Notes on Thoreau, Carlyle, and Nordic Echoes

In: Thoreau in an Age of Crisis

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Abstract

Bergur Þorgeirsson’s “Notes on Thoreau, Carlyle and Nordic Echoes” explores the influences of Icelandic literature on Thoreau, focusing on how he found inspiration in the thirteenth-century works of Icelandic writer Snorri Sturlusson (1179-1241 CE). Þorgeirsson contextualizes why Old Norse literature and history held such sway over the likes of Emerson, Thoreau and Carlyle: it offered captivating accounts from what until recently had been the periphery of the world. Leif Eriksson’s landing in Vinland also provided somewhat of a quasi-Protestant counterpoint to the later Columbus landing, widely celebrated by Catholics as preceding the Puritan exodus out of England. More generally, Old Norse literature and especially the works of Snorri offered accounts of the virtues of freedom-loving, self-reliant, courageous and roaming characters, in many ways reflecting how Thoreau and many of his Transcendentalist friends wished to see themselves.