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Christmas in the Frozen Regions

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Authors Charles Dickens
Robert McCormick
Genres Cross-genre i
Prose: Occasional (Christmas Story; article in Christmas or New Year Number, &c) i
Prose: Report i
Prose: Travel-writing i
Subjects Christmas; New Year; Holidays and Seasonal Celebrations
Explorers and Exploration; Wilderness Survival; Survival; Adventure and Adventurers
Ships; Boats; Shipwrecks; Salvage; Merchant Marine; Sailors; Sailing; Submarines (Ships)
Other Details
Printed : 21/12/1850
Journal : Household Words
Volume : Volume II
Magazine : No. 39
Office Book Notes
Views : 972

Dickens probably wrote the following portions of 'Christmas in the Frozen Regions': from the opening to 'FRANKLIN'S name' (p. 307); from 'From that solitude' (p. 308) to the conclusion.
Dickens seems also to have gone over other sections of the essay and to have made occasional emendations. For example, the paragraph beginning 'Thus ended our Christmas holidays' (p. 308) reads as though it had been touched here and there by Dickens.
Dickens was fascinated by the 'frozen regions' and this fascination often enters his writings. He once contemplated setting a novel in a solitude of ice and snow, and for a while the idea of living in such a fastness obsessed him. In this edition his interest in such regions is best exemplified by this essay and by 'The Lost Arctic Voyagers.'
The Contributors' Book indicates that 'Christmas in the Frozen Regions' was written by Dickens and 'Dr. Cormack.' It is clear, however, that 'Dr. Cormack' should be Dr. Robert McCormick (1800-1890). McCormick was surgeon aboard the Erebus during Sir James Clark Ross's antarctic expedition of 1839-1843, the expedition described in the article. In 1884, McCormick published Voyages of Discovery in the Arctic and Antarctic Seas, and Round the World, a two-volume work based upon his journals. At the end of this work he included a long 'Autobiography,' also based, in part, upon his journals. In the latter work, under the entry 4 December 1850, he wrote: 'Having written an article on 'Christmas Day at the South Pole,' which my friend [Frederick Knight] Hunt, the editor of the Daily News, asked me for, as a contribution to the Christmas number of Household Words, for Charles Dickens, I took it to him, when it was at once sent to press, and appeared in that number.'
McCormick's journals, as quoted in Voyages of Discovery, confirm the details given in 'Christmas in the Frozen Regions.' When the Erebus left New Zealand in November, its decks were crowded with oxen, sheep, goats, pigs, and poultry. By the end of December, these provisions were largely depleted, but an ox and a goose remained for Christmas dinner. McCormick's entry for 25 December 1841 reads in part: 'Although surrounded by ice, and having been some time at sea, we managed to provide a very fair dinner on the occasion, roast goose and plenty of fresh meat.' Christmas day had begun dark and gloomy, but in the afternoon the weather cleared and the Erebus saw its sister ship, the Terror. 'The Terror appeared beset behind a most remarkable berg, having two cupola-shaped hummocks on its summit, which we christened the 'Christmas berg.' I took two sketches of it, giving one to Captain Ross'. The subsequent account of Christmas and New Year's also, follows McCormick's journals.
'Christmas in the Frozen Regions' appeared in a regular issue of Household Words, an issue denominated 'The Christmas Number.' The issue began with 'A Christmas Tree' by Dickens and continued with pieces such as 'Christmas in Lodgings,' 'Christmas Among the London Poor and Sick,' and 'Christmas in India.' The article immediately following 'Christmas in the Frozen Regions' was an antipodal piece entitled 'Christmas Day in the Bush'; it opened with a 'burning Christmas eve' and went on to describe a torrid Christmas day spent in the 'burning sun.' It seems clear from this and from McCormick's remarks in his 'Autobiography' that Dickens sought out 'Christmas in the Frozen Regions' as part of a calculated contrast; it also seems clear that he renamed the article and added the sections not based upon McCormick's journals (see attributions in first paragraph above). The 21 December 1850 issue of Household Words was the only regular Christmas number of the magazine. In 1851, Dickens inaugurated the extra Christmas numbers of Household Words. See headnote to The Seven Poor Travellers.

Harry Stone; © Bloomington and Indiana University Press, 1968. DJO gratefully acknowledges permission to reproduce this material.

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