Character # IV
Anna Aurora Astrup (1871-1968)
Among Virgin Mountains
When you come across something, something old, as you touch it, you touch time. The air around your face carries the scent of an era, not of old and fungus but of body, powder, leather, perfume, gasoline: all the things that were there. All these unnecessary necessities that fill our lives, things that filled lives then. As you take hold of the object, you’re afraid of breaking it. Still you don’t want to let go. You inspect and sense: look, stroke, push, bend, turn and tilt. If it is wearable, you put it on. You search for the nearest mirror, making this thing a part of you. If it is too tight you hold in your stomach, you try to breathe carefully to not tear the fragile fabric across your ribs or shoulders, and as the garment finally slips down your chest you bless your small breasts. Or you curse your thighs, as the skirt refuses to be pulled all the way up – it goes no further than your knees – and this moment you swear to never run your miles again. The only mile you want to run right now is the one that can take you back in time.
Clutching an object, trying it on, finding that it did fit you perfectly, without any struggle. Bending across her leather suitcase, on your knees, looking at your own reflection in an old mirror. Her sunglasses fit your face, rest comfortably on your nose. The rubber band keeps them up without too much pressure on your temples. The frames rest on your cheekbones. Imagine looking through those orange glasses. As you return your own gaze, fiction, reality and your life meet in a reflection. This is the way the story of Anna Aurora Astrup came to me. The tale became my quest, conscience and concern. I would like to say it was my fantasy, dreams and desires, but as this hunt is my work, my artistic practice, it was far more real, physical and bothersome than a dream. One could say it bordered on an obsession.
To introduce a grand lady like Anna Aurora is hard. Anna sensed and felt, yet feared to write down, as her journal was intended to be read by others. She had just her mind and memory to herself. Writing is our gate to her world, objectification of her thoughts, dreams and desires.
Hunting the past is my thing. As I inspected my face in her sunglasses, I realised East Greenland would be my destination. In since travelling and arriving back home I came to understand that my voice, or perhaps rather my physical presence, is needed to tell her story. My body: sensing and experiencing new land – nothing like a human landscape – Nature.
Time does not pass here. I follow her heels, now you may follow mine. Her skirt moves softly. The shotgun beats her shoulder over and over. My shoulder is aching, my toes too. Anna never wrote anything about pain. She wrote one entry on her seasickness, vomiting between every word she wrote. The entry is short. On the first day, sailing from Iceland towards Greenland, I threw up twice. The balance organs adjusted to the bouncing eventually.
Anna Aurora Astrup was born in Bergen, Norway in 1871, the oldest of four sisters: Anna Aurora, Alberte, Nilsine and Oline. Her father, Nils Astrup, was a teacher. He wanted to give opportunities to the less fortunate in society. In addition to his four biological daughters, he adopted four children: three girls and one boy.
The boy – Arthur Borealis Astrup – was born the same day as Anna: September 17th, 1871. His mother died during childbirth. Anna and Arthur were raised as siblings. The bond between the two was like that of twins: inseparable, always supportive, completing sentences for one another. Anna came up with the ideas. Anna did the talking. Arthur followed. Arthur always agreed. In photographs she usually thrones in the middle, like a queen. They all look confident, well composed and serious, like most people in black and white photographs from the end of the 19th century. The photographs are exposed on tin plates, meaning the exposures are about eleven seconds. What is most evident in all the plates is the absence of a wife and mother.
Nils founded a school for less fortunate girls. We know that Anna attends the school. Later she joins her father and teaches the younger girls. She picks up the pen and establishes writing as her profession.
I flip through an old album. Looking at the photographs of the family, I assume the mother Anna Monsdatter had died, as sanatoriums treating tuberculosis were not instituted until 1890. I find a picture of Anna Aurora, taken just before she set sail for Greenland. She is encircled by two men: her father to the right of her and her uncle Olav, father of explorer Eivind Astrup, behind her. To the left of Anna stands a woman, strikingly alike the explorer. At first I thought it was the wife of Olav, yet I could not rest assured. I sifted through the handwritten census from 1900 and found the name Anna Monsdatter Astrup.
When Anna left for Greenland her mother was still alive. Even though Anna did not fight tuberculosis herself, she grew up with a mother who survived that death sentence. Anna developed a personality that made it possible to be accepted by a ship of men, and, further, be accepted as a worthy explorer among them.
The photograph is a crucial piece of Anna’s story, the beginning that I nearly missed. With her mother’s hand on her shoulder Anna Aurora becomes what she was. The backdrop is set. Soon we´re ready for the scenes, but first some facts to bring her character to life:
Anna Aurora Astrup sails along the East Coast of Greenland in 1900. Astrup charts sea depth, mountain peaks and coastline. She makes first ascents of Mount Aurora and Astrups Horn. The coastline just south of Scoresbysund is one of the World’s least explored.
Anna decided to publish the journal in her own name. Every publisher that read the manuscript rejected it. The manuscript was forgotten and incomplete for many decades.
When her fellow traveller Michael died, Michael’s wife Mary contacted Anna. Anna was mentioned in Michael’s will. She was to inherit his original diaries from Greenland. Before handing them over to Anna, Mary had read Michael’s diaries: Mary got the impression that Michael had seen Anna as his closest comrade during those months aboard the sailing boat Aurora Arktika. Mary decided to spend parts of the fortune Michael had left her to create a fund for Anna Aurora Astrup’s journal to be published.
It took about a year for the journal to be published. With the solid financial support, several publishing houses were interested. Among Virgin Mountains was released May 12th 1928. A month later explorer Roald Amundsen’s disappearance was a fact. Anna’s book was forgotten as everyone interested in Greenland and the Arctic, would honour their greatest explorer of them all, and contemplate by reading his journals.
The uniqueness in Astrup’s text lies in her style. In the journal she discusses the position of the female explorer. It is evident that Amundsen is her hero and that she rewrites her manuscript after he has published some of his travel journals. We must remember Astrup was one of Amundsen’s contemporaries, Anna being exactly one year older than Roald. Perhaps the two of them met after Anna returned home, perhaps she only got to know him through his writing.
Michael wrote portraits of the entire crew. The portrait of Anna makes her female side come through. She has confided in Michael, but what Michael sees of things that are not told is what constitutes the portrait:
The crossing to Iceland took longer, fewer did it and it was a real adventure. Anna had cut her hair for the occasion. It was not short, but definitely shorter. Gloves and towels, mirror and hairbrush, was all she brought that bore any sign of vanity. The camera demanded about half the space in her suitcase, as if it was the most necessary of necessities. And to Anna it was. She was writer by profession, but a photographer by passion.
A traveller could fit all necessities in one bag; Anna was not a traveller. Her packing list was proper reading in its own right, but as soon as the wind gathered in the sails, as soon as her face got wet by mist, sweat and saltwater, her hair greasy, her lips chapped and her knees bruised, she forgot about the entire list. She swore briskly she could cut it down to half, require less and, moreover, fear less on her future journeys.
The camera carried by Anna is a Kodak. As the red bellows unfold, the rectangular black box is transformed into a creature: the bellows being its seeking neck, the lens being its vigilant eye. The small viewfinder beckons the photographer to control it. A beast, a bold bear or a beauty -- it depends on the photographer.
Anna never tries to beautify, she simply seeks the beautiful and documents it straightforwardly, quite plainly. In a way she says: This is it, seek and see it for yourself. This makes the photographs convincing: looking at the print in front of you, surrounded by a room, a building, a garden or a street, bathed in light very different from the light that sketched up the scene in front of you, it still feels like you are gazing at the scene from within: On that plateau looking across the fjord towards an unknown mountain chain. Two glaciers suspended from the mid-section of the steepest cliff facing you. The crispness of the chilled summer air of the Arctic: no wind, complete stillness. The sound of your breath collides with the complete solitude.
Anna Aurora enjoyed the light. She was particularly skilled with this fragile, transparent, quick, rising or setting – escaping – material. Named after Aurora Borealis, the northern lights. She preferred the light Media Nocte: the midnight sun. Creativity and working morale rose in the evening, together with her words, her stories. She forgot her woes to the everyday, drank coffee in the evening, at night, after midnight, craving food in the morning. A clogged cliché, courtesy of the creative; the core came calling in the night.
Among Virgin Mountains
I wish for this journal to travel through time, through space. Into someone's bookshelf, where it is picked up, brought further into a bedroom, under the covers hidden between the sheets in the bed of an adventurous young girl, only to be read after dark in the light of an nearly burned out candle, then hidden underneath her coat, passed onto a friend, kept underneath another bed, picked up furtively by a curious mother who reads it in the kitchen by the window when the others are out. Clouds of dust gather in the corners as she reads and reads further. The mother wisely keeps doing the dishes, as they would reveal her far sooner than the dust, dust only visible stuck to the shirt of her son crawling under the bookshelf, where he discovers a hidden book. His father tells him to stop sweeping the floor with his shirt, yet the father does not see that there's more dust to sweep than before.
Many a woman has accomplished as well as men. Great masterpieces are written by women, although we do not know to what extent: which or how many, as women write under male pseudonym to get their stories, thoughts and ideas out and into this world.
I wish to publish this journal in my own name, although I fear it will never be published. Some female adventurers see themselves as the exception that proves the rule: she is able to travel, she would vote wisely for a future prime minister – but – she would not vote for a fellow female. She does not have confidence in women other than herself. She wants to be the outstanding, intelligent, unusual exception, the one in a million, and hereby, through her selfishness, she ruins the future of other women. I see a parallel to the Inuit of Greenland. Greenland is a part of Denmark: the Danish government controls its inhabitants. A Greenlander who makes it to Copenhagen and succeeds does not usually have pride and confidence in his fellow countrymen. He considers his previous society as primitive, hundreds of years behind. Why? In Denmark he is explained as unusual: “You are the exception.” If he, despite all pressure and propaganda, does believe in his fellow Greenlanders, he is treated like any woman who tries to defend women. Being the exception to the rule, at least pretending you think so, is easier.
As soon as we enter nature with our vessels, we look upon our surroundings as a landscape that can be changed according to our needs. We could have entered with a different approach, adapted to our surroundings. The Inuit floats through nature in his kayak, every move seamless and invisible. The Inuit precedes us in numerous ways, as a man may precede a woman, and that woman may precede the same man in different field or based on a new foundation.
I wish for a new foundation – a new beginning. Sails are set towards unknown times, unknown destinations. Prospects are uncertain. The times are changing, so are our stories.
Crossing the Denmark Strait from Iceland. Too nauseous to stay below deck – seasick. I observe the horizon – no icebergs. Too far from land for birds to span their wings above us.
What I observed from deck first seemed singular in appearance and form: An eternal flat horizon between green sea and blue sky. After some time, a day perhaps, monotony made me aware of any slight variation, and further ways to comprehend the scene: sky diving into sea, sky softly meeting sea, sky and sea floating into a shared blue mass, a shared grey mould-like, soft, yet heavy, clay. Then, small at first, gradually enveloping us: white masses, occasional irregularities, dramatic pyramids and domes, massive grey walls. I saw land almost an entire day before reaching it. How I longed to step onto the grey and white surfaces, to have completed the first part of the journey: the crossing.
Questions to the Unknown
If I am unable to make friends among the bearded, weathered, hard faces of these men, then you will be my closest comrade. A black leather notebook with a certain number of white pages, ready for my words, thoughts, joys, sorrows, frustrations – and questions. As I linger impatiently on deck about to set sail once more – sail further south – a question forms. No matter how kind and understanding the other explorers are, they have a different agenda from I. This question must be raised to an open book, before closing it. I know you can keep my question secret:
What is there to be told, of so many tales, singular, clustered and collective?
These stories are of wilderness, wonder and weather: wild, wonderful weather.
Of colonialism, control and conspirators: colonizing, controlling, conspiring.
– Even predators sometimes cave inn, become prey.
Yet there are sparkling stars surrounding us, stunning, startling seen from sea,
from south, from shifting anchorages.
Stars shine through it all, wild and steady and sincere.
Overpower is the word I am looking for!
Stars overpower and demand me to look, until my eyes sting and all the stars shine double.
Eyes create their own images, that eventually shape into memories, stories of wonder,
that leap in and out of heart, fingertips, inner eye.
Some stories are lucky enough to escape and become like black ink on white paper,
suspended long enough in fingertips and beyond to cast a black shadow.
The question and attempts to answer leap first as I face the unknown.
The First Ascent
I walk the shore, looking back upon that eternal horizon, westwards. Immediately after landfall I am restless, eager to explore. One of the most experienced explorers traveling with us is Michael.
Despite being man and woman, the oldest and the youngest, Michael and I share interests. We are both hikers, and especially love hikes in unknown terrain, where the prospects of getting a first ascent are quite certain as long as we make it to the top. We do not have any map to check, no men to confide in. We have to trust our eyes to find the right route, our legs to take us there – and our own judgment to bring us safely back down.
The terrain consisted only of sharp rocks that were resting on each other, that was, until we came. Rocks were grinding on rocks beneath our hiking boots, gradually louder, building up like a symphony of percussion instruments to a crescendo.
We finally reached evidence of the long arctic winter. A large snowfield carried us in its sweet, comforting whispers to the top. One single hollow sound, the gong, as we trod a gigantic flat slab of pink steatite. The gong signalled lunch. We were amazed to encounter pebbles at the top, chatting beneath our shoe soles, just like the two of us. We'd started to discuss names at this point. Our lunch was quicker than we would have liked, due to some very annoying black flies.
Back down we went. I remember it as so easy, legs leaping, feet floating. This is how a memory is shaped: my feet feel sore now a few hours later; still, the hard work before that victorious moment is already forgotten.
We could not decide if we should honour the boat or our own names. Michael, being a proper gentleman, came up with a name: Mount Aurora, after our sailing boat Aurora Arktika, after the northern lights Aurora Borealis, and also after my middle name. Three birds with one stone! Michael was not at all eager to put his name on the map. The mountain was not high: later we surveyed it at 1913 feet.
This morning – we'd been sailing for a week, three days of sailing south through unmapped, unnamed, unknown territories– Arqaluk came kayaking from south.
Arqaluk is from the village Tasilaq. The people of Tasilaq are known to be the best paddlers in the world. As soon as he rolled out of his cradle Arqaluk was given his own kayak. He masters several different twists, turns and rolls. He has a seal belly attached to the kayak, filled with air so that the kayak flips faster back to stable position. His upper body returns from water. Pushed the opposite way than his body, by the force of his firm movement, the water glances off him.
Arqaluk’s eyes are vigilantly gazing at new land. As he turns around to face me they are kind, smiling. He is seemingly built to move among steep mountains and rumbling rocks as well as among the icebergs of uncharted waters. He uses a stick as a third leg in front of the other two, poking every rock and new surface, testing stability and grip. He never loosens any rocks. He prefers to walk the valleys, gorges, even gaps. He is a hunter. I worry about rocks crashing down from above, and want to ascend hills sooner rather than later. Gradually I accept and adapt to the hunter’s habit of movement: using the gaps in the shadows beneath the hills.
The White Emperor
I am fast asleep in my bunk as the captain utters 'polar bear'. Not too loud, just loud enough for us to wake up and consider. The first time I jumped up and out in one leap, terrified and thrilled. Encountering number two, I sneaked out of my bunk, my heart pounding like drumsticks. Number three was the curious one. I shared his emotions, as I tried to get a closer look, observing rags, paws, claws and face. Number four was the quick one. I saw his buttocks through the viewfinder, too late to capture the emperor at his best. Number five was walking the beach, protecting his territory, not at all bothered to greet his minions. Number six was the one that encircled us. We found his hair and his body print while walking along the shore. As we went back to the boat for dinner, he came out of his hiding place and marked his territory by rubbing his body to the ground, spreading his paws in front of his face. A new body print, detailed like a cast in plaster, appeared in the fine-grained sand. His chest arched and his head lifted as he sniffed the air. His face lowered. Black eyes stared towards the boat. I returned his gaze, clutching some strands of his hair in my hand. I had a relic from the emperor.
The East Greenland Coast Expedition, 1900
Sailing south we met a ship, the Antarctic, heading towards the Arctic. The Antarctic was doing a “small” – in fact rather long – detour, waiting for the commander and owner of the boat Georg Carl Amdrup.
Lieutenant Amdrup was an experienced leader, five years older than I. I was slightly disappointed to meet only seven of the crew of eleven, the lieutenant himself being absent as well as three other men. The second-in-command, Dr. Nikolaj Hartz, now obviously in charge, had an untamed beard, oval glasses and an amusing round face, as of an old man.
Antarctic anchored next to Aurora. We dined in the larger and more luxurious home of our temporary neighbours, equipped with a canvas bathtub, napkins with Amdrup’s Antarctic 1900 embroidered in red silk thread, silver with the engraving AA 1900 (I was amused by the vessel sharing my initials), a selection of fine French wines, as well as the mandatory port and madeira of a well-equipped ship. Rumour had that the crew’s bed linen was embroidered and flasks engraved with their names.
“They are exploring the smaller arms of the fjord, places where no people have ever been before. That is, if they do not encounter Inuit settlements that whose existence is hitherto unknown.” Dr. Hartz’s untamed beard bobbed up and down in excitement as he proclaimed the uniqueness and uncertainties of their sister ship’s explorations.
The lieutenant himself had left the linen, perhaps brought the flask, and definitely brought a shotgun, as he and three other men boarded the precisely 18 foot long, or should one say short, Aggas. While we were dining comfortably, the four men probably had a campfire ashore, as the open boat did not provide shelter, kitchen or dining table for even the simplest meal.
There were many necessities that had been left in the Antarctic: lieutenant Amdrup had insisted on bringing ski sails to pull them quickly across glaciers and parts of the inland ice. The sails, of the finest silk, were sown in Paris. The wind leaked through the tiny holes, pinched by Parisian seamstresses making tiny stitches with their Singer sewing machines.
Early the next morning we went off, Helge and I following Sigurdur. Our plan was to follow the valley north, then climb the ledge all the way to the top. I was scared, though not as scared as Helge. I was eager, probably more eager than Sigurdur and Helge combined. I was tough, yet not as tough as Sigurdur, as I was depending on him finding the way, so that I did not have to look up or down.
Sigurdur stopped and sat down for a while on the only flat stone among all the soil and rocks surrounding us. I dared to enjoy the view, found the camera and photographed Helge as he approached. Remoteness. I had the sense that no one had climbed these rocks before. I climbed on. This felt extreme to me. Every Inuit could leap up here, if he ever felt like doing it, if climbing this mountain had any purpose to him. I brushed soil off my knees, trying to brush away any hope of a first ascent – a mountain to name. To the north, just above us was the gorge we had planned to enter. Between the gorge and us were tons of rocks. Some of them were moving. Click, clack, click, clack, clack-clack-clack. Faster, faster, down they went, until they were out of sight, out of hearing. Would I dare to cross and enter the gorge?
“I'm not having a break here! I refuse to stop until we are at the top or turning back down!” Helge was pale like the white in pink steatite.
Up it went, until we finally dipped our heads above the wall that had seemed eternal until it came to an end. We had all been climbing parallel the past thirty meters or so, as Sigurdur did not want to spoil our shared glory by ascending half an hour before us! The same view shone across three pairs of eyes, the same thought danced through three heads. Joy was filling three hearts. No cairn. No one has ever been here. Victory!
It was a quiet, sunny day. We had our lunch at the top of our mountain.
“I think we should name it Astrup's Horn,” Helge said. “Many a man I know could climb up here. Anna is the only woman I know who would even consider trying!”
Southbound in September
It fated that Aurora Arktika and I met Aggas here – today – in Tasilaq at the Ammasalik Island. Weathered – almost wild – the men were to be picked up by the Antarctic. But – they would have to wait, as Dr. Hartz and his men had been in Tasilaq for two weeks already. Tired of the small haven with limited adventures, they had left a note at the missionary station: “Ventured to collect botanical specimens further south. Back in ten days”.
In Tasilaq Amdrup and his three bravest men could finally live more spaciously than they did at 18 ft. by 4 ft.! In bad weather, the boat made fast at various locations along the coast, they had slept beneath a tarpaulin – head to toe.
In late August they had stumbled across a large flock of musk oxen. The oxen were abundant in the area, one of those vast plains with too much grass and pink Chamerion latifolium flowers, and the mountains above too steep for the polar bear to hunt. After gradually fewer encounters with bears the further south we have sailed I realized: the polar bear prefers the black beaches. Here he can walk the shore, board and travel leisurely on a large flake of ice, jump onto one further out and then perhaps the next, until he sniffs a seal or three resting on a larger iceberg. Paws slice directly into the belly, he slurps the two greatest delicacies – the eye balls – then his paw scoops up the best part of the intestines from the neatly made cut. The rest is left for the birds.
So, closer to Ammasalik, among the violet flowers, the musk oxen may live undisturbed. In the remoteness of this narrow, sheltered fjord they were not hunted by humans. That was until Amdrup and his men came camping. Musk was sold by weight in Copenhagen, an essential ingredient for fine ladies’ toiletries, perfumes and beauty products. After weeks of little toiletries and no kind of grooming at all, Amdrup had more adventurous plans for the musk. Yes, they did hunt, but wanted the enormous prey to be kept alive. Easier said than done. They had a secret weapon, an instrument in fact. Amdrup plays the violin. He brought it on the expedition and further along on Aggas, for amusement or in case of tragic events. He found himself a comfortable rock, without too many black flies swarming, and let the bow stroke the deepest string, the G. One of the musk turned. Then he plaid Sæterjentens Søndag – the Dairy Maid’s Sunday – by Ole Bull. This musk turned out to be more curious, stupid or musical than the others, and lent himself to easy capture.
The reason for Aggas’ delay was not unfortunate events – accidents, injuries, disease, bad weather or bad luck – but the stubbornness of an ox! They had to walk the musk along the coastline guided and at times dragged on a rope from the boat. The final leg of coast south towards Tasilaq is rugged, so at certain points one man had to sail Abbas, while the other three dragged the ox across a mountain pass or rocky peninsula. The ox preferred Amdrup to come along, playing the violin. And it was only the – all too known by now – melody of Bull that would make him move.
On one of these detours Amdrup and the youngest man Søren had started to collect lemmings. That is, Amdrup kept playing, the lemmings came out of hiding, and Søren crawled over the rocks and moss to catch them. Not even aware of their sex – at least not caring – the men named the first lemmings after themselves: Georg Carl with his brown fur, Søren spotted in black, white and blonde, Knud with his black coating and Ejnar– looking just the same as Søren – they couldn’t really tell them apart. They caught ten in total.
Amdrup is certainly a good storyteller. Even if he only tells the truth half of the time, the musk ox and the ten lemmings are here. And to get the ox aboard the Antarctic required only one thing: the tune of Amdrup’s violin. Standing at the harbour with my handkerchief I believed it all. I waved goodbye and shouted: “Au revoir, Amdrup!” as Søren – very carefully – carried aboard the last crate housing the well-fed lemmings.
Writing from below deck, Aurora Arktika is heading home too. It’s time to leave the East Coast.
Among Anna Aurora’s belongings, I found the original black leather-bound journal. The manuscript handed to the publisher does not differ much from it. Publishers of her time would usually – partly due to explorers’ poor writing skills and/or legibility, mostly due to vanity – change a book completely. Journals are turned into terrific tales, dramatic anecdotes. Anna kept hers as it was.
Anna Aurora kept one journal – personal thoughts and manuscript are collected in the same book, together constituting her days in a sailing boat, a woman among men, exploring.
Amused by handwriting, stains, scents and the adventure of flipping true pages from bygone times I kept reading. They were the same stories, sentences and words that had captured my attention in that first and only edition of her book I had managed to get hold of – the manuscript. Southbound in September was not there; instead was a chapter called Southbound.
The reason Anna Aurora edited parts of Southbound was the need to conceal the personal – and private – parts of the story.
In times when one often had to choose, Anna Aurora found her own ways. A smile on her face, a certain spark in her eye, as she solved her life by keeping parts of it secret. Removing Southbound from Among Virgin Mountains was a choice of keeping parts separate. Love and romance was kept away from the adventures and experiences in East Greenland. The loved ones were separated, being parts of competing expeditions, opponents from two different countries, traveling away from each other first, meeting very briefly by chance. The chapter had not enough room to unfold and become part of the story.
Carl Georg Amdrup and Anna Aurora Astrup travel on – independently – for many years. Carl Georg leads several expeditions under the Danish flag. Anna Aurora travels Europe and writes as a journalist. When she is home in Bergen she is teaching at her father’s school. At first I thought the teaching position was paid and the articles written out of interest. After some research I realized it was the opposite. Anna Aurora worked at the school as a volunteer. Teaching was her cover. The articles on the other hand were well-paid and highly demanded, written under male pseudonyms.
Among Anna’s belongings I found piles of newspaper articles. Many of the ones in Norwegian written in the 1930s were signed in one name: Arthur Amundsen. I thought it to be a name Anna had made up. It turned out Arthur existed, working as a stenographer from the age of twenty, first for Anna Aurora. Arthur is still alive; at ninety-seven his mind is crystal clear. He confirmed that he willingly let Anna use his name.
His eyes sparkled as he revealed further: “After a while she just started making them up. The male names, I mean. They were all, like Anna phrased it, extremely shy.” He continues “Yes, shy – It all became easier with telephones. She could do interviews, be quite known and viewed as a person of opinions as her different alter egos. She dictated to her husband, some assistants, her husband and later her son – and me of course. We had to be her male voice in the telephone. She kept an ear close to the receiver, feverishly writing precise replies on her pad, holding it up, pointing like mad if we phrased it slightly differently.”
Arthur continues: “During years of travels – one south the other north, one in Europe the other in Antarctica – Anna Aurora and Carl Georg kept in touch. Their love did not fade or break due to forces pulling north or south. The bond only grew stronger the further the distance between the two aching hearts. They married in 1914. The war kept them apart.”
Arthur leans even more forward, to rock himself up from the chair. Halfway up, his back crooked: “ I was reminded about a quite amusing phrase in Carl Georg’s autobiography. Let me go and look for it.” Walking in very small steps, he dragged his flippers on the floor. “– Here it is! Page thirty-seven. I have lined out the section. Yes that one.” I read to myself first. Arthur asks me to read out loud:
An especially cold day for Bergen, 21st of December 1914, my loved one awaits me at the train station. Anna is radiant and smiling – and her womb quite apparent underneath the thick camel overcoat! – She gave birth that night – just after midnight. I imagine she wanted to keep the secret in its wrapping until the receiver arrived safely back home. After all we do share the love for secrets – and even more so surprises. Both our lives had been filled with unexpectedness. Alberte was the most unexpected and best kept secret of them all – and the greatest gift.
From Arthur and Carl Georg’s autobiography I piece together a few facts: Anna Aurora and Carl Georg adopted a child. A boy named Albert. He was born on December 22nd, 1914. Alberte Amdrup Astrup and Albert Astrup Amdrup were born on the same day. Alberte was to grow up like her mother, with a brother to speak up for.
The family of four travelled the world (a complete story of its own). Anna Aurora bought tickets and booked accommodations in the names of her male pseudonyms. She let Albert and Carl Georg answer the phone. It is nearly impossible to trace their travel routes. The family travelled to Egypt, China and Turkey. Anna Aurora travelled in Syria, Alaska and even came on a ship to the Arctic.
Arthur agrees to be named in the book, as he officially worked for Anna Aurora and finds it amusing that secret parts of her career and life may be revealed after all these years. “The other ones will be dead ends anyway, as they were never alive. Among all the names, mine is surely the only one of a real person. But there were other articles in the attic, I guess? Various names? My guess is – no matter how numerous the authors – they’re all her.”
In the dusty piles of paper I find four alter egos, Arthur and three others, that have an independent journalist “career”. Each character is equipped with a social position, a set of clear opinions and a certain style of language. Arthur writes with the language closest to that of Among Virgin Mountains. There are a total of thirty-seven characters, most of them with one single article or a series of articles written to follow the same story or issue over a period of time. The amount of text will astonish even productive writers. In order to write as all these personas, she had to get into the role, and further, gain knowledge.
Where is Anna’s voice and opinions? An attempt to answer in retrospect, looking at the content of the articles, is: the characters do share opinions. They are radical and speak up for equality. None of them claim to be religious. Some claim to be socialists, others businessmen, actors or professors. The more detailed parts – positions and phrases – are unique and useful in the given situation.
Anna has the purpose to serve the good. And to do so, she acts as the opposite sex. One man is not enough. She needs the men to climb the ladders of society – up or down, left or right – depending on the story.