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Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard by…

Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard (2002)

by Sara Wheeler

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Cracking good book. I'll miss him; the old curmudgeon became quite a pal. Lovely touches include her descriptions of the weather and the state of the gardens - now how did she research that? and the pen portraits of supporting cast such as GBS, the know-all even about things he didn't know, and the one-line, even one-word, captures, eg Lees-Milne "the feline diarist". And she is revealing about the whole State of the Nation, arrival of motor-car (fun when you had the only one), post-war Britain likened to Moscow, the decline of landed privilege (slightly sad but the privilege was arbitrary and unfair).
The scene where the brother-in -law tries to have him committed is strikingly close to an episode in the recent Blandings on TV. Wonder if Wodehouse knew about the incident. Unlikely; probably a regular occurrence in mid-century country houses. ( )
  vguy | Jun 15, 2014 |
Fleshes out the life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, member of Scott's Terra Nova expedition, and author of the most lasting account of the trip -- The Worst Journey in the World.

The book divides roughly into three parts: before, during and after the Antarctic journey. Whilst the "during" is well covered by "The Worst Journey", from the distance of 80 years further on Sara Wheeler is more able to objectively bring out more of the tensions of the trip. The "before" concerns Cherry's privileged upbringing and inheritance of vast amounts of property at a young age. This was at a time of social change in Britain, and this continues as a theme in the "after", where Cherry feels increasingly persecuted by it. The "after" follows Cherry's authorship of TWJ and his directionlessness after the Terra Nova expedition, having no career to return to. Throughout this time and to the end of his life, Cherry suffered greatly both mentally and physically conditions which were little understood at the time.

Like Sara Wheeler's other books on the poles, it is written with a lively style which, like TWJ, brings out the human and spiritual aspects of polar exploration. Of interest to both those unacquainted with polar exploration, and those who aim to fill in some of the gaps and surrounds in what they already know. ( )
  rrmmff2000 | Jun 24, 2011 |
For Sara Wheeler polar exploration is terra cognita. As for the subject of this biography, Apsley Cherry-Garrard himself, he proves more elusive. As Wheeler notes, Roland Huntford, author of The Last Place on Earth found Cherry to be "a closed book". And Wheeler herself states that "a glimpse was the most that [we] could hope for" from this biography.
Coming to the book the reader will likely know two extraordinary things about Cherry: that he was part of the doomed Scott expedition and that he subsequently wrote The Worst Journey in the World (TWJ), widely agreed to be one of the best accounts of polar exploration ever written. It is confounding then to find that everything else about Cherry seems so terribly ordinary. He was enormously wealthy, well connected, had many friends, and yet even with so many opportunities he failed to prosper. Instead he comes across as odd, inadequate, self-absorbed, and largely disconnected from everything except his polar past. His life just seems to attenuate after the writing of TWJ in his thirties. Wheeler suggests that his Antarctic journey was a kind of "depressogenic" subtext in his life that always lurks and sometimes surfaces to pull him down. This is a persuasive notion. To have bonded so deeply with Wilson and Bowers as they willed the stumbling, near-sighted Cherry to survive the horrific Cape Crozier journey, and then for Cherry to find the bodies of these beloved friends and to find them so tantalizing close to where Cherry himself had stopped on his provisioning run only weeks before they died: how horrible! The what ifs and if onlys in any life can be a burden, but these would have been crushing if they indeed tormented him. On the other hand though, it is possible to see Cherry as simply a man with an extraordinary gift for writing, who stumbles into an expedition that inspires him to write one great book, but who thereafter finds himself totally ill equipped for the ordinary business of living. We can never know really. One thing is certain though, Scott's "peevish" shadow loomed perniciously and uneasily over Cherry's life. He is never quite able to absolve Scott.
As Sara Wheeler found in the writing of this book, spending some time with Cherry is overall a happy experience, and I enjoyed this book. Cherry memorably stated in TWJ that "For a joint scientific and geographical piece of organization, give me Scott; for a Winter Journey, Wilson; for a dash to the Pole and nothing else, Amundsen; and if I am in the devil of a hole and want to get out of it give me Shackleton every time". To this I would add "for an expedition scribe whose chronicle will do justice to the men, the land, and the journey, give me Cherry-Garrard." ( )
1 vote maritimer | Mar 31, 2011 |
Despite being a huge fan of books on Antarctic exploration in general, and “The Worst Journey in the World” in particular, this one had been sitting on my shelves for a while. My concern was that there just wouldn’t be that much to say about Cherry-Garrard, whose only claim to fame was his participation in Scott’s polar expedition and the book he wrote about it.

It turns out that the “Cherry” did live down to my expectations, but not for the reasons I thought it would.

For those that don’t know the backstory, Apsley Cherry-Garrard was a well-off member of England’s landed class, with plenty of money but not much in the way of career goals. He joined Scott’s final expedition on kind of a lark, and it’s not exactly clear whether he was accepted based on his cash donation to the expedition or on his own.

Regardless, he was involved in three key events in the history of South Polar exploration: an unbelievably brutal trip to gather penguin eggs during the Antarctic winter; a sledging trip to a vital supply depot that Scott’s party was trying to reach on the way back from the pole; and the trip during which the bodies of Scott, Birdie Bowers and Bill Evans were found—just about 13 miles from the depot just mentioned.

The penguin trip, which gave its name to “The Worst Journey,” certainly lived up to its billing. Cherry-Garrard, Bowers and Evans spent weeks manhauling sledges in some of the coldest temperatures known to man. I’m not even going to try to describe the conditions; just go read Cherry’s book.

Months after this, with concern for Scott and the overdue pole party growing daily, Cherry and another guy sledged to One-Ton Depot to do ... something. And this is where the controversy starts. Cherry was at the depot with an incapacitated partner, with no food for their dogs and in the midst of a massive blizzard. He turned back without ever sighting Scott, who, as mentioned, was around 13 miles away during this time.

Finally, come the Antarctic traveling season, Cherry was among the party that went back to One-Ton, and beyond, finding Scott, Bowers and Evans.

Cherry, already a broken man after the winter journey, was absolutely destroyed by the outcome. He had fallen in love with Evans in the way that manly Englishmen sometimes do, and he was also quite close to Bowers. And he had to live with the guilt that came with knowing that if he had only gone on during that blizzard at the depot, he might have saved the men. It was especially galling, because Cherry thought he was following orders when he turned back, while others thought his orders were to go on.

It was at this point that Cherry began an oscillating pattern of months/years of debilitating clinical depression interleaved with the occasional “good” times.

Now this would have made a fascinating story, but, for whatever reason, it’s one that the author glosses over. She mentions possible overdoses, psychotic hallucinations, efforts to commit Cherry and more. But she does so in a very off-handed, casual way that gave me the feeling she was purposely how mentally ill Cherry was.

Instead, after the polar adventuring, the book is mostly about Cherry coming to grips with the changes in England after the first World War. And most of this is couched in class terms, with the upper-crust Cherry greatly resenting the class-leveling changes of the times, so it’s hard to keep sympathizing with him.

Now, I’m not always a fan of psychologizing in biographies, but this was a book that just cried out for it.

So, unless you’re one of those people—like me—who has to read everything on the Scott debacle, this book probably won’t be worth your time. ( )
  KromesTomes | Jun 8, 2009 |
Excellent biography of the Antarctic explorer whose life was so sad after returning from the Scott expedition. He wrote an amazing book [The Worst Journey in The World] about his experiences, but suffered severe depression on and off throughout the rest of his life. ( )
2 vote katylit | Apr 27, 2007 |
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Writing about the poles is not an easy task, but an audience (especially given recent interest in Scott and Shackleton) is virtually assured. Where Sara Wheeler excels in this first biography of Cherry-Garrard is in illuminating his life before and after the epoch-making polar expedition. She makes of his struggle to work out and write the truth about those years a narrative almost as exciting as the journey itself.
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To Angela Mathias and Hugh Turner, with affection
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(Introduction) Some years ago, marooned in a small tent close to one of the dynamic ice streams on the west Antarctic ice sheet, I finished reading The Worst Journey in the World as a blizzard closed in around our tiny camp.
In the restless years of middle age Cherry used to sit in the bow-window of his library, turning the pages of the journals he had kept in the Antarctic three decades before.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0375754547, Paperback)

Sara Wheeler, author of the acclaimed Terra Incognita, became fascinated with Antarctic explorer Apsley Cherry-Garrard after reading The Worst Journey in the World, his classic account of Captain Robert Falcon Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole, of which he was a survivor. "His book was not the disembodied account of an expedition: it was an intimate reflection of the man behind the authorial mask. I wanted a glimpse of that man," she writes. What she offers is much more than a glimpse; Cherry is a fascinating and detailed look at this complicated and often troubled hero.

A man of substantial means and a strong sense of duty, Cherry "recoiled from the sedate life of the country squire," throwing himself into strenuous adventures whenever he was not crippled by episodes of severe depression which haunted him his entire life. After returning from the pole, he traveled to eastern China as part of a zoological expedition and then served Britain in World War I before writing The Worst Journey in the World, which National Geographic has called the greatest adventure book of all time. Wheeler covers not only his many adventures, but the inner workings of the man, such as his bouts with mental illness, including delusional phases, hypochondria, and severe anxiety, all of which affected his physical health as well. She also covers his often complex relationships, including his close friendship with George Bernard Shaw, who certainly influenced Cherry's writing. Written with the cooperation of Cherry's widow and full access to his papers and notes, this is the first authorized biography of this extraordinary man. --Shawn Carkonen

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:07:59 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

"Apsley Cherry-Garrard (1886-1959) was one of the youngest members of Captain Scott's final expedition to the Antarctic. Despite appalling short sight Cherry undertook an epic journey in the Antarctic winter to collect the eggs of the Emperor penguin. The temperature fell to seventy below, it was dark all the time, his teeth shattered in the cold and the tent blew away. 'But we kept our tempers,' Cherry wrote, 'even with God. After serving in the First World War Cherry was invalided home, and with the zealous encouragement of his neighbour Bernard Shaw he wrote a masterpiece. The Worst Journey in the World frees Scott's story from the shackles of its period and ushers it into the immortal zone. Since first publication in 1922 the bitter brilliance and elegiac melancholy of Cherry's prose has touched the hearts of hundreds of thousands of readers. In his work Cherry transformed tragedy and grief into something fine. But he was to find that life is more complicated than literature, and as the years unravelled he faced a terrible struggle against depression, breakdown and despair, haunted by the possibility that he could have saved Scott and his companions. This is the first biography. Sara Wheeler, who has travelled extensively in the Antarctic, has had unrestricted access to new material and the full co-operation of Cherry's family."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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