Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Lunch break reading: Harriet Prescott Spofford

The Moonstone Mass (PDF) by Harriet Prescott Spofford, via Horror Masters (a definite nod to Spofford's reputation as a master of the gothic and the ghost story).

Originally published in Harper's Magazine in October 1868, "The Moonstone Mass" is the tale of a man who sets sail for the Northwest Passage but is shipwrecked on the Arctic ice. A miserly uncle, a waiting fiancée, and cache of jewels are among the cast of characters. The story is also in the 1989 collection The Amber Gods and Other Stories, edited by Alfred Bendixen.

The story was written at the same time that artists and explorers were beginning to bring tales of the Arctic back to eager audiences. The chill of Spofford's story goes well with To the Ends of the Earth, Painting the Polar Landscape, on view until March 1 at Salem's Peabody Essex Museum. Spofford may have been influenced by some of these very views as she imagined the icy landscape in which her protagonist is stranded.

Aurora Borealis, 1865, Frederic Edwin Church, 56 x 83½ inches, oil on canvas,
Smithsonian American Art Museum, gift of Eleanor Blodgett

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