Travelling Passions

The Hidden Life of Vilhjalmur Stefansson

Gisli Palsson (Author), Keneva Kunz (Translator)


Vilhjalmur Stefansson has long been known for his groundbreaking work as an anthropologist and expert on Arctic peoples. His three expeditions to the Canadian Arctic in the early 1900s, as well as his expertise in northern anthropology, helped create his public image as an heroic, Hemingway-esque figure in the annals of twentieth-century exploration. But the emotional and private life of Stefansson the man have remained hidden, until now.

New evidence of this other life has recently been discovered: a collection of love letters between Stefansson and his fiance Orpha Cecil Smith were found in a New Hampshire flea market; Stefansson's field diaries have revealed elegant essays and insightful commentary on Inupiat society; baptismal records have revealed that Stefansson had a son, Alex, with his informant and guide, Fanny Pannigabluk; and, through web searches and a private detective, Palsson has found and conducted interviews with the descendants of both Cecil Smith and Alex Stefansson.

Travelling Passions sheds new light on Stefansson's life and work, focusing on the tension between his private life and the theories that brought his name to the halls of fame. Palsson draws a clear, vivid, and in many ways unexpected picture of the mythical figure of Stefansson.


“A forthright but carefully nuanced exploration of the enigmatic explorer.”

Canadian Geographic

About the Authors

Gisli Palsson is the author, editor, or co-editor of 15 books, including Writing on Ice: The Ethnographic Notebooks of V. Stefansson, Nature and Society: Anthropological Perspectives, and The Textual Life of Savants: Ethnography, Iceland, and the Linguistic Turn. In April 2000, he was awarded the Rosenstiel Award in Oceanographic Science for excellence in the field of marine affairs. He is currently a professor of anthropology at the University of Iceland.

University of Manitoba Press is grateful for the support it receives for its publishing program from the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund; the Canada Council for the Arts; the Manitoba Department of Culture, Heritage, and Tourism; the Manitoba Arts Council; and the Aid to Scholarly Publishing Programme.