From Iceland — Lemúrinn: Clumsy Bodies And Cold, Expressionless Eyes

Lemúrinn: Clumsy Bodies And Cold, Expressionless Eyes

Published September 20, 2013

Lemúrinn: Clumsy Bodies And Cold, Expressionless Eyes

The following passage appears in ‘The Living Races of Mankind: A popular illustrated Account of the Customs, Habits, Pursuits, Feasts & Ceremonies of the Races of Mankind throughout the World’ by Henry Neville Hutchinson, John Walter Gregory and Richard Lydekker. Published in 1902, the book adheres to a pseudo-scientific ethnology popular at the time and contains descriptions of the many ‘races’ of mankind, including the “Icelandic race.”
“It is somewhat difficult to present a correct description of the Icelander. In physical characteristics he does not compare favourably with his fellow Scandinavians. The face is round or square rather than oval; the forehead often rises high; the malar bones stand out strongly, while the cheeks fall in. Perhaps his most characteristic feature is the eye, which is nearly always hard, cold, and expressionless.
The stony stare has caused the women to be described as generally ill-featured. The colour is clear grey or light blue, seldom brown, and never black. The younger people have a fresh, pink-and-white complexion. The hair has seldom the darker shades of brown, but in different persons shows all shades from decided red to pale yellow. The Icelanders have thick, clumsy bodies, apparently too long and heavy for the legs, which, if short, are sturdy, while the feet are large and flat. The tread is heavy and the gait ungainly, although women, when young, are sufficiently light-footed and graceful.
The people are reserved and dignified in their intercourse with each other as well as with strangers, but cannot be described, with some hasty observers, as morose. However distant in appearance, the temperament is really both cheerful and even animated, combined with a frank, unstudied manner, which, however, often betrays an almost excessive self-esteem. Their directness in criticising and ridiculing other people’s weaknesses has, in fact, created an impression that they are boorish and ill-natured. They have strength of intellect, joined with penetration and shrewdness.
Lovers of liberty, hospitable, truthful, they are exempt from most vices, except the national failing—drink. In their secluded, insular home they have preserved many usages and traditional beliefs, betraying in this respect a conservative spirit comparable to that of the Hindus. The Icelanders have emigrated largely during recent years, and the energy, industry, and intelligence they display in American cities and other places are highly creditable to them.”

Lemúrinn is an Icelandic web magazine (Icelandic for the native primate of Madagascar). A winner of the 2012 Icelandic Web Awards, covers all things strange and interesting! Go check it out at

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