A History of Icelandic Literature

A History of Icelandic Literature

A History of Icelandic Literature

A History of Icelandic Literature

Synopsis

A History of Icelandic Literature provides a complete overview of the literature of Iceland, from the country's settlement in the ninth century until the present day, including chapters on lesser-known areas such as drama, children's literature, women's literature, and North American Icelandic literature. It is the first work to give non-Icelandic readers a wide-ranging introduction to Iceland's literature and each contributor to this volume is a recognized expert in his or her area.

Despite its peripheral geographical position and small population, Iceland produced some of the most remarkable literary treasures of the Middle Ages, particularly sagas and Eddic poetry. These medieval works have inspired poets and writers across the centuries, who in turn have inspired the Icelandic people during the country's long history of hardships and up to its more affluent present. This volume extends knowledge of Icelandic literature outside the country and encourages its inclusion in comparative studies of literatures across national and linguistic boundaries.

Excerpt

Literary histories of the Icelandic Middle Ages have been fairly readily and consistently available in the English language. The same cannot be said for histories of Icelandic literature that include the postmedieval period. Stefán Einarsson’s 1957 History of Icelandic Literature has been virtually the sole resource in this respect, and, despite its undisputed value for everyone interested in learning more about Icelandic literature beyond the sagas and the Eddas, it has long been both out of date and out of print. This fact is revealing of what has shaped the position and study of Icelandic literature, no less than the literature itself, to a considerable extent. Postmedieval Icelandic literature has had to live and develop “in the shadow of the sagas,” as the contemporary author Thor Vilhjálmsson once called it in an article for the Times Literary Supplement (10 September 1971, 1093). Whereas Old Icelandic prose and poetry have enjoyed both scholarly and general interest and recognition, there long remained a perception that what happened afterward was of little consequence. Situated on the periphery of Europe, and with a population of less than 300,000, Iceland has traditionally occupied a position even more marginal than that of the other Scandinavian countries in the European cultural consciousness, where it remained stuck in the Middle Ages. Nor was this perception entirely without foundation: socially and economically, Iceland was long out of sync with the rest of Europe as its society remained resolutely rural and virtually untouched by modernity. While this created unusual conditions that importantly shaped the nature, development, and dissemination of Icelandic culture, it should be emphasized that, culturally, Iceland has, throughout its history, neither been isolated nor remained untouched by currents and ideas holding sway . . .

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