Iceland Literature in the 1980’s

By | March 4, 2022

Even in the last decades they coexist and intertwine – thematically and formally, outside schools or literary groups – proud fidelity to the indigenous tradition, will to break, anxious search, beyond national horizons, for new models and different expressive techniques. The prestigious position that literature has in the country intact, and close contact with the public. The still predominant lyric is flanked by an ever-growing narrative production, often thematically linked to Iceland, even if at times the national imaginary expands to fantastic worlds, borrowed from different cultures, not least the Spanish-American one.

In 1972 Jóhannes úr Kötlum (b. 1899) died, one of the first founders of the avant-garde magazine Raudhir pennar (1935-39, “Red pens”); in 1974 Thórbergur Thórdharson (b. 1889) disappeared, among the first, in the 1920s, to open the way to socialism and new formal experiences; and Gudhmundur Bödhvarson, visionary precursor of the poets ‘of the atomic age’; in 1975, Gunnar Gunnarsson (see Iceland: Literature, App. IV, ii, p. 237), engaged in his latest works, in Icelandic, to pursue images of national history; in 1988, Ólafur Johánn Sigurdhsson (b. 1918), prize of the Nordic Council 1976, faithful also in the last lyrics of Du minns en brunn (1976, “Ricordi una Fonte” (1988, “In the End”) to his love of nature and Icelandic popular culture.

The most representative figure of the nation is always Halldór Kiljan Laxness (see App. III, i, p. 971), lately still at the center of interest for a successful dramatization of the tetralogy Heimsljós (1937-40, “Bright world”) and the film adaptation, by his daughter, of the novel Kristnihald undir Jökli (1968, ” Healing of souls under the glacier”). Among the writers already known beyond national borders, Thor Vilhjálmsson (b.1925) had great success – after a long narrative pause dedicated in part to the translation of The Name of the Rose by U. Eco – with the novel Grámosinn glóir (1986, “Il lichen blazes”), which can be considered a return to the roots after the experimental novels of an international environment. Postwar Reykjavík, torn by political and generational contrasts, driven by an uncontrolled anxiety for novelty and well-being, with the contradictions due to the US presence, is at the center of many novels; we remember Djöflaeyjan ris (1983, “The devil’s island”) and Gulleyjan (1986, “The golden island”) by Einar Kárason (b. 1955), who presents life in Camp Thule with bitter realism; and the tetralogy of Andris by Pétur Gunnarsson (b.1947), concluded in 1985 with the successful Sagan öll (“The Whole Story”), an ironic and acute picture of youth from 1968. A different atmosphere in Einar Már Gudhmundsson’s Reykjavík (b. 1954), which sees the city as a metaphor for an existential condition in the novels Riddarar hringstigens (1982, “The knights of the round staircase”) and Eftirmáli regndropanna (1986, “Epilogue of the raindrop”).

In recent years, the female contribution to fiction has been remarkable, aimed at breaking the bonds of tradition. At renewal of prose competition, since the sixties, with new and socially critical novels, Svava Jacobsdóttir (n. 1930), that has recently been successful in Scandinavia with the novel Gunnladhar saga (1987, “The Gunnlod saga”), where confusedly intertwines current problems and catastrophes (that of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant) with ancient Norse myths. Steinunn Sigurdhardóttir (b. 1950) also reaches a personal way of writing, with the fusion of everyday and lyrical tones, in the novel Timathjófurinn (1987, “Il perditempo”). Interesting for Hringsól’s style and advanced narrative technique (1987, “Rotation”) by Álfrún Gunnlaugsdóttir (b. 1938), professor of Literature.

In the field of opera there are still many of the protagonists of the post-war formal revolution, such as Snorri Hjartarson (b. 1906), prize of the Nordic Council for the Hauströkkidh yfir mér collection (1979, “Autumn darkness on my head”); Jón ür Vör (b. 1917); Sigfús Dadhason (b. 1928) with his latest collection Utlínar bakvidh minnidh (1987, “Outlines behind memory”); Hannes Sigfússon (b. 1922), who refines his own prophetic and metaphorical language in Lágt muldur thrumunnar (1988, “The faint whisper of the storm”); and, in particular, Stefan Húrdur Grimsson (b.1920), who in the lyrics of Tengsl (1987, “Connessioni”) uses the world of popular beliefs to shape his fears in the face of the threat of physical and moral pollution that hangs over the world today.

The lesson of modernism merges with traditional forms in Bödhvar Gudhmundsson’s latest collection (b. 1939), Vatnaskil (1987, “Watershed”), composed after fifteen years of silence. Anchored in popular culture is Thorsteinn frá Hamris (b. 1938) also in the latest collection Urdhargaldur (1987, “The magic of the desert”). Among the poets rooted in tradition and at the same time committed to expanding the boundaries of Icelandic poetry we remember Matthías Johannessen (b. 1930) with his latest collection Dagur af degi (1988, “Day after day”). Among the young, the surrealist Sjón (pseud. By Sigurjón B. Sigurdhsson, b. 1962) was successful, with the lyric collection Drengurinn medh röntgenaugen (1986, ”

Since 1950, the year the national theater was founded in Reykjavík, dramatic attempts have multiplied, which in any case suffer, for the most part, from the lack of a national tradition.

Successful writers include Jökull Jakobson (b. 1934); the Marxist Vésteinn Lúdvíksson (b. 1945), author of entertaining topical comedies; the aforementioned S. Jakobsdóttir, acute observer of the female condition and, in particular, Birgir Sigurdhsson (b. 1937), who after the successful Pétur och Rúna (1973, “Pétur e Rúna”) demonstrated the validity of her dramatic vocation with Dagur vonar (1987, “Day of Hope”), a family drama of abjection and hope in 1950s Reykjavík.

Iceland Literature in the 1980's