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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

Victorian Vikings and the World of Saga Tourism

2nd September 2015, 17:30 to 19:00, Alington House, Thomas Spray

This third lecture in the Late Summer Lectures series will explore how nineteenth-century literary tourists encountered the history and writing of Iceland, setting the stage for modern sagas such as Game of Thrones.

In 1856 Lord Dufferin set out to Iceland in an attempt to find the elusive “True North.” His self-chosen expedition title: Navigator, Artist, and ‘Sagaman’. In the mid-1800s such ventures were not unheard of. Many seafarers were drawn to Iceland by scientific interests: clearly shown by the title of Charles Forbes’ 1860 account of ‘Volcanoes, Geysers, and Glaciers.’ Yet Dufferin’s approach was indicative of an increasing interest in Iceland as a destination for literary enthusiasts seeking Viking roots. In a supreme act of historic irony, nineteenth-century Iceland was raided (even pillaged) by Victorian gentlemen.

This engagement was undoubtedly linked with the translation of saga literature. Walter Scott’s ‘Eyrbyggja saga’ extracts and George Dasent’s Njáls saga translation encouraged waves of literary pilgrims, artists, and writers to pick up their pens and set sail for Iceland. William Morris (1871; 1873), Sabine Baring-Gould (1862), Richard Burton (1872), and W. G. Collingwood (1897) were just a handful of well-known names. Back in Britain, general interest in northern antiquity supported and inspired research into the leading theories of Romantic Nationalism and comparative philology. The top scholars of the day suggested that the Scandinavians had given the British Empire many of its finest inherited qualities, paving the path for imperial greatness. Iceland was ancestral ground, an important study in the construction of racial identity.

This paper will demonstrate how the early saga tourists of Iceland laid the way for a host of book-bearing travellers, exploring the figure of the travelling English ‘Sagaman’. It will consider how Anglo-Scandinavian tourism was bolstered by interest in the Icelandic Sagas and look forward to the cultural tourism of today, where Iceland is home to not only the northern realms of George R. R. Martin’s books, but also to a film cast as diverse as Thor, Beowulf, Batman, and Alien.

About Late Summer Lectures

Now in its sixth year, the Late Summer Lecture Series enables doctoral and postdoctoral student from the Department of English in Durham, Newcastle, and York to broadcast their ground-breaking research to a wider audience. The full programme for the latest instalment is now available for viewing on the Late Summer Lecture Series website, and reflects the diverse and exploratory nature of research currently undertaken by scholars in the North East.

Podcasts from previous lecture series can be downloaded via Research English At Durham.

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