Studying for any exams? You might want to look away now. Don't like gore? You might want to look
away as well.
|Man Proposes, God Disposes is © Royal Holloway College, University of London|
Painted in 1864 by Edwin Landseer, the painting has to be one of the macabre I've seen when it comes to the subject of the Franklin Expedition. There is no glory here, no brave British boys struggling against their fate, there is only death and chaos as the Arctic triumphs. The boats torn asunder, the men devoured by the elements and voracious polar bears. The Victorians were fond of adding an element of heroism and romance to their arts but there is none to be found here. There is only tragedy and death.
|© Royal Holloway College, University of London|
Now I don't know what you think, dear reader, but in my humble opinion the painting isn't cursed. It's a sad reminder of lives lost to Victorian hubris, a reminder of terrible failure and that is what causes the students to fail their exams. It's all down to autosuggestion. The painting is a monument to failure. It's not hard to see how students might have got distracted by it, by its message of doom and failed the exam. These failures are then blamed on the painting, soon rumours start that the painting caused a few students to score badly in their exams and finally this becomes immortalised in superstition and urban legend. Fear of the dreaded canvas continues as time passes and the 1970's incident just causes it to grow out of control, like wildfire. But eventually, someone is telling the story and it just doesn't seem scary enough anymore, so they add in an extra tale of their own. The unsubstantiated suicide. And this, while false, adds a whole new scare to the story. I'm honestly surprised that whomever was responsible for that little edit didn't also try to claim that the dead student now haunts the painting. Untrue as the suicide itself, but do you see how easy it is to add to a myth? It has been 173 years since the Franklin Expedition and it haunts us even now, in one form or another. In the bodies of those lost being found, in the ships being discovered, in the Inuit oral history that is helping solve the mystery of the lost expedition and in Edwin Landseer's dark homage to those lost.
Have you seen the painting yourself and heard it's tale before? Have you been unfortunate enough to take your exams in front of it? Leave a comment and tell me your story, or tag me on Twitter @LWall54451552. As always, I'd love to hear your stories and views.
Interestingly enough, I've read at least one article that states that at least four of the crew found have been identified as women. It wasn't unusual for women to join the Royal Navy in the 1800's, most of the time you never knew they were there unless they got caught.
From a note left, we know that Franklin died on the 11th of June, 1947. Although a lot of bodies have been found, and some even identified, Franklin's grave has yet to be discovered and how he died is a mystery. His grieving widow, Lady Jane Franklin, never gave up hope of finding her husband and even employed the talents of mediums, one of which claimed he had been slain by polar bears.
Lady Jane was far from impressed, but then a lot of things about the expedition displeased her. The news that the poor, lost men had at some point resorted to cannibalism, for example. When she was bought this bit of news she went out of her way to ruin the reputation of John Rae, the man bringing the news.