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He joined the Navy as a midshipman at the age of 14, and fought in the battles of Copenhagen and Trafalgar. When peace with the French broke out, he turned his attention to Arctic exploration, and in particular to solving the conundrum of the Northwest Passage, the mythical clear-water route which would, if it existed, link the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans above the northern coast of the American continent.

Praising slowness - Carl Honore

The first expedition Franklin led to the Arctic was an arduous overland journey from Hudson Bay to the shores of the so-called Polar Ocean east of the Coppermine River. Between and , Franklin and his twenty-strong team covered miles on foot.

Food ran out while they were still days from safety, and the men were forced to eat lichen, their belts and their boots which they boiled up to make leather soup. Nine men died of starvation. One of the French-Canadian guides, suspected of cannibalism, was executed. Then, in May , Franklin set off with two ships — the Erebus and the Terror — and men on the voyage that would kill him.

In July, the convoy was seen by two whalers, entering Lancaster Sound. Nothing more would be heard of it for 14 years. Had the ships sunk or been iced in?


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Were the men dead, or in need of rescue? Between and , more than thirty expeditions were despatched in search of Franklin and his men, several of them funded by his widow-in-waiting, Jane. They explored thousands of miles of new land within the Arctic regions, and contributed to the development of sledge-travelling as a means of polar travel. It was not until that enough evidence had been gathered — reports from the Eskimos of the Boothia region, followed by relics of the expedition, then skeletons, and finally a piece of paper, cached in a cairn at the ill-named Point Victory — to reconstruct the fate of the expedition.

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The Discovery of Slowness

Franklin died of a stroke in , and was interred in a crypt blasted in the ice. Twenty-four men perished in the motionless ships before, in , the survivors struck out on foot over the ice. Almost all succumbed to hunger, scurvy or lead poisoning while trying to reach land. The few who made it died shortly afterwards at an inlet on the Adelaide Peninsula, which was subsequently named Starvation Cove.

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In his personal correspondence and in his published memoirs, Franklin comes across as a man dedicated to the external duties of war and exploration, who kept introspection and self-analysis to a minimum. His blandness makes him an amenably malleable subject for a novelist, and Sten Nadolny has taken full advantage of this licence. The opening scene of The Discovery of Slowness — Die Entdeckung der Langsamkeit — depicts Franklin as a young boy, playing catch badly because his reaction time is too slow.

Ice is a slow mover. As a result, he attains victories unimaginable to the more "hurried" multitude. Nadolny's choice of a hero is apt in this regard; certainly the historical Sir John Franklin was never known for his mental alacrity, but beyond that, his "slowness" is more of a post-modern conceit.


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  6. In a manner reminiscent of Roland Barthes ' "autobiography" of Jules Michelet , Nadolny's Franklin is completely consistent with the known facts, all impeccably researched. Yet interwoven with the truth there is an entirely fictitious construction of Franklin as "slow," ranging from an imaginary ball-game in which the hapless John always arrives several seconds after the ball has departed to a fictitious re-creation of Franklin's efforts, at the height of Admiral Horatio Nelson 's naval battles, to find and shoot a sniper from atop the masts of an enemy warship.

    The Discovery of Slowness

    By waiting, without panic, and carefully noting the angle at which the sniper's shots have been discharged, Franklin pinpoints his location and takes him down with a single shot. Nadolny's choice of hero becomes more problematic later in the narrative, where it seems that Franklin's sort of slowness was decidedly not what was wanted in the Barren Lands of the Arctic, where Franklin loses more than three-quarters of his expedition to starvation, murder, and exposure. Alas for both the historical Franklin and Nadolny's oddly endearing counterfeit, Franklin's death on his final Arctic expedition of leaves unresolved the ultimate merits of his slow and steady disposition.

    Despite this, Nadolny's novel spurred tremendous interest in Germany, most notably in the business world, where seminars for executives on how to follow the philosophy of slowness became, for a time, de rigueur. The character descriptions refer, for simplicity, unless otherwise stated, to the protagonist John Franklin. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

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