combination that the world can give, and every contrast that the heart could desire.  We remained on the summit for one hour - 'One crowded hour of glorious life'" (368).  His portrayal of his summit experience contrasts sharply with other climbers' "get up, get down" mindset.

However, certain aspects of Whymper's writing betray his true motives and reveal that he is just as obsessed with summiting as the next climber.  In fact, Whymper exhibits an even more extreme kind of summit fever since he wishes to be the first to summit the Matterhorn; therefore, Whymper fights against not only the mountain but also other mountaineers and time.  For instance, when Carrel, Tyndall, and Bennen attempt the Matterhorn, Whymper acknowledges that "If they succeeded, they carried off the prize for which I had been so long struggling"(113).  Therefore, "the prize"is not the experiencing the climb or appreciating the natural beauty, and it is not even the feeling of accomplishment upon reaching the summit.  For Whymper, "the prize" is being the first to bag the Matterhorn.  And, just like so many other climbers (Herzog comes to mind), he is driven by nationalist fervor; Whymper and his climbing partners even push rocks down the mountain at the Italians whom they have beaten to the summit.  I think that Whymper fancies himself a poet and a sentimentalist, and so he fills his retrospective account with flourishes.  His prioritization of "the prize" betrays his true sentiments.

1 comment:

  1. I especially liked your second paragraph because it relates to a point that was made in class about Whymper creating more antagonists. This goes hand in hand with the language of conquering that he uses to describe the expedition. I think his actions serve to make the story more interesting for readers. How interesting would the text be if he was just having a friendly competition with some other climbers? I agree that he true intentions become unmasked when he reaches the summit. I can sympathize with those in class who thought he was an asshole. However, there is something refreshing and intriguing about his style of writing. It's part guile and part brutal honesty.