But that is not this. This is about Lady Franklin, and about how she ball-busted his Lordship onto The Terror and then almost ruined herself financially out of her
horrible guilt thirst for glory overwhelming love and desire to rewrite uncover his fate. Man, historical nonfiction is hard. But firstly we meet the young Jane, so first firstly McGoogan gives you a (very loose-ish) sketch of Victorian life in case you missed all of the Brontes and haven’t any idea what one would do in a sitting room (hint: needlepoint and/or read aloud to suitors).
So: young Jane, sitting room, an early romance or two. And this is the 1800s and everyone keeps meticulous diaries, so McGoogan is saved from the speculative ‘Jane seemed to think X of Y’ (since her diary is all, Y is so X!) and the thing feels like a novel for quite some time. The quotes are used to flavor the story instead of the story being forced around the quote and this is not a skill that comes easy.
But then Jane marries Lord Franklin and they jaunt off to Australia to be glorified prison wardens. Did I mention that Jane is an inveterate traveller? Jane travels. And while she’s always the first woman to traverse this and the first woman to climb that, DUDE YOU ARE BEING CARRIED IN A PALANQUIN! Travel is hardly a hardship when you have with you your entourage of servants and a handful of convicts, i.e. labor-monkeys. My Impress-o-meter remains at Supercilious.
And this is also where the book starts to drag. Lady Jane goes a-traveling. Sir John makes an ill-adviced gubernatorial decision. Lady Jane writes a letter to her sister Mary. Lady Jane goes a-traveling. Gas, honk, brake. And once they are disgraced (boringly) and return to England and Lady Jane cajoles Sir John to head up the search for the Northwest Passage to recover their lost dignity only Franklin’s party is never heard from again (this part was allllllllllmost exciting, except not at all) it gets worse and the warm, personal feel of the beginning moulders completely into the dank, musty tones of a historian. Ross departed to seach Lancaster Sound and Barrow Straight but was delayed until August at Port Leopold on Somersent IslazzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzHWHA? Hem.
And it never fully recovers. Even though in theory it’s fascinating, because Lady Frank re-jiggers history so that His Franklinness goes down as the Official Discoverer of the Northwest PassageTM and builds statues freaking everywhere that all depict him discovering the Northwest Passage and fails to note that not only maybe he didn’t but he DIED before he could tell anyone, which sort of defeats every purpose of every discovery ever. Despite that, it is a Tome of Sleep (unless Arctic exploration is your cat’s pajamas, in which case I can see you kind of liking it).