This essay investigates the Arctic as an important, if unlikely, location for the formation of a British national and imperial masculinity in the early nineteenth century. Robert Southey's Life of Nelson (1813) established the national naval hero's heroic masculinity as Arctic in origin, revealing the utility of the Arctic in making British character legible. Perceived as unpopulated and "blank," Arctic geography stood in stark contrast to populated, torrid regions of the colonized tropics. The essay concludes with an examination of John Franklin's best-selling Narrative of a Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea (1823). This account of hardship, imperiled bodies, and cannibalism in an uncertain geography would appear to contradict Southey's claims. Yet despite the expedition's failures, Franklin's narrative only augments public perception of the Arctic as a proving ground for a British masculinity uniquely suited to imperial projects.
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