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Futility Closet

Jun 7, 2021

In 1838, Frenchwoman Henriette d'Angeville set out to climb Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps, against the advice of nearly everyone she knew. In this week's episode of the Futility Closet podcast we'll follow d'Angeville up the mountain to fulfill what she called "a monomania of the heart."

We'll also escape Australia in a box and puzzle over a fixed game.


In 1986, Florida bankruptcy judge A. Jay Cristol issued an order inspired by "a little old ebony bird."

Puzzling poet S.R. Ford fits 10 guests into nine rooms.

Sources for our feature on Henriette d'Angeville:

Rebecca A. Brown, Women on High: Pioneers of Mountaineering, 2002.

David Mazel, Mountaineering Women: Stories by Early Climbers, 1994.

Peter H. Hansen, The Summits of Modern Man, 2013.

Nathan Haskell Dole, The Spell of Switzerland, 1913.

Francis Henry Gribble, The Early Mountaineers, 1899.

Charles Edward Mathews, The Annals of Mont Blanc: A Monograph, 1898.

Albert Richard Smith, Mont Blanc, 1871.

Delphine Moraldo, "Gender Relations in French and British Mountaineering: The Lens of Autobiographies of Female Mountaineers, From d'Angeville (1794-1871) to Destivelle (1960-)," Journal of Alpine Research 101:1 (2013).

Diana L. Di Stefano, "The Summits of Modern Man: Mountaineering After the Enlightenment," Canadian Journal of History 50:1 (Spring/Summer 2015), 213-215.

Gerry Kearns, Mary Kingsley, and Halford Mackinder, "The Imperial Subject: Geography and Travel in the Work of Mary Kingsley and Halford Mackinder," Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 22:4 (1997), 450-472.

Bénédicte Monicat, "Autobiography and Women's Travel Writings in Nineteenth-Century France: Journeys Through Self-Representation," Gender, Place & Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geography 1:1 (1994), 61-70.

Walther Kirchner, "Mind, Mountain, and History," Journal of the History of Ideas 11:4 (October 1950), 412-447.

J.M. Thorington, "Henriette d'Angeville au Mont-Blanc," American Alpine Journal, 1949.

Sherilyne J. King, "Crags & Crinolines," Tenth Annual Hypoxia Symposium, McMaster University, October 1997.

Pascale Gorguet Ballesteros, "Women in Trousers: Henriette d'Angeville, a French Pioneer?" Journal of Design, Creative Process & the Fashion Industry 9:2 (2017), 200-213.

Karen Stockham, "'Home Is Just Another Range of Mountains': Constructions of 'Home' in Women's Mountaineering Auto/biographies," Auto/Biography Yearbook 2014, 2015, 90-104.

Claire Evans, "'But What Do I Wear?': A Study of Women's Climbing Attire," in Maria Vaccarella and Jacque Lynn Foltyn, eds., Fashion-Wise, 2013.

Anne Ruderman, "Boots, a Tent and a Chic Chapeau: Women Hike in Footsteps of Pioneers," Concord [N.H.] Monitor, April 18, 2004.

Susan Spano, "Intrepid Women Inspire New Heights," Calgary Herald, Feb. 22, 2003.

Alice Thomson, "Day of the Spiderwoman: Women Climbers," Times, May 18, 1993.

Hjalmar Josephi, "On Montblanc 1838," Sydney Mail, June 26, 1935.

"Mont Blanc's Bride," Saint Paul Globe, Sept. 27, 1897.

Karen Stockham, "It Went Down Into the Very Form and Fabric of Myself": Women's Mountaineering Life-Writing 1808-1960, dissertation, University of Exeter, 2012.

Listener mail:

Nuala McCann, "Crate Escape: Search for Irishmen Who Airmailed Brian Robson Home," BBC News NI, April 7, 2021.

Jason Caffrey, "The Copycat Who Nearly Died Air-Mailing Himself Home," BBC News, April 7, 2015.

Alison Healy, "'The Crate Escape': Two Irishmen Who Helped Mail Friend Home From Australia Sought," Irish Times, April 6, 2021.

Alison Healy, "Man to Meet Irish Friend Who Helped Airmail Him From Australia," Irish Times, April 17, 2021.

Heather Murphy, "A Man Who Shipped Himself in a Crate Wants to Find the Men Who Helped," New York Times, April 14, 2021.

"From the Archives, 1965: Stowaway's Box Seat in Airliner," Sydney Morning Herald, April 9, 2021.

"New Year's Day," Wikipedia (accessed May 23, 2021).

This week's lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Steven Jones, who sent this corroborating link (warning -- this spoils the puzzle).

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at

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Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at Thanks for listening!