A History of Icelandic Literature
By Stefán Einarsson
The Johns Hopkins Press, New York, 1957
I've finally gone of the deep end on this Icelandic Literature thing. It's one thing to read a few Icelandic mysteries, see a few Icelandic films, and build a web site devoted to Halldór Laxness. But when I reach the point of reviewing a 53 year old reference book, perhaps I should step back and examine my priorities.
It's already too late.
Actually, this is a most interesting book. To have almost a thousand years of Icelandic literature presented in a lucid and chronological order really helps to understand how The Sagas and The Eddas influenced generations of writers, poets and songwriters is a pretty neat deal, even if the narrative ends in 1956, the year after Laxness won his Nobel prize. Stefán does a thorough job in covering the sagas, and also explaining the various meters and styles of poetry. He covers in detail the early 20th century authors, both in Iceland and in North America, capturing the stylistic and intellectual foment of the times.
Those of you who have visited the Wikipedia page on Laxness will note that this book is referenced several times. The Wikipedia article itself was somewhat disjointed (although it is improving), and the Einarsson quotes, while colorful, are a snapshot from the mid-point of Laxness' career. Daisy Neijmann's book (of the same title) along with Halldór Guðmundsson's biography might give the reader a broader perspective. Einarsson was personally acquainted with many of the prominent 20th century Icelandic writers and his objectivity may be questionable at times.
Still, the book is loaded with little "nuggets" of information. When writing about Icelandic publications in North America he describes many of the publications which sprang up, primarily in Manitoba. My favorite line:
Some periodicals were designed to delight rather than educate; these cannot be mentioned here.