Published: 2009 by The History Press
My copy: Bought on Kindle
Memorable quote: “My pictures are the realisation of little things that have been treasured up in my mind, little traits of character picked up crumb by crumb in the fields and by hedgerows, at least pieced together and put into the form of something living.” (Edward A. Wilson)
Dr. Wilson, artist and scientist, accompanied Scott on both his Antarctic expeditions and was among the tragic party who so famously perished on their return from the South Pole. Isobel Williams is a qualified doctor whose interest in Wilson came from seeing his Antarctic paintings displayed in the college hospital where she was training. As such it’s no surprise that this biography focuses heavily on the medical aspects of Dr. Edward Wilson’s career and includes a lot of speculation about the exact causes of scurvy and other conditions suffered by the men on Scott’s final expedition. However, if that makes this sound like a very boring read, it actually isn’t. While this doesn’t have perhaps the passion or artistic flair of some of the other polar biographies I’ve read, Williams’s down-to-earth style suits her subject very well. Wilson was such a polymath and there is always a huge sense of inner calm in his diary entries and letters. He was a much-loved steadying influence on all the other men. I think Williams does a good job in illuminating Wilson’s childhood in Cheltenham and the many influences and experiences in his short life that propelled him towards the pole.
Having read Kari Herbert’s Polar Wives before this I felt I would have liked to have heard a little more about Wilson’s wife, Oriana, but overall this seemed like quite a balanced and convincing portrayal of a multi-faceted man. I hadn’t realised before reading this that Wilson did all his sketches in pencil first and made descriptive notes of the colours to be painted up later (though it makes sense given the ridiculous conditions in which he was working) knowing that makes me appreciate his artistic talents even more! You can see reproductions of many of Wilson’s paintings online here, they are quite astonishingly good.