The Lure of the North

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In the last of our set of blogs on the works  featured in our Found on The Shelves series (published with Pushkin Press to coincide with our 175th anniversary)  Dunia Garcia-Ontiveros – our Head of Bibliographic Services – delves into the tales of the intrepid nineteenth century travellers to Norway whose adventures can be found in The Lure of the North

Young people backpacking across remote parts of the world and writing about the experience for the benefit of those back home is not as new a phenomenon as we might think. The Lure of North contains three travelogues written by two young men and one woman respectively, who turned their backs on the hustle and bustle of 19th century Britain to answer the call of the wild.

Our adventurous trio chose to spend their summer holidays in Norway, far away from the crowds, the “English catch-a-train principles” and the tedium of “hearing the street organs play ‘La donna è mobile’ for the six-thousandth time!”.  With its beautiful scenery, friendly people, and affordable prices Norway was the favourite destination of many a Victorian literary traveller. The shelves of The London Library bear the evidence of how many were seduced by its charms and could not wait to write about their trips: Wild Life on the Fjelds of Norway (1861), Three in Norway by Two of Them (1882), Tracks in Norway of Four Pairs of Feet delineated by Four Hands, with Notes on the Handiwork of Each by the Ohers (1884) and One and a Half in Norway: a Chronicle of Small Beer, by Either and Both (1885) are just a few examples.

Our first intrepid traveller is William Dawson Hooker, author of Notes on Norway, or, A Brief Journal of a Tour Made to the Northern Parts of Norway in the Summer of 1836. The son of the first full-time director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, when he set off for his Norwegian holiday he was only twenty and studying medicine at Glasgow University. The beauty of Norway touched him deeply and he was not ashamed to share his bitter disappointment at not being able to capture it in his sketches:

“My most sanguine expectations were surpassed by the loveliness of the scenery. I sat down to attempt a delineation of its highly picturesque beauties, but the more I tried, the further did I feel from attaining my object; for, after finishing my sketch, and comparing it with the lovely original, I felt utterly disheartened at observing how it failed in conveying the least idea of the brilliant and living reality.”

His artistic zeal almost proved fatal when on one occasion the riverbank he sat on to sketch collapsed and he fell into the icy waters of the Alten river. He managed to pull himself out and happily bumped into his guide, Prakopken who only spoke “a very little Norske and Russ, some Quānish and about twenty words of English” but was by some lucky coincidence carrying a provisions basket, complete with schnapps. Hooker survived this episode but would sadly die of yellow fever only three years later in Jamaica.

Miss Emmeline Lowe found the Norwegians’ custom of asking a lady’s age much more trying than their habit of expressing their opinions freely and while she gave an answer to those who asked her she certainly did not include the number in her book, Unprotected females in Norway, or, The Pleasantest Way of Travelling There, passing through Denmark and Sweden, with Scandinavian Sketches from Nature. However, we do know that only two years after her holiday of 1857 she married Colonel Spencer Clifford, who was soon after appointed the Yeoman Usher of the Black Rod. More importantly, our unprotected female’s travelling companion was her mother, who was perfectly happy to speed across Norway with Emmeline in a cariole, procure her own breakfast with a fishing rod and live the whole summer out of a carpet bag. It seems unlikely that the pair would have been much advanced “on the journey of life” given that they opted for the ‘no frills’ holiday package in Norway “leaving the crochet and scandal to the watering-places”.   Mother and daughter also ventured unprotected to Sicily and if their Italian excursions were anything like those in Norway they must have had a wonderful time there too. Nothing short of a pack of wolves, which gave them a “disagreeably zoological sensation”, deters the pair and Emmeline delights in the scenery, the people and the food. The only criticisms she makes are of the fellow Britons she encounters, whose arrogant and ignorant behaviour contrasts with the “dignified, unselfish manner of the Norwegian peasant”.

In the summer of 1881 a twenty five year old Edward Stanford, son of the founder of the great travel bookshop, sailed around Norway with five companions in the ‘Snark’, a small boat designed by them and helpfully named after Lewis Carroll’s The Hunting of the Snark:

“The word has such a distinctly Norse flavour about it that the very name of our beautiful little craft added something to our popularity on the Hardanger Fiord.”

The short pamphlet, A cruise on the Hardanger Fiord, or, Six in Norway with a “Snark”, by One of Them, is not as complimentary as Emmeline Lowe’s account. The man who would later take over the family business and be appointed Geographer to Her Majesty the Queen was not impressed by some aspects of the journey. Yet he encounters the first unpleasantness before reaching Norway:

“I pass over the horrors of Hull and the details of our life on board the Wilson steamship “Domino”.  Suffice it that the passengers took much interest in our movements, and the crew of the “Snark” began to exhibit a certain easy unconventionality which developed itself alarmingly before our return.”

Of the flad-bröd that Emmeline thought “charming light waffle-kacker” he writes that they are a “wafer-like substance resembling crisp brown paper intermingled with blotting, sawdust, and straw.” He also takes exception to

“a sort of Caliban who lives at the farm, and acts as boatman and interpreter. The Norwegian Tourist Club has done so much for the path that I would suggest its doing a little more. A small pension conditional on Caliban’s removal elsewhere would be money well spent.”

Still, he evidently enjoyed his jolly boating trip and the many excursions inland to visit beauty spots which by the 1880s had become well known.

In these three accounts we see a profound change in our attitude to foreign travel from previous centuries. Venturing abroad for pleasure is no longer the final stage of a young aristocratic man’s education. By the 19th century we see that different classes of persons are heading off in search of fun and adventure, much as they do today, and their ‘warts and all’ advice to fellow travellers is refreshingly modern.

Lure of the North cover

A View of Hammerfest from William Dawson Hooker's Notes on Norway

A View of Hammerfest from William Dawson Hooker’s Notes on Norway

Dawson Hooker with guide in the Alten Forest

Dawson Hooker with guide in the Alten Forest

Emmeline Lowe & her mother venture out in their cariole in Gulbrandsdahl

Emmeline Lowe & her mother venture out in their cariole in Gulbrandsdahl

The intrepid unprotected females experience a "disagreeably zoological sensation" as they encounter a pack of wolves

The intrepid unprotected females experience a “disagreeably zoological sensation” as they encounter a pack of wolves

Edward Stanford travels through Hardanger Fjord in his boat The Snark

Edward Stanford travels through Hardanger Fjord in his boat The Snark