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I Am Just Going Outside: Captain Oates -…
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I Am Just Going Outside: Captain Oates - Antarctic Tragedy

by Michael Smith

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Not very impressed by the illegitimate child thing -- Smith spends the whole book recounting Oates' tendency to solitude, the way his mother dominated his life, his lack of charm with women, and then at the last minute pulls out an illegitimate child for which there is little evidence other than the alleged child's claim and a photo of her son. I don't really want to get into guessing whether she was or wasn't Oates' illegitimate daughter, but it's pure hearsay here.

I haven't read Scott's journals and right now, I don't really want to. I bought this for my mother, but she handed it off to me. Scott and his men were her heroes, but even her opinion of Scott sank after reading this, and mine is somewhere below sea level. He wasn't suited to be a leader of men. Oates was. It's a pity it wasn't his idea from the start, in a way. They'd have done it with dogs as soon as he saw what they could do, and they'd have reached the Pole and made it back too.

Anyway, Smith's biography is interesting and in-depth, and mostly at least attempts to seem impartial, with evidence from both men and those who knew them. It is, of course, desperately depressing, and I feel no shame in admitting that I cried, because with a bit more sense and a bit less British pride and duty, those men could have lived.

I found Oates' heroics as a young man more interesting than the polar expedition, though. I knew how that ended, and I didn't expect to leave with any illusions, but Oates seemed a genuinely decent man. He would probably only have died in the war if not in the Antarctic, but still.

I can't honestly say I really liked this -- and I have some reservations about Smith's need to point accusing fingers at the family for obstructing him (I'd like to hear their side of it!) -- but it was a good read. ( )
1 vote shanaqui | Apr 9, 2013 |
The image from I Am Just Going Outside that remains with me is Roald Amundsen actually gaining weight during his ski back from the South Pole. It makes all the horrific suffering of his British counterparts during their doomed return, along with all the ensuing mythologizing, seem needless, hollow and infinitely more sad.

In the case of Lawrence "Titus" Oates, one feels the sadness even more deeply, since he had no real business being on that polar team: he was lame, unwell, his role with the ponies was done, and he both detested and mistrusted the leader of the expedition, Robert Falcon Scott. Michael Smith gives a chronological account of Oates' life that sheds some light on arguably the most intriguing member of Scott's Terra Nova expedition. Unfortunately in his framing of Oates' actions, he takes "honour" at face value instead of scrutinizing it as a poor substitute for good judgement.

When I look at photos from this expedition, I am drawn to two faces: Scott and Oates. In the case of Oates, the book confirms what his photos hint at: that he was highly charismatic. This charisma, however, was not accompanied by any larger sense of vocation or responsibility. Within his immediate sphere, Oates' sense of duty was rigid and formidable, but beyond that sphere he was curiously and profoundly passive.

Smith has a revelation for the reader that he leaves until the last chapter. It is not clear why he chooses to sequester it entirely from all other elements of Oates' life, but in doing so he undermines his biography and effectively downplays the incident. Smith claims that at the age of 19 years, Oates had sex with an 11 year old girl, and at the age of 12, that girl gave birth to their daughter. If true, and the case is convincingly made, this was an ugly and thoughtless act on the young man's part. Yet Smith's only observation about what it tells us of Oates is that he "was a very honourable man and if he had been aware of the child's existence, it is improbable that he would have wilfully abandoned her". It seems Smith's standard for honour is desperately low. He titillates with the reveal but does none of the work to integrate it and reconcile it with what else we know about Oates. Smith should have included this information within the chronology of Oates' life, and together with the reader, explored what it has to tell us about the man that Oates was and who he became.

As it stands, I Am Just Going Outside is not a hagiography, but it leans in that direction. Fully integrating Oates' sexual misconduct into the biography would have been a potent corrective to this tendency. We are not solely defined by our worst acts, nor by our best ones, but from a biographical perspective, both merit the kind of attention that Smith reserves exclusively for Oates' finer moments. The reimagined truth lies somewhere in the messy in between and there should lie the effort and reward of good biography. ( )
1 vote maritimer | Dec 29, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 186227178X, Hardcover)

Exhaustively researched with new material, including major revelations about his previously unknown and secret private life, this is the first major biography of Lawrence Edward Grace "Titus" Oates who became a dashing cavalry officer and hero in the Boer War, a successful jockey, and part of Scott's doomed South Pole expedition, before becoming a national hero for sacrificing himself to save his comrades. Substantial new information is included from previously undisclosed sources, especially relating to his clashes with Scott. Having paid £1,000 to join the expedition, he was at centerstage in the unfolding tragedy, becoming a national hero for sacrificing himself to save his comrades. Fresh analysis is offered of his military career, both as hero in the Boer War, where he was denied a VC, and later in Ireland. A different perspective from the traditional myth of Scott's heroic failure and Oates' suicide is offered here. Oates' private life is explored and the role of his austere mother who exerted a powerful influence during his life and continued to control his memory long after his death, especially by ordering the destruction of his letters and diaries, kept hidden by her, and previously thought to have been destroyed, from her deathbed. Beautifully illustrated with maps and photographs, many previously unpublished.
Exhaustively researched with new material, including major revelations about his previously unknown and secret private life, this is the first major biography of Lawrence Edward Grace "Titus" Oates who became a dashing cavalry officer and hero in the Boer War, a successful jockey, and part of Scott's doomed South Pole expedition, before becoming a national hero for sacrificing himself to save his comrades. Substantial new information is included from previously undisclosed sources, especially relating to his clashes with Scott. Having paid £1,000 to join the expedition, he was at centerstage in the unfolding tragedy, becoming a national hero for sacrificing himself to save his comrades. Fresh analysis is offered of his military career, both as hero in the Boer War, where he was denied a VC, and later in Ireland. A different perspective from the traditional myth of Scott's heroic failure and Oates' suicide is offered here. Oates' private life is explored and the role of his austere mother who exerted a powerful influence during his life and continued to control his memory long after his death, especially by ordering the destruction of his letters and diaries, kept hidden by her, and previously thought to have been destroyed, from her deathbed. Beautifully illustrated with maps and photographs, many previously unpublished.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:35 -0400)

Oates was the epitome of the Victorian English gentleman - a dashing cavalry officer who won numerous victories at racecourses throughout Ireland. He died on his 32nd birthday in an Antarctica blizzard in 1912.

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