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Apr 20, 2019

U of M Press launches new book on Vilhjalmur Stefansson
Posted Friday, September 30, 2005 1:25 PM
The private life of one of Canada's most controversial Arctic explorers is revealed in Travelling Passions: The Hidden Life of Vilhjalmur Stefansson, a new book by Icelandic anthropologist Gisli Palsson.
Travelling Passions by Gisli Palsson
VILHJALMUR STEFANSSON is widely known for his groundbreaking Canadian Arctic explorations of the early 1900s. He acquired a reputation almost larger than life with his discovery of the Copper Inuit—a hitherto unknown people—his insistence on living as the local people did, and, with Natkusiak, his Inuit co-explorer, his adventurous forays onto barren ice for months at a time. He was a fixture in the New York Greenwich Village scene and, later in his life, taught at Dartmouth College. However, despite his detailed field diaries and the frenzy of publicity that followed his every move, his private life has remained largely unknown.

Then, in 1987, an accidental discovery in a flea market of hundreds of private letters and documents proved to be those belonging to Stefansson, and they told a story of private relationships, in particular with two southern women, Orpha Cecil Smith, to whom Stefansson was engaged, and the novelist Fannie Hurst, with whom Stefansson was involved for many years. Moreover, letters between some of Stefansson’s friends as well as his own field diaries alluded to an important relationship Stefansson had with an Inupiat woman in the Arctic, Pannigabluk, and to their son, Alex.

Gísli Pálsson has followed the trail of these sources and conducted many interviews with Stefansson’s northern descendants, uncovering a complex and perhaps torn personality. In Travelling Passions, we have a much more complete picture of the man who figured so largely in the imagination of the early twentieth century. Pálsson’s thoughtful and informed work also addresses the issues of colonialist assumptions and anthropological relationships of the time.

GÍSLI PÁLSSON is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Iceland. He has written extensively on a number of anthropological issues, and is the author or editor of fifteen books, including Writing on Ice: The Ethnographic Notebooks of V. Stefansson, and Birthmarks: Anthropology and the New Genetics (forthcoming from Cambridge University Press). In April 2000, he was awarded the Rosenstiel Award in Oceanographic Science from the University of Miami.
For more information, contact:
Cheryl Miki
Marketing Coordinator
University of Manitoba Press
Phone: (204) 474-9495