Qui s’excuse, s’accuse


So does that apply to apologists for third parties?  If it does, anyone reading Ranulph Fiennes’ book on Robert Falcon Scott would begin to smell a rat.  He is actively defending Scott’s character and judgement from the first pages.  Surely Scott’s behaviour must have been questionable to require so much justification?

You might think this unless, like me,  you had already read a book which preceded Fiennes’ biography, a double account of Scott and Amundson by Roland Huntford.  For the first chapter or two I thought that Huntford’s ability to be critical of an heroic icon was probably a good thing.  I became more disturbed as the chapters rolled by, ending up with a puzzled contempt for Huntford which I can’t remember feeling for any other supposedly respectable author.

Huntford hero-worships Amundsen, and has an extraordinary personal animus against Scott.  In fact, the head and front of Scott’s sins seems to be that he is not Amundsen.  Huntford is like a parent who openly favours one child and shows only spite for the other, who is always denigrated, not because he deserves reprehension but in order to justify the parental dislike.  Some of the allegations against Scott may be true; but that is almost irrelevant, as I came to believe that Huntford had no idea what was true or not, his judgement soured and in thrall to his personal prejudices.

So I read Fiennes as a corrective.  His prose is often lumpy, his defensiveness can be irritating, and his rants sometimes become hobby-horsical,  but if he is out to get anyone it is Huntford, who, quite frankly, has been asking for it.  And unlike Huntford, Fiennes is definitely entitled to interpret the experience of being hypothermic, frostbitten, starved, tied in desperate dependence to other fallible human beings, and watching death approach.


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