Lady Franklin of Russell Square

Written by Erika Behrisch Elce
Review by Jackie Drohan

Set in the mid-19th century, this historical novel takes the form of detailed letters by Lady Franklin to her then-missing husband, arctic explorer Sir John Franklin. The discovery of the letters represents a treasure in itself, as Lady Franklin was said to have burned many of her personal writings. The richly detailed correspondence becomes a diary of her life as she waits for the return of her husband.

John Franklin embarked in 1845 on the now-infamous arctic voyage to find the Northwest Passage. The novel begins with the first letter dated in May of 1847, describing Lady Franklin’s return to her childhood home in London after travels through America and Europe being honored for her husband’s sacrifice. However, as years pass, Lady Franklin’s hope that her husband is alive is put to the test, especially when stories circulate of cannibalism. She steadfastly lobbies for subsequent expeditions to locate the ill-fated expedition.

Interspersed with the correspondence are excerpts from articles in The Times, which closely covered the expeditions, as well as Admiralty records. These track the ultimate sad story of John Franklin’s venture and are based largely on the story given by Dr. John Rae, who was on a mission to explore the Gulf of Boothia when he discovered evidence of what happened to the Franklin party. The heartache suffered by Lady Franklin upon the publication of the gruesome discovery is wrenchingly brought to life. Nonetheless, she continues to defend her husband to the end, her letters continuing through 1857. The novel ends with her mention of the final expedition by Capital McClintock, which she herself lobbied and paid for in a final desperate bid to discover what happened to her husband.

The style is direct and believable, and the novel’s strongest point of interest is in its emotional perspective. Recommended.