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Sport 38: Winter 2010

Violet d'Ath (1901—1932) — Novelist, author of The Ice Station

Violet d'Ath (1901—1932)
Novelist, author of The Ice Station

'and the wind's breath moving across the bay, carrying the memory of icebergs . . .'

Daughter of the lighthouse keeper at Point Medusa, Violet D'Ath claimed to have seen a mermaid in the autumn of 1910 while walking to meet the mail launch from Bluff. Eighteen months later, she published her remarkable novel, The Ice Station. Described as 'New Zealand's first truly Gothic novel', The Ice Station is the story of Thora Sars, daughter of the manager of a whaling station on South Georgia. Thora, the only child on the station, is haunted by the spectral figure of a woman dressed in white. The novel leaves unresolved whether the figure is the spirit of her dead mother, a figment of a lonely child's imagination, or an incarnation of the South Pole itself, which Thora visualises as the guardian spirit of the whales and other sea mammals that the men of South Georgia hunt and render for blubber.

The novel has been admired for its unflinching depiction of the brutality of life on a whaling station, where the water occasionally turns red with blood, and the stench of rotting carcasses and rendered fat contrasts with the stark beauty of the sub-Antarctic surroundings. It is also notable for its portrayal of a father who loves his daughter, but is unable to communicate with her or to meet her emotional needs.

Violet D'Ath was working on another novel when, while walking to a dentist's appointment, she was struck by a tram in Princes Street, Dunedin. Rushed to hospital where an examination revealed no major injuries, she died a week later from the effects of a dislodged kidney. Several Dunedin residents have claimed to have seen an ethereal figure, robed in white, at the intersection of Princes and High Streets where the accident occurred.

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