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The Last Gentleman Adventurer: Coming of Age in the Arctic
Synopses & Reviews
"This is a great book about life at remote bases in Canada's far north as seen by a young English boy who went there by himself to see the world and got more than he could have bargained for. Beautifully written." --Sir Ranulph Fiennes
"As spare, gleaming, and exhilarating as the Arctic wastes and the gentle, stoic Eskimos who had mastery of this realm . . . The book evokes the frozen seas, whale hunts, snow plains and storms that intimidated those rash enough to brave this world, and the traditions, myths, and hunting skills that contoured a bygone way of life . . . His translucent prose is a sparkling and moving record." — Times (London)
At sixteen, Edward Beauclerk Maurice impulsively signed up with the Hudson's Bay Company — the Company of Gentleman Adventurers — and was sent to an isolated trading post in the Canadian Arctic, where there was no telephone or radio and only one ship arrived each year. But the Inuit people who traded there taught him how to track polar bears, build igloos, and survive expeditions in ferocious winter storms. He learned their language and became so immersed in their culture and way of life that children thought he was Inuit himself. When an epidemic struck, Maurice treated the sick using a simple first aid kit, and after a number of the hunters died, he had to start hunting himself, often with women, who soon began to compete for his affections. The young man who in England had never been alone with a woman other than his mother and sisters had come of age in the Arctic.
In The Last Gentleman Adventurer Edward Beauclerk Maurice transports the reader to a time and a way of life now lost forever.
After serving in the New Zealand navy during World War II, Edward Beauclerk Maurice became a bookseller in an English village and rarely traveled again. He died in 2003 as this, his only book, was being readied for publication.
"If you like reality, The Last Gentleman Adventurer will be your cup of tea: a delicious quaff of it. Savor it!" — Edward Hoagland
"Maurice's memoir supplies a fascinating elegy to a vanishing world." — Telegraph
"One of those rare writers who will be remembered for turning out one great memoir/travel book . . . He relates these events in a beautiful prose that is quaintly elegant in tone but never archly so . . . Not only a gentleman but a wonderful writer who limited his output to one book, and perhaps that is why it reads so beautifully." — Sunday Tribune (Dublin)
"Maybe he was exceptional, but the charm of his book lies in its modesty; he makes no claims for himself. His concern was to make a record of some amazing adventures and a vanishing way of life; these are woven into an eye-opening narrative that is suffused with kindliness and an attitude to growing up more restrained but more humane than that prevailing today. A gentleman adventurer indeed." — Times Educational Supplement
"A deceptively simple account of how he grew to manhood, shaped on one hand by the brutal elements of the Arctic, on the other by the compassionate communities of Inuit who understood them . . . This is a beautifully unadorned, homespun tale with a lack of self-consciousness rare in travel literature . . . I was charmed." — Benedict Allen, Independent on Sunday
"Maurice was a 16-year-old boy from a struggling British family when a missionary from the Canadian Arctic paid a visit to his boarding school in 1930. Impressed by an accompanying film about life in the frozen territories, Maurice immediately sought employment as an apprentice with the Hudson's Bay Company and was sent to a remote trading post, where news from the outside world was often limited to a short weekly radio broadcast. He was so young, the local Inuit tribe nicknamed him 'The Boy,' but, as revealed over the course of this charming memoir, he was gradually able to win their trust and admiration. Eventually placed in charge of his own post, Maurice — having already learned the Inuit language — became increasingly involved in the daily lives of the local tribe members. His accounts of their dramatic romantic entanglements are understatedly amusing, as is the dry observation that he himself has been selected by one of the women as a suitable mate. Maurice, who died in 2003, recounts his youthful adventures in a graceful style reminiscent of the great 20th-century explorers. Though his tale is somewhat more subdued than their exploits, it proves just as engrossing. Agent, Isobel Dixon, Blake Friedmann Literary Agency (London)." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"'Afterlands' is a historical novel that changes gears midway through and is the better for it. In the first half, Steven Heighton tells the fictionalized story of an actual episode, the USS Polaris disaster of 1871. It starts when 19 participants in a voyage of arctic exploration abandon ship voluntarily — and, they assume, temporarily — while it is leaking and being squeezed by ice floes. In darkness... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) and confusion, they are hard put to know what's going on, but the dumbfounding revelation comes soon enough: The ship has broken away from the ice and drifted off, leaving them marooned somewhere between Greenland and Canada's Ellesmere Island. They estimate the floe on which they're stuck at four miles in circumference, giving them a margin of safety until the Polaris returns to pick them up. Except it never does. Forced to fend for themselves on their crumbling 'raft,' the survivors divide into shifting groups — by race (the whites vs. a lone black seaman and several Inuit), by national origin (the swaggering Germans vs. all the rest) and by competence (and here the otherwise slighted Inuit come into their own). For much of the long, dark winter that ensues, 18 of the sojourners can agree on but one thing: to disregard the 19th, their ranking officer, who is not a natural leader. Meanwhile, their seemingly ample food stock, augmented by kills of seals and polar bears, is mysteriously dwindling. They are forced to an ugly conclusion: Someone has been raiding the larder and making a private cache. In telling this part of his story, Heighton mixes actual quotations from participants' journals with his own vivid prose. He has published several books of poetry, and many of his sentences display a poet's knack for compressed imagery, as when he calls the Arctic a place 'where an interstellar cold and darkness dipped down to touch the planet's bare scalp.' Engrossing as all this is, the novel comes into its own after the icebound 19 have ridden out their ordeal and returned to civilization. What follows — wholly fictional — is largely the tale of Roland Kruger, a German seaman who refused to join his countrymen in their bullying on the ice. Though prickly, Kruger becomes increasingly appealing as he wanders through northern Mexico, trying to get by on his tiny pension, falling in love with a whore, having run-ins with brutal revolutionary soldiers and daydreaming about the Arctic. Shifting from the icebergs of Baffin Bay to the mountains of Chihuahua is quite a leap, but you can't understand Kruger's later days without having accompanied him through the pivotal period of his life — those hand-to-mouth months on neither land nor sea but a substance that functions as both. Skillfully constructed, beautifully written, told with a detachment that will put the reader in mind of Graham Greene, 'Afterlands' is a superior example of a rare breed: the literary adventure story. So, in its own way, is 'The Last Gentleman Adventurer,' though it's not a novel. Imagine your 16-year-old son or nephew announcing that he's quitting school and shipping out to the Arctic to work in the fur trade. That's what a promising English boy, Edward Beauclerk Maurice, told his mother in 1930. Though the family had dukes in its line, she was an impoverished widow, on the verge of decamping for New Zealand with her two other children. She gave her reluctant blessing, and off Maurice went to work on Baffin Island in the far north of Canada for the Hudson's Bay Company. So began the extended culture shock that Maurice, who died in 2003, chronicles in this memoir. His youthful resilience helped him cope, but he also chose the right strategy: watching, listening to and getting involved with the Inuit, even to the extent of learning their language — something few other Bay employees bothered to do. At first, he was a kindly but clumsy kid whom the Inuit nicknamed 'The Boy.' But his ability to converse with them, coupled with a growing quotient of commonsense and some luck in 'treating' sick Inuit (mostly with aspirin and placebos), earned him a new, improved sobriquet: 'One Who Thinks.' He also deserves to be called One Who Has a Way With a Yarn. Rather artlessly, but with a sound sense of what to put in and leave out, Maurice recounts his first few years in the far north. Among his virtues was a remarkable ability to reserve judgment and learn why the Inuit behaved as they did. If wife-swapping not only pleased members of both sexes but also established ties that could prove useful when, as often happened, a husband was killed while hunting or fishing, Maurice was not going to climb up on a soapbox and preach restraint. Ultimately, he took a temporary wife himself, a decision that seems to have pleased everyone in the community. Although hardly blind to his firm's dominant position in the local economy, he saw value in its relationship with the locals: 'This system, though shakily dependent upon world fur prices, for it was only the furs that could justify the annual expensive voyage of the (supply ship), did succeed for quite a number of years in keeping the people of the Eastern Arctic in the dignified role of self-supporting hunters, rather than reducing them to the level of purposeless nonentities, which seems to have been the achievement of later tides of "civilization."' This is the only book Maurice wrote. From clues in the book's front matter, it appears that he returned to England, married, had children, ran a village bookshop and 'rarely traveled again.' But why did it take him 70-odd years to produce such an effortlessly entertaining account? Whatever the reason, we're lucky to have it." Reviewed by Dennis Drabelle, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
Book News Annotation:
Maurice recounts how, at age 16, he signed up with the Hudson's Bay Company and ended up at an isolated trading post in the Canadian Arctic from 1930 to 1939, where most of his interaction was with native Inuit. After World War II, he settled back in an English village as a bookseller, and died in 2003 as this, his only book, was being readied for publication.
Annotation ©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Book News Annotation:
Maurice recounts how, at age 16, he signed up with the Hudson's Bay Company and ended up at an isolated trading post in the Canadian Arctic from 1930 to 1939, where most of his interaction was with native Inuit. After World War II, he settled back in an English village as a bookseller, and died in 2003 as this, his only book, was being readied for publication. Annotation Â©2006 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
At sixteen, Edward Beauclerk Maurice impulsively signed up with the Hudson's Bay Company — the company of Gentleman Adventurers — and ended up at an isolated trading post in the Canadian Arctic, where there was no communication with the outside world and only one ship arrived each year. But he was not alone. The Inuit people who traded there taught him how to track polar bears, build igloos, and survive ferocious winter storms. He learned their language and became completely immersed in their culture, earning the name Issumatak, meaning he who thinks.”
In The Last Gentleman Adventurer, Edward Beauclerk Maurice relates his story of coming of age in the Arctic and transports the reader to a time and a way of life now lost forever.
At 16, Maurice impulsively signed up with the Hudson's Bay Company and was sent to an isolated trading post in the Canadian Arctic, where he immersed himself in the Inuit people's culture and way of life. Through deadly epidemics and the struggle to survive, the young man from England came of age.
About the Author
EDWARD BEAUCLERK MAURICE, after serving in the New Zealand navy during World War II, became a bookseller in an English village and rarely traveled again. He died in 2003, as this book was being readied for publication.
Table of Contents
Foreword by Lawrence Millman ix
Part One THE BOY 1
Part Two ISSUMATAK 159
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History and Social Science » Arctic and Antarctic » General