William Cecil Slingsby, Norway, and British Mountaineering 1872-1914

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Using the example of William Cecil Slingsby (1849–1929), one of the leading British alpinists active before 1914, this article reassesses late-Victorian and Edwardian mountaineering. It is particularly concerned with the motivations of mountaineers: what drew individuals such as Slingsby to the heights of Norway and elsewhere? Engaging with recent trends in scholarship, the article argues that interpretations which assign priority to aggressively masculine and imperialistic factors can be problematic. As Slingsby’s example shows, climbing was closely associated with a particular form of manliness throughout the period between the 1870s and the Great War, but the performance of this manliness involved embracing a cheerful domesticity as well as valorising robustly male derring-do and toughness in adversity. As for imperialist motivations, by the late nineteenth century these mattered less than might be thought, even to mountaineers who—like Slingsby—were ardent imperialists. A second and important aim of this article is to shed light on British cultural interactions with Norway. In his day, Slingsby was perhaps the best-known Englishman in Norway, and he was certainly one of the leading promoters of Anglo-Norwegian exchange in Britain. His mountaineering was importantly connected to the ethnic and philological ties he and other contemporaries (such as W.G. Collingwood) discerned between the two countries. Finally, the article also seeks to draw attention to Slingsby himself, a figure about whom almost nothing has been written by professional historians, despite his significance as a mountaineer and the existence of a considerable body of archival evidence relating to his life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1098-1128
Number of pages31
JournalThe English Historical Review
Issue number540
Early online date1 Oct 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2014


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