Icelandic literature


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Icelandic literature,

the literature of Iceland. For the earliest literature of Iceland, see Old Norse literatureOld Norse literature,
the literature of the Northmen, or Norsemen, c.850–c.1350. It survives mainly in Icelandic writings, for little medieval vernacular literature remains from Norway, Sweden, or Denmark.

The Norwegians who settled Iceland late in the 9th cent.
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.

Early Writings

With Iceland's loss of political independence (1261–64) came a decline in literature, although the linguistic tradition continued and the old writings were still venerated. In the 13th and 14th cent. the sagas of antiquity flourished; many were based on Eddic poems (see EddaEdda
, title applied to two distinct works in Old Icelandic. The Poetic Edda, or Elder Edda, is a collection (late 13th cent.) of 34 mythological and heroic lays, most of which were composed c.800–c.1200, probably in Iceland or W Norway.
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). Chivalric romances appeared c.1300, emphasizing classical and ecclesiastical themes and showing French influence. From the 14th to the middle of the 16th cent. many foreign works were translated; Old Norse works were copied and compiled, and new religious poems were written in the old meters. The 14th cent. also saw the development of the rímur, metrically ingenious narrative poetry based on the sagas; it was popular until the 19th cent. and was revived in the 20th.

The Sixteenth to Nineteenth Centuries

The Protestant Reformation, reaching Iceland in the 16th cent., turned literary emphasis to hymns and illuminations of the Protestant faith. Einar Sigurdsson (1538–1626) was the great spiritual poet of the age. The first printing press was brought to Iceland in 1528 by Bishop Jón AressonAresson, Areson, or Arason, Jon
, 1484?–1550, Icelandic churchman. The last Roman Catholic bishop in Iceland before the Reformation, he was executed together with his sons, Ara and Bjorn, for resisting the new
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. From the Reformation until the late 18th cent. it was under church control; secular works were circulated in manuscript. After 1550, German and Danish influences were strong.

The great secular poets of the 17th cent. were Hallgrímur Petursson (1614–74), author of the Passion Hymns, and the satirist Stefan Olafsson (1620–88). Neoclassicism dominated literary style in the late 18th cent. In the early 19th cent. Árni MagnussonMagnusson, Árni or Árne
, 1663–1730, Icelandic historian and antiquarian. He taught at the Univ. of Copenhagen, and his important collection of ancient Icelandic manuscripts is housed there.
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 compiled a library of ancient Icelandic masterpieces.

The Creation of a Modern Icelandic Style

Continental romanticism and a newly aroused nationalism fed the romantic revival begun in the 1830s by the poets Bjarni Thorarensen (1786–1841) and Jónas Hallgrímsson (1807–45). The first writer of the modern Icelandic short story, Hallgrímsson also influenced Jón ThóroddsenThóroddsen, Jón
, 1818–68, Icelandic novelist and poet. He studied law in Copenhagen intermittently from 1841 to 1850, fought in the Danish army, and after his return to Iceland was prefect of various districts until his death.
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, who wrote the first published Icelandic novel. This movement, whose practitioners created what became the classic Icelandic style of the 19th and 20th cent., was continued by Grimur Thomsen (1820–96), writer of heroic narrative poems; Benedikt Grondal (1826–1907), romantic and humorous poet; Steingrímur Thorsteinsson (1831–1913), lyric poet, satirist, and translator; and Matthías Jochumsson (1835–1920), whose plays mark the beginning of modern Icelandic drama. The towering figure of the period was the historian and statesman Jón Sigurðsson

The periodical Verdandi [the present], founded in 1882, advanced a new realism—strongly socialistic, individualistic, and anticlerical, and influenced by the Danish critic Georg BrandesBrandes, Georg Morris Cohen
, 1842–1927, Danish literary critic. His influence brought the wide currents of contemporary European thought to Danish and other Scandinavian literatures.
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. Notable realists include the short-story writer and social critic Gestur Palsson (1852–91); the Icelandic-Canadian poet Stephan G. Stephansson (1853–1927); and the anticlerical satirist and lyric poet Thorsteinn Erlingsson (1858–1914). Einar H. Kvaran (1859–1938), at first a realist, later turned to religious and spiritual themes in his short stories about the poor in Reykjavík. Jón Trausti (pseud. of Guðmundur Magnusson, 1873–1918) in his fiction depicted medieval as well as modern Iceland.

The Twentieth Century

The 20th cent. saw the rise of a more introspective writing, influenced by Nietzsche and the French symbolists. One group of writers, part of the Icelandic colony in Copenhagen, wrote in Danish to reach a wider public. They were led by Johann Sigurjonsson (1880–1919), a romantic dramatist. Others were the romantic novelist Gunnar GunnarssonGunnarsson, Gunnar
, 1889–1975, Icelandic novelist. Gunnarsson lived abroad until 1939, when he returned to Iceland. Through his early works, written in Danish, he helped interest Europeans in Icelandic culture. Guest the One-eyed (4 vol., 1912–14; tr.
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 and the cosmopolitan dramatist Guðmundur Kamban A neoromantic movement arose in the 1920s; it had as a leading spirit the poet, scholar, and critic Sigurdur Nordal, author of the prose poem Hel (1919). Among the neoromantics were the novelists Guðmundur Hagalin and Kristmann Guðmundssonand the lyric poets Davið Stefánsson and Stefan Sigurdsson.

With the urbanization of Iceland's population came the rise of a working class and new patterns of life and thought. Kamban and Trausti early became socialists; Hagalin turned from conservative journalism to become thoroughly identified with the new socialist middle class. The most noted writer of this period was the Nobel laureate Halldor K. LaxnessLaxness, Halldór Kiljan
, 1902–98, Icelandic novelist, b. Reykjavík as Halldór Kiljan Gudjónsson. Although Laxness was converted to Roman Catholicism briefly, The Weaver of Cashmere (1927) expressed his disillusionment with Christianity.
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. The establishment of British and American bases in Iceland during World War II introduced foreign literary influence, and Icelandic independence (1944) increased nationalist and patriotic emphasis. In the 1950s the introspective "atom poets," including Stefan H. Grimsson and Hannes Sigfursson, won acclaim. Major writers of the late 20th cent. include Agnar Thórðarson, Elias Mar, Oddur Björnsson, Hannes Pétursson, and Jökull Jakobsson.

Bibliography

See S. Einarsson, History of Icelandic Prose Writers, 1800–1940 (1948) and A History of Icelandic Literature (1957); R. Beck, History of Icelandic Poets, 1800–1940 (1950); G. Turville-Petre, Origins of Icelandic Literature (1953); G. Jones, ed., Erik the Red, and Other Icelandic Sagas (1961).

References in periodicals archive ?
Meanwhile, at the ongoing 25th ADIBF, which will continue until May 13 at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, Iceland is the country Guest of Honour, with a pavilion packed with Icelandic literature, crime and science-fiction storytelling and the art of cooking demos.
Independent People is a wonderful starting point for anyone wanting to get acquainted with Icelandic literature.
An exhibition of his most recent canvases was titled "History of Icelandic Literature, Vol.
They are arranged in sections on the historical genesis of early Icelandic literature, the rhetoric of sagas, structure and ideology, the oral performance of edda and saga, and reception and adaptation.
It explains a good deal of the background of the work and puts the novel into its perspective in Icelandic literature.
Mitchell--bibliography of translations of Icelandic literature into the various languages is a further testament to his belief in the critical importance of translation to the continued life of literature.
cxv-cxxxvi), a supplement to Westergard-Nielsen's study of loanwords in sixteenth-century printed Icelandic literature.
Her research interests were broad and covered such areas as linguistic theory, history of English, history, Marxist philosophy, English and American literature (with particular emphasis on stylistics), Icelandic literature and comparative literature.
I was struck by parallels in Viking culture where, around the same era, the scourge of blood feud and communal search for better answers are central themes in Njal's Saga and other Old Icelandic literature.
That the Western Icelanders should turn to medieval rather than contemporary Icelandic literature and culture for their myth probably has several causes.
He also notes that the plethora of English translations of Icelandic literature appearing during the early nineteenth century had a profound impact upon the Victorians, who in a time of rapid and disconcerting changes were searching for "a set of pillars, hallowed by antiquity, to support their own beliefs and their own mission" (xviii).
Icelandic literature filled a void in the experience of children and appropriated roles where the society in general, and the church and their parents in particular, had failed.