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The Day the Rope Broke

The Day the Rope Broke by Ronald W. Clark. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc. Price $4.50. London: Seeker & Warburg. Price 25 s. 221 pages, frontispiece, sketch map and bibliography.

This is the most exciting of the Matterhorn narratives that have appeared during the Year of the Alps. The author has brought to light new material from the Public Record Office and the files of the British Consul in Geneva, in addition to delving into the letters of Whymper and his contemporaries in the Alpine Club and other libraries. One feels witness to something akin to Greek tragedy, where doom is certain and suspense is derived from numerous characters coming and going, any of whom might be drawn into the final action. Girdlestone, Birbeck, McCormick, Robinson and Kennedy are among those who, but for quirk of chance, could have been of the party, and it was fate, alone and unpredictable, that, at the last moment, brought together the seven who set out for the mountain on July 13, 1865.

There are unanswered, indeed unanswerable questions. If a strong rope had been used, would all seven lives have been lost? Old Peter Taug- walder thought that he and Croz could have held up the three men had the rope not broken. Was Croz knocked down by Hadow’s slip or was he dragged off by the three men above him who had fallen? The accident occurred without warning; Whymper and the Taugwalders were not in a position to see precisely what happened. Was Whymper’s silence about this due to disinclination to say anything good about the Taugwalders, or merely that from shock he did not want to talk? The Taugwalders did not assist in the recovery of the bodies. Were some incidents, such as the crosses seen in the sky during descent, heightened in Scrambles for the sake of sensation? No one knows. As the author says in conclusion: "The tragedy of Hudson and Douglas, of Hadow and Croz — and of the survivors — was a tragedy not of evil intent but of human aspiration itself. It is thus both more tragic and yet more bearable.”

J. Monroe Thorington