Arctic Romance: Lady Franklin and the Lost Polar Expedition

People Involved

Associate Professor Penny Russell

Project overview

This work in progress is an 'intimate history' of nineteenth-century Arctic exploration. It tells the story of the loss of Sir John Franklin's expedition in search of the North West Passage, and the ensuing searches which were mounted for the next decade and more, from the perspective of his wife, who won significant popular and sentimental celebrity through her efforts to discover his fate. The central premise is that during the 1850s Jane Franklin transformed the discourse of Arctic exploration: not through the direct influence she exerted on the searches for Franklin (though this was certainly significant) but by entering into and rewriting the language of heroism, suffering, and national honour. Employing an analysis informed by feminist history, the book will explain the cultural influence Jane Franklin wielded in her lifetime, and the rapid erasure of that influence after her death, while pointing to the importance of gendered ideology in all idealisations of the explorer as hero. Each chapter analyses a specific body of texts that illuminates an emblematic moment in the shifting mythology of polar exploration, assessing their significance for ideological formulations of gender and 'romance'. The book as a whole thus explains how the Canadian Arctic became knowable to a colonising imagination: how it was transformed, during the middle decades of the nineteenth century, from a place of mystery to a place of stories.


Earlier stages of research on Jane Franklin were supported by an ARC Large Grant, 1994-5

Selected Publications

‘Life’s Illusions: The art of feminist biography’, Journal of Women’s History Vol. 21 No. 4 2009

‘Citizens of the World? Jane Franklin’s transnational fantasies’ in D. Deacon, P. Russell and A. Woollacott (eds) Transnational Lives: Biographies of Global Modernity Palgrave MacMillan, 2010.

‘The World’s Contracted Thus: Jane Franklin and the Lost Polar Expedition’, Ex Plus Ultra: eJournal of Colonial and Imperial History and Postcolonial Theory Vol 1, September 2009.

‘Wife Stories: Narrating marriage and self in the life of Jane Franklin’, Victorian Studies 48 (1) Fall 2005.

'Private Writings' in M. Spongberg et al (eds) Palgrave Companion to Women's Historical Writing Palgrave MacMillan, Basingstoke and New York, 2005, pp 427-437.

Penny Russell 'Empathy, Imagination and Feminist History', Lilith: A Feminist History Journal, 13, 2004, pp. 1-11 (feature article in 20th anniversary edition).

Penny Russell ‘An improper education? Jane Griffin’s pursuit of self-improvement and “Truth”, 1811-1812’, History of Education Journal (UK), Vol. 33, No. 3, May 2004, pp. 249-265.

Penny Russell ‘Imagining Romance: Geneva 1816’, Australian Feminist Studies, 19 (43) March 2004, pp. 9-18.

This Errant Lady: Jane Franklin's Overland Journey to Port Phillip and Sydney, 1839 (edited, annotated and introduced by P. Russell) National Library of Australia, Canberra, 2002.

Penny Russell ‘The Allure of the Nile: Jane Franklin’s Voyage to the Second Cataract, 1834’ Gender and History 9(2) August 1997, pp. 222-241

Penny Russell ‘“Her Excellency”: Lady Franklin, Female Convicts and the Problem of Authority in Van Diemen’s Land’ Journal of Australian Studies 53, 1997, pp. 40-50

Penny Russell 'Paradise Lost: Sir John and Lady Franklin' in For Richer, For Poorer: Early Colonial Marriages (ed. P. Russell) Melbourne University Press, 1994

Brief Profiles

Penny Russell is an Associate Professor in the History Department. Her interest in Jane Franklin (née Griffin) has grown ever since, many years ago, she wrote a chapter on Sir John and Lady Franklin for an edited collection on Australian colonial marriages. Since then she has developed, in articles, books and conference papers, a succession of specialised studies of Jane Franklin that illuminate historical issues as various as female education in Britain in the early years of nineteenth century, British women travellers in Egypt, the politics of gender, power and penal discipline in Van Diemen's Land, and the problem of marriage for feminist biography. Her expertise in feminist biography, and particularly the historical interpretation of women's private writing, is widely recognised. In 2006 she co-convened, with Professors Desley Deacon (ANU) and Angela Woollacott (Macquarie University), a conference on transnational biography and international lives, hosted by the Humanities Research Centre at ANU. This has resulted in two edited collections, Transnational Ties: Australian Lives in the World, published by ANU E-Press in 2008, and Transnational Lives: Biographies of Global Modernity, 1700-present, published by Palgrave MacMillan in 2010.