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Fiske and Iceland

Willard Fiske’s fascination with Norse myth and his unusual capacity for languages inspired him to make his way to Scandinavia in 1850. He learned Danish and Icelandic in Copenhagen; in Uppsala, he enrolled at the university and eventually delivered his own lectures on British and American literature in fluent Swedish. Fluent also in German and competent in French, Fiske could easily read the academic literature in Nordic studies. Unable to sail to Iceland in July 1852 as he had intended, Fiske continued to maintain a passionate interest in the island nation, and organized large donations of books for Icelanders while he was a professor at Cornell.

In July 1879, Willard Fiske was finally able to travel to Iceland. Landing at Húsavík in the north, he journeyed on horseback to Reykjavík in the southwest. Along the way, he absorbed the fantastic landscape, with its waterfalls and rugged fells. Throughout his journey, Fiske was fêted by appreciative Icelanders. Two Americans, Arthur Middleton Reeves and William Carpenter, joined Fiske; Matthías Jochumsson, one of the nation’s great poets, was prominent among his many hosts.

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