The first part of The Estella Society’s Wilkie in Winter event is a look at The Frozen Deep by Wilkie Collins and kind of, sort of Charles Dickens.
Based on the doomed 1845 expedition to the Arctic, The Frozen Deep is a dramatic tale of vengeance and self-sacrifice. Exchanging vows of love with sailor Frank Aldersley the night before his departure, Clara Burnham is haunted by the memory of Richard Wardour, and his mistaken belief that they will one day marry. On different ships, the two men have no cause to meet—until disaster strikes and they find themselves united by their battle for survival. When they learn of their rivalry, there follows an act of pure selflessness, making The Frozen Deep one of Collins’ most moving and tragic works.
(before checking out the questions at Estalla Society)
The first half of this novella definitely hits some of my sweet spots. Clara’s trances reminded me of Harwood’s The Seance and that novel’s use of second sight. I was also amused by Clara’s troubles being attributed to “secret anxieties.”
Scenes Two and Three bring to mind the framing device of Frankenstein and the first portion of the 1941 movie 49th Parallel, in which escapees from a sunken Nazi U-boat hideout in a Canadian trapping lodge. The Hut of the Sea-Mew chapters are tense, claustrophobic, and filled with doom. Not only are the majority of these characters lost, but Wardour’s prescience breeds true.
“I knew it then; I know it now–it was written on my heart then, it is written on my heart now–we two shall meet and know each other.”
There is an interesting war between superstition and religion near the end of the book. Mrs. Crayford continually admonished Clara for her “miserable superstitious faith” and urges her to trust in God. We begin to wonder if anyone can escape their destiny. In the end, it’s in Wardour’s hands.
“When you are married, you will know that the easiest of all secrets to keep is a secret from your husband.”
1. How do you feel about the narrative structure? The obvious rewrite of stage direction? The structure didn’t bug me although I wonder if the “Between the Scenes” scene might have been left out or maybe used as a front-of-stage scene while a ballroom and Sea-Mew hut set were changed. (Note: I know very little about stagecraft; this is pure speculation.)
2. How do you think this play looked performed? Do you think it would make more sense in that medium that in this small novella? I thought it worked pretty well as a novella, although I have been watching quite a few movies from the 30s and 40s. I kept seeing The Frozen Deep in that sort of stationary camera work and melodramatic dialogue.
3. What did you think of the “love triangle?” Did it feel forced? Which man would you have picked? I was somewhat annoyed at Clara for not being completely clear to Wardour about her intentions from the beginning. (Obviously, keeping quiet on the matter worked so much better.) I’m never a fan of drama caused by non-communication. I would have picked Aldersley, but hit him upside the head for wanting to go on an Arctic expedition. I suppose that shows my modern sensibilities.
4. Impressions of Clara and her characterization? Oh, Clara. Perhaps I can understand Clara a little bit having been in a similar situation. She doesn’t want to marry Wardour, but only gets around to telling him so in a letter and, when she doesn’t hear from him, hopes he never returns. When he dose return, that’s when I feel Clara should be more resolute and come clean about her fondness for Aldersley.
5. Supposedly Dickens had a hand in helping write this script. Can you feel his hand in the writing? How much was Dickens and how much was Collins? I haven’t read enough Dickens or Wilkie yet to suss out one from the other.
More Winkie In Winter discussion can be found on the link-up page!